Our hero, sporting an eye patch and pressed khakis, crashes, splashes, slashes and drinks his way through the treacherous 1939 South Pacific tropics in the brand-new season of FXX’s hit animated series.
Just when you thought it no longer cool to laugh at alcoholics, a new season of Archer comes to FXX, poised to erase your doubts and calm your nerves. The 8-episode Season 9, shifting locales and timeframes once again, this time to the pre-war South Pacific of 1939, is aptly named Archer: Danger Island – on a far-away island paradise, Mother runs a hotel, Pam is a 6-foot-6 Race Bannon clone, Lana is a scheming but sultry Islander Princess, Figgis is now Fuchs the bumbling German spy, Cheryl flails at the world’s oldest profession and Krieger has morphed into Crackers the parrot.
Shedding the serious narrative and visual tone of Season 8 for a more raucous but mean-spirited Indiana Jones-like buddy picture vibe, FXX’s hit animated series rolls out the first new episode this April 23rd. AWN recently spoke to series creator, writer and producer Adam Reed about the new season, new story setting and new adventure for Sterling Archer and his intrepid gang.
AWN: So, Season 9 is just around the corner, with yet another completely new narrative setting. Tell us, how did we jump from last season’s post-war Dreamland film noir world of Los Angeles, to the pre-war South Pacific of this season’s Archer: Danger Island?
Adam Reed: I don’t know. I don’t know how we got to the South Pacific in the late 1930’s. I can’t remember what happened. Maybe Matt Thompson [the show’s executive producer] is responsible for this. He might have mentioned something about doing something like this.
It was really fun to write. I think the artists had a good time drawing and animating. I think it looks pretty amazing. It’s very lush.
AWN: It’s beautiful, by the way. Each year, the show’s production value jumps up a notch or two. I know you don’t focus too much on the “production” details for the most part, but definitely, from the sunsets over the water, to the lush jungles, and the action itself, Season 9 so far looks fantastic.
AR: I really think they outdid themselves. It’s just amazing how far the show has come since Season 1. One of the animators, on his blog, did some side-by-side comparisons of the movement on similar shots and it’s amazing how much the look has changed since the show’s early days.
AWN: Speaking of how far the show has come, last season was a real departure from previous seasons, with a new storyline, setting, film noir visual and narrative style and a bit more serious tone…
AR: It was pretty serious.
AWN: This new season, it feels like a romp, a combination of Casablanca, Raiders of the Lost Ark and a Bob Hope Road picture. What brought Archer and company to the pre-war South Pacific and what can we expect to see this season?
AR: You hit the nail on the head. I’ve wanted to do a buddy picture forever. Archer and Lana have such a fraught background, even in new iterations of the show. They have a lot of baggage. It really fell to Pam, who has become better buddies with Archer throughout the seasons. So, it just kinda seemed like a natural fit for those two to be buddies. Then, we made Pam enormous. She’s like 6’6”, just one big solid slab of muscle. So, that was cool. Then Krieger became a parrot.
AWN: Pam is huge. She dwarfs everyone.
AR: Yeah, and she displays some literally superhuman feats of strength throughout the season. Just crazy stuff. That’s been really great. I think Pam is only going to continue to get larger and stronger as the years go on.
AWN: Right. She was quite physical as a police detective last season. There’s always been a physicality to her roles and characters. This season seems to be the most extreme.
AR: She’s definitely a force to be reckoned with and really pummels bad guys and creatures later on in the season.
AWN: And Krieger is now her parrot, Crackers.
AR: Which was pretty fun to write but was a hassle to frame in the shots. They’re walking through the jungle and then, okay, is Crackers just flapping along at head-height or is he on somebody’s shoulder? But then it was like, “This looks too pirate-y.” Having a bird as one of the main characters in a show is a challenge, unless the other characters are also birds.
Like Woodstock. They never knew what to do with Woodstock. He was just flyin’ around, or hovering.
AWN: He always felt a little bit like a bolt-on to the scene. Like a fairing on an eagle.
AR: Yeah. It’s tough to animate birds…I think.
AWN: Considering the original spy agency series setting, why embark on these extreme story shifts, not just with the types of characters and roles they play, but with chronological timelines as well? What creative itch does this scratch for you?
AR: Well, I get to do a lot of research on whatever time period or genre. I got to sit down and look at old magazines and watch a whole bunch of film noir for last season. The art directors were like, “Here’s how they wore their hair. Here’s what people would drink back then. Here’s what the cars were like.” For this season, I watched a lot of classic movies like, Only Angels Have Wings, and old TV shows. There was a glut of Indiana Jones knock-offs from the early 80’s when I was a kid. It was cool to go back and re-watch a lot of those. So, I get to learn more.
Chris Parnell has basically learned conversational German this season, because Fuchs, his character, speaks so much German. We didn’t help Chris out really. It was just like, “Here’s the script in German, do it.” We didn’t have a German coach helping him or anything. We really just dropped him off in the deep end. That’s cool, to get to learn new stuff. It’s sort of like selfishly getting to spend more time with Wikipedia.
Each time we do this, we create a new set of rules to write by. Your jokes, if they’re gonna include pop culture references, should use pop culture references from 1938, for example. Like last season, Lana was doing some bad stand up in the nightclub and she was just ripping on the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. Late in the season, we got into an extended, probably overly extended discussion about “The Hobbit,” which, I didn’t know, was published in late 1937. So, it would have just come out, and everybody’s just talking about “The Hobbit” like it’s Harry Potter.
AWN: Does it concern you making such a big story shift? Do you assume the audience will follow you anywhere as long as you make things funny and interesting?
AR: Oh, no. I’m totally concerned. But, I’m equally concerned that viewers will get burned out on the same thing over, and over, and over again. I would worry either way. I would figure, “Oh, people, we’ve done something just like this already. People are going to get bored of the same old thing.” Or, I would be worried about, “Oh, this is a pretty radical shift and I don’t know if everybody will come with us.” So, either way, I would worry. I’m never happy.
AWN: Going back years ago to when we spoke about Season 1, you’ve always been quite humble about the show’s success and hopeful future. Each year we speak, you wonder if it will get picked up one more time.
AR: There’s a great team working on it. The cast is great. Everybody’s so talented, the artists, animators and designers. A lot of the ingredients are there. But, so much had to go right for the show to get on television in the first place. After almost 10 years, it’s still like, “Man, that’s pretty lucky.”
AWN: Any great guests appearances you can tease us with?
AR: Because we’re on an island, there are fewer than normal because it’s much more self-contained. There isn’t a new villain or damsel in distress coming in every week. The characters are all sort of jammed in there together. One of the things I like about the new season is that in a regular spy story, it’s hard to justify everybody going along on a mission. Why would you need the receptionist to go with you? So, by mixing it up, you’re able to get around that. Now, everybody has a reason to be together all the time. It makes it easier for them to argue and be mean to each other.
AWN: Aside from Archer sporting an eye patch, and Pam becoming enormous, you’ve got a new title sequence.
AR: Yeah. Some new music. I met a really talented guy named Archie Thompson at Comic-Con. He and his jazz band were playing in the hotel bar. I said to him, “You guys are really cool. I would love to work with you some day.” So, he’s been redoing our theme song. He did Dreamland and now he did this one with the bongos. The art gang did the new titles. It’s fun to watch the show open. It’s like you’re seeing this brand-new thing after seeing the other one scores of times. So, I get excited watching the opening titles roll.
AWN: Over the last few years, especially last season, Archer’s character has become a bit more serious. He still drinks excessively and is thoughtless and mean to most everyone, but some of his edges have softened a bit. Is that something that I’m just reading into the show, or is that something you’ve done deliberately?
AR: No, it’s definitely happening, but I don’t think it was a conscious decision. Over the years, the thin end of the wedge opened up the lid on the box of Archer’s actual feelings and emotions. As you see, he can do really nice things for other people. He’s especially goofy for animals. As each little bit of sweetness accidentally escapes, it makes it harder for me to have him go back and just be a total bastard. When I watch episodes of Season 1 or Season 2, he’s way meaner than he is now.
So, I don’t think it was a conscious thing…it just happened. It would be hard to bring him all the way back to square one because I think by now, it’s been such a gradual process that I didn’t even notice it happening. It could have just been bastard fatigue as a writer, you know. If he said or did the things now that he did in Season 1, it would probably seem jarring. Or, you would think something was terribly wrong with him.
AWN: So, you did bring a bit of depth to his character after all these years.
AR: Purely accidentally.
AWN: So, what will the future hold for you and Archer? You’ve said in the past that it might end after Season 10. What can you share with us?
AR: There’s probably nothing that I can share right now ‘cause I haven’t talked to any of the grown-ups and check signers. But, there’s at least one more season of fun adventures with Archer and the gang.
And Pam is going to get bigger and stronger. Eventually she will just be a bear.
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.