Hollywood Noir meets Keystone Spymasters as the bumbling agency moves to Los Angeles, applying their questionable espionage skills to the private eye business.
Extra, extra, read all about it! Season 7 of Archer premieres tonight on FX!
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – Archer is my favorite animated TV show. For six seasons now, the FX Network series has never failed to amuse and entertain, often leaving me slack-jawed in amazement, thinking to myself, “Did they just say what I think they just said?” It’s witty, it’s gritty, it’s debased, it’s hilarious.
So once again, as we’ve done each Spring (maybe a late Winter or two) the last five years, series creator Adam Reed and I chatted about the new season, me trying my best to sound intelligent and non-fan boyish, him as usual being humble and self-effacing as he walked me through some upcoming highlights, sharing his insights on producing one of the best animated TV shows ever made.
Dan Sarto: Adam, this is our 5th annual interview, always the highlight of my year. Archer Season 7 is upon us. What’s in store for our favorite bumbling spymasters?
Adam Reed: Well, we’re doing a bit of a shift again. The gang formally known as ISIS is moving to Los Angeles to become private eyes. Because you need 2,000 hours of investigative work, or at least you did in the 70s and 80s, a law degree or a criminal justice degree, it’s actually going to be the Figgis Agency, with Cyril as the titular agency head. They're going to be working on mysteries and trying to transpose their skill set from spies to private eyes.
DS: So it's one part Raymond Chandler, one part TMZ.
AR: Exactly. One of the concerns that both Malory [character Malory Archer, former ISIS CEO] and FX had was that private eyes have a reputation as being quite grubby – their cases get very grubby. So early on, Malory wants to position them as the “Detectives to the Stars.” Pretty early on they get caught up in some jet-set mysteries. There's not a lot of skulking around in alleys.
DS: So that means new L.A. digs, headquarters and sets?
AR: Yeah…let’s see. They've got a new office, new wardrobe, new cars, new houses, it's all new. My business partner, Matt Thompson, is probably going to need corrective eye surgery from all the eye-rolling he's done this past year. He's like, "We already have an office. It's great, it's already drawn." The new season has a lot of new beautiful backgrounds and new cars. I'm pretty excited about it.
DS: One of the burdens and challenges you face each season is that you’ve got to please a growing fan base that has certain expectations. As the primary writer and creative force on the show, you want to keep things fresh and continue to push new narrative arcs. The L.A. setting provides considerable fertile storytelling ground.
AR: Well, there's plenty of work here for everybody. That’s one of the tough things. I sort of like reading online comments, which I shouldn't do. But half of the people write, "Hey, I'm bored with the old stuff, quit doing the old stuff." Then when you try something new the other half writes, "This new stuff is crap, play the hits."
DS: It’s always a moving target.
AR: Yeah, and it’s tough to walk that line and also mix in the reality of not wanting to repeat yourself as a writer. I guess it's a line we have to walk while trying to keep the fans happy, which is always a fool's errand.
DS: It is a thankless task. You'll always alienate some while getting others to applaud you. That's any creative's cross to bear.
AR: That’s always the case with us - that's nothing new. Every year we alienate a new group of viewers [laughs].
DS: There's a minimalist beauty to the show’s designs. I know your focus is on the writing and directing, but production-wise, with the L.A. sets, backgrounds and vehicles, anything new this year?
AR: Things keep looking better every year, but I don't know how they do it. I'm sure Neal Holman [the show’s production designer and art director] or Casey Willis [the show’s producer] would love to talk to you and drill down into the mind-numbing minutia of how this show ends up on a TV screen [* Editor’s Note – Holman and Willis’ talk with AWN about the show’s production will be published soon]. I think we are folding in some new software and creative techniques. I can't remember what the new thing is now, but if we were to start Archer today we would not do it the way we do it now. It's a blend of Photoshop and After Effects and Illustrator and I think now, there is something even better. I think it's cheaper and quicker and better.
DS: Did you get any help with the writing this season, or once again did it all fall on your shoulders?
AR: I've been doing it all myself this year because, hey, it's a whole new thing [moving the show’s setting to L.A.] and there's sort of a season long narrative arc, kind of, or at least I tried, and we have pared back to 10 episodes to give us a little more breathing room. It's just been me this year, for better or worse, hopefully not too terribly worse.
DS: Any PC worries this season? I've never perceived you as someone chasing the cheap yucks or trying to be the agent provocateur, just for the sake of pushing buttons. I can't imagine you’d start doing that now, but on the other hand, there are plenty of times where Archer may have given some people pause. The vibe in the U.S. today seems a bit less tolerant than in the past. Any problems or issues that have impacted how you write?
AR: I don't think so. FX has been as cool as ever. It's rare that we get any push-back from them, because with me and Floyd County as a whole, our sensibility isn't, like you said, to just be like, "Let's see if we can shock somebody!" The FX “edge of the envelope” is pretty far out there. It's very rare that we bump up against it and if we do, it's usually because they catch me trying to do that, like, "You're clearly going for the cheap-shot laugh here. On your next pass, why don’t you put a little more effort into that? [laughs]"
DS: "Why don't you put a bit more 'work' into this? [laughs]"
AR: Exactly. "Why don't you do what we're paying you to do and write better." No, that doesn't really happen. They're a good channel to work for in a lot of regards, but that's definitely one of them. I've been watching The People v OJ Simpson and they dropped an MF bomb with the last word of the most recent episode. I definitely don't put that into my scripts. I use it in my every day vernacular, but I don't put it into the scripts.
DS: That's what’s so great about how you write. You make viewers work a bit to get the show’s humor. It doesn't just slap you in the face.
AR: I think Aisha [character Lana Kane voice actress Aisha Tyler] summed it up early on in Archer when she coined the word "smilthy." A combination of smart and filthy.
DS: Yes, as I’ve written before, the show is smilthy good fun. Any guest stars you can share with us that we can expect to see as part of the hijinks this year?
AR: Yes, we have some great guest stars this year. I'm looking at a list and I just realized that all the ones I've written down are men. But we have some great men. We have a great list of mostly white men. I know people are all about diversity, so we've got white males. We have Patton Oswalt, J.K. Simmons, John Daly, John Glaser, and John O'Hurley. Christian Slater is also re-joining us, Golden Globe in hand. And Keegan Michael Key.
DS: There’s some comedy gold in that list.
AR: Yeah, we're so lucky that people say, "Yes." We do almost all of our voice recording over the telephone. But even just to talk on the telephone with people you've only ever seen in movies, it's pretty great.
DS: Seven seasons now. A big fan base. Sterling Archer, as a character, has traveled quite a bit, undergone a number of changes, from being the most irresponsible person in the room to sometimes being the only responsible person in the room. Usually though, he’s the most irresponsible. What is it about his character that continues to be so appealing? He's just this lovable a-hole who represents the best and the worst in all of us. What makes him such a great character?
AR: I think some of it has to do with the fact that even though he started out the first few seasons as such a self-centered bastard, he has slowly, I don't know, “matured” a little bit. You see flashes of kindness or, "Hey, this guy actually is not the most selfish person in the universe." That allows Archer to easily flip back into major jerk-mode and it's okay because on the whole, he's trending more positively. He can still switch into total bastard-mode whenever, and it works.
I think the other two big things are Jon's performance [character Sterling Archer voice actor H. Jon Benjamin] and there's something about the actual character design of Archer that our illustrators and animators have captured…maybe his eyes? I don't know…that original model we used probably let us get away with all kinds of stuff over the years. There's something about Archer's face, the actual drawing, that to me, is so disarming. The way his subtle facial expressions are animated. They do a great job letting the viewer in on the joke. I think we know deep-down that Archer is nice, so even when he's being a total jerk, we let him get away with it.
DS: Last thing. I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask, is there any future for your new show Cassius and Clay? Is that on the shelf permanently or just for a while? Can you tell us anything about the project?
AR: It is in the works. It is in the works. I probably can't or shouldn't go way into this, but it is definitely...things are happening on that front.
DS: Great. Anything else to add about the upcoming season?
AR: Please watch!
DS: Well, you know, you can count on me, so you’ll have at least an audience of one.
AR: That's all I need. If you watch, we're good. Also, tell your friends to watch, obviously.
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.