The hit FX series creator preps us for a brand-new season of adventures with our favorite misfit spymasters.
If you follow AWN, you know I’m an unapologetic fan of Archer. The animated workplace ensemble features a riveting cast of exaggerated oddball characters, all careening from one undercover spy mission to the next, routinely focusing more vitriol and viciousness on each other than on the bad guys they’re chasing.
The brainchild of series creator, writer and actor Adam Reed, Archer succeeds where so many adult-themed animated series fail, and fail miserably, namely, with stories focused on the lives of vibrant characters that are fun to love. Never fashioned as a witless parade of offensive or provocative jokes marginally tied to a contrived, almost unintelligible story arc, Archer nevertheless consistently delivers some of the most outrageous, laugh-out-loud gags and adult situational humor of any show in recent memory. Simply put, it’s brilliant.
So with the new season just around the corner (in fact, it launches tomorrow on FX), I took the opportunity, as I’ve done each of the last several years, to talk to Adam about what we can expect in the coming weeks from our favorite dysfunctional espionage team. As always, Adam humbly and patiently listened to me bumble star-struck through my questions, providing insight into the shows past success as well as future plans.
Dan Sarto: So, the new season is fast approaching, which means it’s time for our annual interview [laughs]. I think this is our fourth. After a wild season of Archer Vice, where dare I say, Archer seemed like the only sane person among an ensemble of maniacs, the new season returns to a more familiar premise. It’s like you’re getting the band back together. What’s in store for Archer fans this season?
Adam Reed: A lot of it is, yes, sort of getting back to basics. I didn't see the promos storyboarded out, I just saw, “Hey, here are the new promos that we’re doing” and it got me so excited and I'm like, “Yah!” We are getting back to basics. That's really what we've been doing in the scripts. This season, it's sort of back to normal Archer but I guess it’s formed in part by their year as villains. And also they have a baby. So it's the same, but it's different. And, it's been fun to write. Everybody at work is having a good time this year and hopefully the viewers will have a good time when it starts airing.
DS: One common thread in all our discussions going back to the very first time we spoke is you have always been very, very humble in your assessments about the success of the show. You have always remarked, “I hope people will like it…I hope it's good…I never expect more than the network commitment I have at hand.” I know it's a crazy business, but have you become more comfortable believing how successful this show has become, or is it still, “You know what? You never know what tomorrow may bring.”
AR: Now I'm even more baffled by its continued success. Maybe not baffled, but I still think this could end at any time. Last season, we got picked up for two seasons by the network. That’s the first time that’s ever happened in my TV career. So that was a great feeling.
I use the analogy that we’re like farmers. You can work hard all year and then locusts or hail can come and wipe out your crop and then you're bankrupt and you lose the farm.
So to have two seasons from the network was really great and it allowed us to sort of relax a little bit. But I'd like to think I’m still very grateful and still feel lucky that it's continued as it has.
DS: Are you handling all the writing duties for this year again? I know you had a little bit but not much help in some previous years.
AR: Yes, I had a little bit of help this season from a really funny guy named Mike Arnold, who has written a couple of scripts with me. But I’m still handling the majority of the writing.
DS: Did you have a chance to get away for a break after last season like you’ve done in previous years, just sitting somewhere peacefully with your notebook trying to figure out what the new season would look like?
AR: Yes, though we're still trying to figure out what we’ll be doing this year. [After the season ends] I still like to take six weeks off and get away, although this year we've got a couple of other irons in the fire, things we’re working on for FX. So I might have to do that this year instead, and just build a really amazing blanket fort at my house instead.
DS: So you’ve got more things planned to take up all your limited free time.
AR: Yes, exactly.
DS: Last year was a year of significant change, not just in the show’s setting but with story arcs for each of the characters. What were you most satisfied with about the Archer Vice year and looking back, was there anything you would like to have done differently?
AR: There always are. There are always times where, “Oh! I didn't get to bring this whole thing to circle around on a B story.” Or there’s some amazing super clever twist to everything that I just didn't accomplish. There were things that we didn’t setup or explain as well as we wanted. There were things that I wish I had setup better for Season 6, which we now have to spend time in the new season setting up. I'm just now finishing writing Season 6 and realize that there are things I want to do in Season 7 that I didn't set up [laughs].
DS: So you keep propagating the same lack of setup.
AR: Exactly, exactly. Just making more work for myself. Not doing it right the first time, I guess.
DS: This season, we have a baby in the mix as well as the group returning to their roots as a spy agency. What can we look forward to in the coming weeks?
AR: Well, we get back to basics. They're back on spy missions, only they're sort of freelancing for the real CIA. Their missions are slightly darker perhaps, where the CIA wants them to go assassinate someone, something like that. They’re back to hopping all over the globe. We've got great guest stars again. We continue to have just the best luck in the world. We have Allison Tolman (Fargo) and Matthew Rhys (The Americans). CCH Pounder and Keith David play Lana's parents in an episode where she takes the baby home to Berkeley to meet the grandparents. Let's see, Barry the cyborg and Katya the beautiful Russian cyborg come back and then in the season finale, which I'm working on right now, the Archer team gets shrunken down and injected into a human body.
DS: The Fantastic Voyage!
AR: The Fantastic Voyage, absolutely. We've been having a great time watching the Fantastic Voyage at the office.
DS: What a great film.
AR: And it's still nuts, the fact that they have the technology to shrink a submarine down and put it in your body but they're still using paper charts inside the submarine. Then when they track the submarine, it's just a giant mural of a circulatory system with a puck moving around.
DS: Super high-tech.
AR: I don't know about the human body that much but I’m guessing they’re all so similar that you can just have one map that works for every single body.
DS: Yes, well you know, with Raquel Welch and Donald Pleasence in your vehicle, things needed to be kept pretty simple.
AR: They’re so great. As we’re mapping it out, it's going to be a two part episode. But now that we're working on it, with all the jokes we want to get in there, it's like, “Oh my god we need to do four episodes!” There is so much to be done with it. Alien is very similar because you've got somebody, you're not sure whom, who is working at crosss-purposes. I didn't see Fantastic Voyage as a kid, but I had the book and I just read it to pieces. I loved that book so much. So, I assumed the movie was made from the book. But then, I just found out, Isaac Asimov was asked to novelize the movie. So he had to go back and fix all these plot holes, like they left the submarine in the guy's head and they left the laser in the guy's head and they left the dead guy in the guy's head. So the guy would have died no matter what.
DS: We've spoken about this before, the fact that you love putting really obscure references into the show. They're really funny to you even if they're only funny to you. But they’ve become quite important for fans who like to track down these obscure types of things. Do you ever wonder sometimes if a humorous reference is so obscure that you're the only one that's really thinks it's funny?
AR: I bet that happens a lot [laughs]. But I don't mind as long as FX doesn't mind and they think it's OK. I like the idea of somebody going, “What is this? and looking up “Where the Red Fern Grows” and then finding out about the book. A lot of it is I'm 44 and many of these references I put in the show are from my childhood. Like The Shazam! Isis Power Hour.
DS: God I remember that show.
AR: I watched it every Saturday morning before going outside to play. But the core Archer demographic, they're 25-year olds who’ve never seen that show. So for them, to go hunt down some “Oh my god, it’s an old grainy YouTube video of this show,” I derive great pleasure from that.
DS: Adult focused animated series come and go. There are so many more misses than hits. To what do you attribute the show’s ongoing success? Not just struggling and kind of squeezing by, but continued growth in the show’s popularity each season. You’ve got five seasons under your belt now moving into Season 6. You’ve got the ongoing support of FX. What makes this show popular where so many others have failed?
AR: I think because it's character based. It’s because of the relationships between these characters. It’s because you care about them. It's not just joke joke joke. From day one FX really stressed character relationships. At first I really bucked against that because that's wasn’t my background in TV. But I think the reason why people still like the show is that they've come to care about these characters.
Even our season opener, it’s quite touching and a bit dramatic. There aren’t a lot of huge laughs. Because people have come to care about Sterling Archer it's getting a good response. But it's not overly funny. We’ll see how people like it.
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.