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Adam Reed Takes Us Back to 1947 LA in ‘Archer: Dreamland’

Season 8 may be just a hard-boiled film noir private eye thriller, but Mother’s a crime boss, Pam might be a man and all hell is surely gonna break loose.

When it comes to Archer, AWN colleagues and a litany of past articles can confirm my bias – I’ve been an unabashed fan of the series since the first promos aired on FX back in 2009. Each year I stumble though my interview with series creator, writer and executive producer Adam Reed, barely hiding my exuberance for his insights and inside stories about the mayhem in store for the upcoming season. This year, our discussion, alas…sigh…was no different. I remain a hopeless fanboy.

There’s a familiar, nurturing warmth to watching Archer, like being swathed in a favorite blanket while sipping a slightly peaty single malt, methodically clicking on YouTube videos of wedding receptions gone horribly wrong, or young kids wiping out playing ball in the back yard with their parents. My thirst for familial dysfunction and unintentionally comedic pratfalls is hard to slake -- Archer has always brought me immense, un-PC pleasure and the new season is as joyful, obscene and ballsy as ever.

The show remains one of TV’s funniest and most approachable animated series, filled with characters we kind of know or have bumped into in real life, boasting an acting ensemble led by H. Jon Benjamin in the title role, that couldn’t possibly be better cast or exude more chemistry. The show is at times predictable, other times utterly bizarre, all lathered up in layers of physical comedy, cartoonish violence and sexual humor sometimes subtle, mostly nasty, always subversive and usually hilarious.

Season 8, which premieres tomorrow night at 10 p.m. on FXX, picks up right where Season 7 left off – Sterling Archer, riddled with bullets, floating face down in a bloody swimming pool. Last week, as he does once each year, Reed patiently walked me through the upcoming season, describing some of the challenges he faced getting episodes to air as well as some of the goodies we can expect in the coming weeks.

Dan Sarto: You’ve known for many years what a big fan I am of the show.

Adam Reed: I do, I do. You’re not a Johnny Come Lately.

DS: Nope. I've been there since the beginning. And the new season looks fantastic.

AR: Thank you.

DS: The underlying narrative, the tone, they feel more mature, dare I say more serious. From the new story setting, the designs, even the color palette, the show looks great. Plus, you’ve created a brand-new storyline set 70 years in the past. You’ve really taken the show in an innovative and intriguing direction.

AR: Thank you. It was quite challenging to write, but hopefully we accomplished what we set out to do.

DS: Well, I guess in the coming weeks you'll find that out.

AR: Yeah. Hopefully we won't infuriate anybody.

DS: Where did you come up with the idea to lead off the new season right where you ended last season but then veer directly into a film noir period piece set in 1947 Los Angeles?

AR: I'm not sure how I got the actual idea, but it sort of predated the start of Season 7. I wanted to spend some time with Woodhouse's death and George Coe [the actor who portrayed Woodhouse in the series and passed away in 2015] passing away. Season 7 was all sort of a prelude to get to this season, which is why we spent the back half of last season on the set of a film noir movie. Surrounding Archer with the cars and sets and costumes of the mid-40s was all sort of hopefully a not too clunky ramp to get to this season.

DS: It wasn’t clunky at all. And you transitioned nicely from the Season 7 cliffhanger ending. It's not like you followed that cliffhanger and began the next season saying, “Oh, no worries, everything's fine now. Let's continue in some new direction as if nothing happened.”

AR: Yeah, the episodes do that as well. They all sort of start with the same frame that the previous one ended on. Hopefully it'll make good binge watching if you ever get the flu and have five hours to kill. Well, two and a half hours.

DS: Your horrifically dysfunctional ensemble cast, that we have come to know and love so well, they fit perfectly into this new storyline. How did you pair them up with their roles in the new season?

AR: Well, I don't know if those film noir and detective fiction characters are such…what's the word I'm looking for…archetypes…so that you could drop characters from any show into a film noir detective movie and it would make sense. But something jumped out at me, like Lana's going to be this lounge singer. That was sort of a no brainer. Aisha sings her own songs this season, which is great. It made sense for Figgis to be a dirty cop. Then it just sort of fell into place. One of the first ones I thought of was Pam as Poovey, this sort of ham fisted police enforcer. Everybody sort of dropped in with obvious fits.

Then the flip side of that was as we were plugging in people, for all the action this season, there was this undercurrent that it’s actually taking place in Archer's subconscious. What spin would Archer's brain put on these people and situations? The fact that he's a war hero is pretty important. I think in real life, Archer probably wouldn't run off and volunteer for the army like Archer Dreamland Archer did.

DS: From a production standpoint, everything is literally brand new this season.

AR: Everything but the faces.

DS: New cars, new clothes, new locations, even a new color palette. Everything is brand new.

AR: Yes.

DS: As you're writing these episodes, how do you feed your studio’s design engine so your artists can start working on the new look of an episode? Do you start them off with explicit ideas you’re considering, or do you basically say, "Guys, show me what you’re thinking, I'll take a look and see what makes sense?"

AR: More of the latter. For this season, we all sat down and I said, "This is what we're going to do." Then the art department, after they rolled their eyes, started doing all this research in creating style books. They included everything from costumes to furniture to cars to architecture to what the streetlights looked like in 1947.

After seeing all their research and the new drawings they were creating, I used their work to sort of populate my imagination. The vast majority of the design work was done by our talented artists. I didn't sit down and say, "I want his lapels to be this wide…"

DS: They basically come back and feed you after they've had a chance to digest what you've written.

AR: Yes. Then, it's like, “Here are ten different costumes for Poovey. Is there a favorite or a combination of favorites to nail down the look that you want?” They're a really talented bunch. I can't say enough great things about them.

DS: They are. You have a great, talented group there that does so much with a lot fewer resources than other TV studios have at their disposal. The Archer Dreamland film noir storyline fits nicely with the minimalist visual style that has always defined the look of the series. It feels like a natural extension of the Archer we’re used to watching.

AR: I guess it's a lot about mood. They really nailed it. I don't drill down into the details…like how they created Archer's office with the lovely afternoon sun coming in through the Venetian blinds. That probably took somebody weeks to get right. I sort of take it for granted and go, "Oh, great. That looks just like an old-timey movie." There's probably 200 layers of lighting going on under that.

DS: You've had a little bit of help at different times over the years, but primarily, you’ve always handled all the Archer writing duties. Any help this year or did it all fall on you again?

AR: I did it all again this year because I knew where the season was going to end for the most part, but I didn't know how we were going to get there. Because it's basically one long episode chopped into eight parts, I didn't know how to just hand off one of those episodes…it just seemed like it would be faster to do it myself.

DS: Makes sense. So, what else can you share about the new season?

AR: Archer develops a bit of a pill habit this season. I tore my rotator cuff right at the start of the season and about three episodes in I had pretty major reconstructive surgery on my shoulder. This new season is fairly dark and I think a lot of that was because I was in pretty severe pain most of the time, very consciously trying not to get addicted to painkillers. A lot of that sort of crept into the scripts.

DS: Well, I tore up my knee six months ago, had reconstructive surgery, and was taking two rather powerful painkillers every three hours for quite some time. I feel your pain only too well.

AR: Yeah. It's a weird thing to be conscious of the danger but also staring at the clock waiting to take the next pill because you're in such pain. It was a very trying season.

DS: Those opiates call out our names ever so sweetly. I hope your recovery has been good.

AR: It's been slow.

DS: Hate to say it, but your pain certainly manifested itself into some great work, so if it's any consolation, your misery led to our joy.

AR: That is some consolation, but I'm not going to try to get hurt again for the next season.

DS: We’ve talked about this many times before, and you’ve always expressed humble gratitude for the show’s success and FX’s support. It's not like you guys produce a huge number of episodes each season. It's easy to get lost in an ever-increasing landscape of all sorts of entertainment viewing options. But the show continues to gain in popularity. You've got two more years already contracted for after this season. Obviously, FX loves you guys. What is so endearing about this show? To what do you attribute the ongoing longevity?

AR: Well, I think a lot of it is these characters and their voices. Viewers have grown to know them and love them and want to see what new idiocy they can get up to. I think also the animation and the artwork continues to improve every year and people tune in to see what great new things our team is drawing. And our great guest stars.

DS: You've always had great guest stars in some interesting roles. Anything else can you share?

AR: A lot of Eugene Mirman, which is always great, and the return of Maggie Wheeler as Trinette the prostitute. Both of those characters sort of get mixed in with the misadventure and stick around to see how it plays out. What else…what else? Sex and action and a death. An important death. Yeah, and maybe some closure for Archer. I don't know. Maybe some closure. Probably not. I don't know that Archer is going to learn anything from all this probably.

Dan Sarto's picture

Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.