Imagine The Office and Mad Men meet Bond and Bourne: inter-office, espionage-style sniping, snarling, backstabbing and, of course, sex. That's Archer, a new half-hour, animated, adult comedy, created by Adam Reed (Adult Swim's Frisky Dingo and Sealab 2021) and his Atlanta-based Floyd County Prods., premiering tonight on FX with two back-to-back episodes at 10:00 and 10:30 pm. The series, exec produced by Matt Thompson, airs for 10 consecutive Thursdays at 10:00 pm.
Set at the International Secret Intelligence Service (ISIS), a spy agency where espionage and global crises merely intensify the heat that goes on in the office. Suave, superspy Sterling Archer is voiced by H. Jon Benjamin; Malory Archer, his ball-busting mother and boss, is voiced by Jessica Walter; Lane Kane, his colleague and vindictive ex-girlfriend is voiced by Aisha Tyler; his aging but loyal butler, Woodhouse, is voiced by George Coe; Cyril Figgis, the befuddled ISIS comptroller and Kane's latest boyfriend, is voiced by Chris Parnell; Cheryl, the Miss Moneypenny of the series, is voiced by Judy Greer; and Pam, the director of human resources, is voiced by Amber Nash.
The initial episodes airing tonight are "Training Day," in which Kane's residual lust for Archer, prompts Malory to promote Figgis to field agent, resulting in some offbeat training by Archer; and "Mole Hunt," in which Archer goes to great lengths to cover up his over-the-top expense account.
I spoke with Reed about his love of the spy genre and how it led to this hysterically funny satire.
Bill Desowitz: Why Archer?
Well, my old partner, Matt Thompson, and I had two shows on Adult Swim: Sealab 2021 and Frisky Dingo. And in each one of those, we sort of took an established genre and turned it upside down a little bit and I was trying to think of the next genre I could do that with and I kept coming back to spy fiction. I took 2008 off and did a lot of traveling, so I was in foreign lands and the James Bond movies and, recently, the Bourne movies are so seared into my brain that it's hard to be in a foreign capital with beautiful women and not think about James Bond or Jason Bourne, and how they would be doing things. So I wanted to mess it up a bit and did a lot of research and saw a lot of movies, but the main thing that I read was years ago a friend gave me every James Bond paperback. And I started reading those novels and they're pretty dark. They're not like the Roger Moore movies at all.
BD: They're not even like the Sean Connery movies.
AR: And then you had all the office politics going on with the Smiley books. But it's such a great genre to play with because you have every color of the rainbow. You've got fun, wacky, stuff, pretty familiar stuff, but it's all pretty familiar to an audience, even if they're just casual fans. Even if they've only seen a few Bond movies, they know the setup and how it works.
BD: And the heart of Archer is the tumultuous mother/son relationship, which parodies what's going on with Judi Dench and Daniel Craig.
AR: It's a lot more fun than the old M in the old Bond movies.
BD: So, you must be having fun being more outrageous with the spy genre than ever before in animation.
AR: It has been a lot of fun. These characters are all pretty dysfunctional and all pretty much jerks, but I think -- not to malign the good men and women who are in our intelligence services -- that if all you was lie for a living it couldn't help but seep into your personal relationships. But I think these people would be jerks no matter where they worked. But I guess writing about dysfunctional jerks has always been my thing.
BD: And they somehow bumble their way into outwitting the baddies, but not as ineptly as Maxwell Smart.
AR: That's an interesting thing because we went to great lengths not to make him a bumbling spy who wins despite himself. I also thought if Archer is handsome and rich and kind of smart and well-dressed with a lavish apartment and always wins, then you're not root for him. But we tried to figure out a way for Archer not to win all the time but not because he's stupid but sort of settled on that he gets in his own way because he's so self-centered. But I think he's supremely confident.
BD: Talk about working with your voice cast.
AR: It's been great working with all of them and to be able to hear them in my head when I'm writing. And they also ad lab in the booth a lot. We record these shows first and cut the audio together well before it ever gets animated.
BD: Do they work in the booth together?
AR: They don't. We haven't done that since the first episode of Sealab. It turns out to be a lot more work than it's worth, and you end up with a lot more blown takes than comedy gold.
BD: How is Archer animated?
AR: By Radical Axis. The characters are done in Illustrator using photographs for reference. We get models, dress them in vintage clothes and take lots and lots and lots of pictures of them. The backgrounds are built in 3D first. I believe 3ds Max. There's a firm out in Missouri called Trinity Animation that builds the backgrounds for us. And then we paint them. Once they build, like Malory's office, we can spin the camera around and repaint it in Photoshop. And I think it's saved us some time and money and, for me, I like the realism of it because it lets me focus on what these folks are saying, which is my favorite part of any TV show.
Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.