The Twisted Genius Behind Sterling Archer
With Archer set to launch Season 3 January 19th on FX, it seemed a good time to take a closer look at one of today’s most popular adult animated TV series. Part spy, part nattily-dressed drunken cousin who shows up uninvited at holidays with a $2,000 sports coat and a $50 gap-toothed escort, Sterling Archer never misses an opportunity to do the wrong thing at the best time. Loudly. Like an airplane trailing plumes of smoke, Archer sputters through each episode – the question isn’t whether or not he’s going to crash, but rather when, where and how much you’ll laugh at the debris field.
The brilliant mind responsible for the show is Adam Reed, who along with co-creator Matt Thompson brought us Adult Swim favorites Sealab 2021 and Frisky Dingo. I caught up with Adam last week to discuss just how far Archer has come since it first aired on FX in 2010.
Dan Sarto: I just wanted to start by saying up front that your work on Archer is some of the funniest and most smartly written animation I’ve ever seen. I’m trying not to geek out here but I can’t help it. I’m completely biased.
Adam Reed: Thank you very much. There are a lot of talented folks that work on this show.
DS: The stuff you guys are doing is so well written, the humor is funny on so many different levels. I can appreciate how much talent it takes to put this show together. You make it seem so easy but I know it’s not.
AR: Aisha [Taylor] calls it “the blend of the thinky and the stinky.”
DS: That’s very apt. I must say there is stuff you guys do that still leaves me open mouthed when I think of it. There are so many great lines. It’s really fantastic.
AR: I appreciate that.
DS: Has the success of the show taken you by surprise?
AR: Absolutely. Yes. An unqualified yes. We worked equally hard on Sealab and Frisky Dingo with a much smaller crew and there were fans of those shows too, but [the fan base] was much, much smaller. The notoriety and people knowing about those shows was much less. This [the success of Archer] was all a huge surprise.
DS: Where do you think that success resonates from? Is there anything you can point your finger as a reason for the notoriety?
AR: A lot of it has to do with the cast. Not to single anyone out, but Jon Benjamin, I can’t imagine anyone else doing the voice [of Sterling Archer]. Archer as a character, he walks a fine line. He’s such a jerk, but he’s still sympathetic. I think a lot of that has to do with Jon’s delivery of these lines. It makes you root for Archer when you probably shouldn’t.
DS: When you first created Archer, did you think of anyone besides Jon? He seems like such a perfect fit. Was he the first person you thought of for the role?
AR: Very early on, when we were talking about casting the show, FX was leaning more towards dramatic actors they felt could do comedy. They kept sending us all these ideas and internally we kept talking about Jon Benjamin, he’s so great. We had already drawn the initial Archer, the earliest drawings. So we took some audio from Home Movies of Coach McGuirk talking to the kids about getting drunk and going to see a body and animated Archer to Coach McGuirk. We sent that to FX and they were like, “Oh, yes, never mind what we said. He’s the guy.”