The greatest thing about FX’s "Archer" is that while you always kind of know what you’re going to get when you start watching a new season, it’s never always the same thing. And the impetus from that comes directly from creator Adam Reed, who has never been satisfied with repeating himself, to the point of completely rejiggering the show’s premise with the passing seasons.
This year, former secret agent Sterling Archer is now working with his fellow former spies in a Los Angeles private detective agency, and the whole series is now rich with references to ’70s and ’80s detective shows, as well as classic Hollywood tropes — including an homage to "Sunset Boulevard" that gave the season an endpoint. Below, Reed admits that he never wants to bore himself, where certain new visual elements got their inspiration and, despite beginning the season with an ending, Reed didn’t know how he was going to get there.
First off, before I forget, I just have a quick nerdy question. I know so much of the season is drawing on ’70s and ’80s detective shows, but for the new visual interstitials at the commercial breaks, what specifically is the inspiration there?
"Charlie’s Angels," I think, would be the inspiration for that. And also, you know, a lot of shows of that era, like "Hart to Hart." It seemed like everybody did it back then. We wanted to evoke that era. They did a good job with that.
Yeah, it’s lovely. When you sat down with this new approach to the show, how much actual ’70s and ’80s television did you watch?
I watched all of it, basically. I watched an absolute ton of TV as a kid, and I especially loved all of the detective shows, so I was glued to the set.
For writing this new season, though, what did you go back and revisit?
I watched, I don’t know, I hate to say a hundred hours, but I might have watched a hundred hours of ’70s and ’80s detective shows. You know, "Magnum," and "Riptide," and "Simon and Simon," and "Rockford." I even watched a couple of "BJ and the Bear" [episodes] because even though he was a truck driver, he still did sort of solve mysteries for some reason. What else did I watch? I think a "McMillan & Wife" got in there somehow. Who else? "Quincy."
Yeah. There’s a episode of "Simon and Simon" where both Rick and AJ have an evil twin, which is pretty crazy. I think it might have been a two-parter. It’s worth hunting down and watching that because just the nerve to have a double evil twin episode is pretty great.
I mean, that’s ballsy.
The whole angle is so fun. Beyond your initial inspiration, was there a specific reason why you wanted to go in a new direction?
Sort of just escapism, to get away from the news which has gotten, it seems to me at least, a lot grimmer since "Archer" started. I think ISIS was a big factor, just becoming like a nagging thing in the back of my head. It seemed like it was becoming harder and harder to find stories that didn’t accidentally invoke something that’s actually happening.
That’s actually really interesting. One thing I noticed about the first four — and it only stands out because of past seasons — is that I think every episode takes place in Los Angeles. Like, we don’t really leave the city borders at all.
Yeah, they don’t spend a lot of time traveling this season. I’m trying to think if they go anywhere…maybe Malibu, but that’s not very far. So, yeah, it is pretty L.A.-centric.
It just makes sense given that, you know, if you want to avoid the real world, Los Angeles is a really great place to do it.
Yeah, go to a movie set. Actually, the back of the season, they spend a lot of time on a movie set.
And this is part of the mystery that gets set up right at the beginning of the season, right?
Yes, yes. They get tied up with movie stars and directors and old Hollywood. Sort of the engine driving the plot in the back half of the season is a film noir [being made] that’s set in the ’40s and they’re spending most of their time on the set of that film.
I know "Archer" pulls its references from all sorts of different eras, so when you’re depicting Hollywood, what specific era do you think you’re reflecting? Like, is it the 1950s versus the 1930s?
Oh, well, the ’40s sort of are brought to mind a lot because on this set, you know, all the cars are from the ’40s and all the extras are wearing ’40s wardrobe and some of the gang is undercover as movie extras, so they’re wearing ’40s stuff. So let’s leave it as ’40s.
That’s a really fun look to give the characters, as well, wardrobe-wise.
In terms of that mystery, though– I mean, "Archer’s" never shied away from serialized narratives, but this feels like a bigger step in that direction.
It is a little more serialized this season. We finish up this season where we start in Episode 1. I guess the opening scene actually is the closing scene of the season and it’s the first time we’ve done that. So that was new and interesting and a bit nerve-wracking, to know that eventually the story needed to come back to square one. I’ve never done that before.
Did you know how you were going to get there when you wrote it?
When I wrote it, I did not know how we would get there, just that we had to get there and I just turned in the last script on Thursday. We got there, but along the way I didn’t necessarily know every turn that we would take, just that we needed to be at a certain place at a certain time.
So that was a little nerve-wracking?
Yeah. The previous six seasons, I haven’t known at all how it would end or anything, but you don’t need to worry about that stuff. This time, there was, "Oh, wait a minute, I can’t do that because this thing needs to happen," or whatever. So it was a different challenge.
In theory, people would be happy to keep watching "Archer" even if it was just the same sort of thing every week. Is there a specific reason you like challenging yourself that way?
I guess it’s just fear of repeating oneself or of boring everyone.
Do you worry about boring yourself?
Yeah, I think that’s part of it. I don’t think any writer wants to sit down and write the same story over and over. So that’s a big part of it. And then also the more stories you write, the fewer you haven’t written, if that makes sense. So I think by putting them in a new location with a new job, suddenly you have a lot more stories that you haven’t written.
Changing the subject a little bit, you’ve submitted "Archer" for the Emmys as an animated series and done well in that respect, but you also submitted Season 4 in the comedy category–
Yes. FX decided, I think, after going oh for three in animation, to try it in comedy. And then we were oh for one in comedy, so now back to animation where we’re oh for however many.
Is that a move you’d ever try again or do you think sticking with the animation is the plan going forward?
I’m not sure what the plan is with that. That’s one of the things more that I’m told rather than asked, but I trust their judgment. I’m not sure where "Archer" will end up being submitted. Maybe drama.
You could go drama. You’re noir now.
Do you pay much attention to the awards circus?
More than I should. Yeah, I try not to, but that’s totally a lie. Like, yeah, I mean, I would love to win all the awards. That’d be great, but it seems like… "Archer" is only on for a few weeks a year and the rest of the time we’re sort of operating in a vacuum. So there’s a flurry of, "Oh, I wonder what will happen," and then nothing happens and then, you know, you’re just back to normal, everyday life.
I mean, from the outside, nobody has enough awareness of how much work goes into making every episode.
It’s a fair amount of work. There are a lot of people who work very hard and they work very long hours and they’re very good at what they do. The show, I think, every season just tops the last in terms of the look and the sophistication of the animation and just the artistry. We’re really lucky to have a great bunch of artists working on the show.
In terms of that, the thing that’s always really exciting about following "Archer" is the fact that it is constantly moving forward and constantly trying new things. Do you feel like the show will ever run out of that energy at this stage?
I hope not. I personally feel– Well, I just turned in my final script of the season so I, right now, feel incredibly energized and full of ideas. A week ago, I probably would not have phrased it like that, but, you know, I would like the show to keep going for a long, long time.
Are you guys still developing new ideas? I knew that "Cassius and Clay" got… What’s the official term for it?
I don’t know what the official term for that is. I’m not sure what’s going on with that or what else we necessarily have in the pipe right at this moment, but, yeah, I don’t know. That’s a fuzzy area, right now, for me.
Well to be fair, you only just now finished Season 7.
Yeah. So, you know, I’m still catching up on laundry.
To wrap things up: I know that you have a good relationship with FX’s standards and practices, but I’m wondering if anything happened this season that pushed it further than usual.
No, no, they are pretty understanding over there. A couple of times this season, I wrote a couple of lines where, like, internally, our producers are like, "That’s weird, maybe let’s not do that." So I think before it gets to FX, we normally self-censor a little bit. Then a lot of times I’ll write a script late at night and then, in the cold light of day, I’ll think, "Oh, that’s terrible. Even for us, just too much." So, no, we just hum along with them.
It seems like the relationship has evolved really nicely.
Yeah, they are. I’ve said this throughout the seasons, but there have been a number of times where they have said, "Hey, this scene’s pretty good. Maybe you push it a little farther. This is FX, we can push these boundaries a little bit more." It’s a good place to be a writer.
"Archer" premieres tonight at 10pm on FX.