Adam Reed Talks the “Smilthy” Good Fun of Archer
DS: The relationship between Sterling and Lana has ebbed and flowed over the years and certainly went through some interesting changes this past season. How is that going to evolve in the new season?
AR: I think in the new season the goal is for the characters around Archer to mature a little bit as far as their personal relationships, sort of move on into healthier more adult relationships. With the exception of Archer. That didn’t work out 100% the way we were thinking at the beginning of the season. But in Season 5, that’s where some big things are going to happen. Oh, boy! So I don’t know that the relationship evolves hugely in Season 4 between Archer and Lana. They do still bicker quite a bit. I’m just trying to think if they sleep together again. They very well might.
DS: Last season also brought about the continued growth of Cheryl and Pam. You’ve created such a great ensemble of characters. What can we expect to see in the evolution of the main characters including Archer's mom Malory?
AR: Well, Archer's mom in the off season between Season 3 and 4 actually got married. She married a Cadillac dealer name Ron Cadillac, who’s played by Jessica Walter’s [Malory Archer] real life husband Ron Liebman, who is brilliant and hilarious. It’s one of these things where we have an embarrassment of riches with this cast and the difficulty of getting everybody their fair share of screen time.
AR: And now we’ve introduced Ron Liebman who is brilliant…we’re really...
DS: Having your production studio in Atlanta, away from LA and New York, does staying off the radar a bit relieve some of the pressure you might otherwise feel if you were setup in a big media center?
AR: Well, I'll tell you, to be perfectly frank, the reason I think there is less pressure is because our rent is one-eighth of what it would be in New York or Los Angeles. It would cost us so much more money to make the show there with the same staff and the same amount of space and the same number of bathrooms. Maybe the show wouldn’t make as much sense business-wise for FX if it cost them three times as much to make. Maybe that would be too much? Working here, it is much more economical to make the show in Georgia than it is in LA or New York I'm sure, across the board. So I think that’s why there is less pressure, although, we feel under a great deal of pressure anyway just to make a good show. I think if there was a business affairs guy calling us every week saying, “Hey! Where is all this money going? Your ratings don’t justify this,” then we wouldn’t be having as much fun as we are.
DS: That certainly makes sense. Speaking of pressure, as both a writer and the show’s creator, do you feel any pressure or need to top yourself with outrageous lines or plot points from episode to episode?
AR: I live in fear of repeating myself or stagnating. I have this recurring dream where the exact same episode is being produced that was already an episode three seasons ago. Then somebody at work, just as we’re shipping the tapes out of the door, which we don’t even do anymore, says to me, “So, that’s interesting that this was the same as that episode in Season 1.” Then I wake up and the sheets are sweaty and I’m like, “Oh! My God,” trying to call the office, but its nighttime and that didn’t actually happen. I worry about repeating myself.
DS: The show is known for outrageously funny, outrageously nasty dialogue that comes out of left field. There aren’t so many of these lines that it seems like you are trying to stuff the episodes with them, which makes them that much funnier. Are you deliberately looking to push the boundaries of what you can get away with? When we spoke previously, you said there is really no interference from Standards and Practices and the FX folks don’t really tell you something is too raunchy or risqué. What is dynamic of that component of the writing?
AR: For me, I think that comes out of reading Archer spec scripts where you move the story along and some things need to be stated rather blandly like, “Oh! We need to go over here and diffuse this bomb” or whatever plain line we have moving the narrative forward. I always try to think if there is any way to make that a little more interesting. While we are here, can we still move the story forward but make it not so ABC on the nose boring? That sometimes leads to, “Oh! Well, that reminds me of some totally filthy pun that I could just jam in there.” While we are on the subject of trying to jazz this up, I can not only jazz this up but make it dirty, or as Aisha Tyler calls it, “smilthy.” She says it’s smart and filthy.
DS: Smart and filthy! Smilthy!
DS: Speaking of smilthy, are there any times when you are recording voices that the actors give you the stink eye or a nasty look when they are asked to perform some particularly raunchy material?
AR: Some of them, sometimes. Jessica comes to mind only because we have Malory say such outrageous things. Jessica is such a trooper, she’s game and she will do anything. A lot of times, because we’re using current slang or something that she just hasn’t heard yet, or if it’s something, because, you know she is a classy lady, there is something that she just wouldn’t have ever been exposed to because she was never a longshoreman, when it comes to certain lines, she will say, “This line here, what’s the deal? Is she upset, is she happy, what does it mean?” I'll explain to her, “Oh! This is a horrific sex act” and she will say, “Ohhhh Adam!” Then she’ll say, “OK, here we go…three takes.” But there is just a hint of disappointment before she puts back on her actor hat and then nails the line dirtier than I could have ever imagined it.
DS: The show is notorious for really obscure references, whether visual or spoken. I admire somebody who is comfortable enough to make a joke that maybe five people in the world would understand, but they would think was the funniest thing they had ever heard. The show’s fan base really dissects the episodes and comes up with lists, tracking down all these references. Can you tell me a little bit about the process you go through and how you decide when and where to insert such references? Do you get a kick out of seeing how fans then respond?
AR: Well, I was an English major and so a lot of those obscure references are things that I have written long, long boring papers about. They make me laugh mostly because I know they are obscure and boring basically. So I laugh that someone would let me put that on television. But then to see a website where somebody has gone back and found the sources for all these weird lines is really equally heartening and disturbing. I think, “Oh! My God, somebody is just as weird as I am.”
DS: With time to spend.
AR: Time to spend.
Dan Sarto is editor-in-chief and publisher of Animation World Network.