“Archer” creator Adam Reed knows that on modern television, death can be disposable.
“If you think interest is flagging, that’s always a great way to make people pay attention,” Reed said in an interview with IndieWire. Even though Reed said he’s “always volunteering to kill Ray,” the character he’s voiced for nine seasons, the writer doesn’t treat his characters as a mere means to make headlines — even the small ones. In Season 5, a perpetually bulletproof recurring character named Brett Bunson took a fatal shot to the head.
“We all took that really hard at the office because Neal Holman, our art director, has always voiced Brett,” Reed said. “We all miss Brett, but we can’t bring him back unless you want to do some crazy retcon, and then it sort of lowers the stakes.”
The death of a minor character like Brett may not be a big deal to anyone but die-hard “Archer” fans, but there’s something else Reed has been exploring for years that carries broader repercussions. He’s thinking of killing his main character.
“It’s definitely crossed my mind,” Reed said. “It’s come up.”
There’s a few reasons for that: For one, Reed previously mentioned he was planning to end the series after Season 10. When asked if that’s still the plan, Reed said he “can’t definitively say” if next year’s episodes will be the last — “things are kind of up in the air” — but it’s easy to see how one ending for the show could involve a permanent ending for its lead.
After all, he’s already prepped fans for the possibility. Over the two most recent seasons — “Dreamland” and “Danger Island” — Archer has been trapped in a coma. After suffering multiple shots to the chest (not unlike Brett did for years) at the end of Season 7, the former secret agent is hanging between life and death.
Though main characters die on TV often enough, rarely is it a character who could live forever — as virtually all animated favorites can — and rarer still does the lead serve as a linchpin for what could be an immortal franchise.
Set up as a spoof of James Bond, Archer has become a similar figure. The series has generated three companion books, a music album, a crossover episode with “Bob’s Burgers” (linked by the lead voice of both shows, H. Jon Benjamin, as well as network parent company 21st Century Fox), a national tour of their live show, and there’s even been talk of a feature film.
In other words, “Archer” isn’t just a show — it’s a franchise. The money generated from such characters typically demands, at the very least, they continue living. Usually, it asks them to maintain the status quo that made them so beloved in the first place, but neither is the case for “Archer.” The most recent seasons of “Archer” have shattered expectations in such a way that Reed’s a bit surprised he got to make them.
“It’s just amazing to me that when we first floated this idea to FX, they were like, ‘Yeah, sure. Great.’ And that was the end of the discussion,” Reed said. “It was like, ‘We’re going to totally blow apart what’s been a pretty successful formula…’ ‘Yeah, that’s fine. Go do that.'”
The result: two standalone seasons spent in Archer’s dreams. Season 8 and the upcoming ninth season take place in Archer’s subconscious, as the “real” Archer lays in a hospital bed. Last year, Reed took us to “Dreamland,” a period noir set in Los Angeles during 1947 and revolving around Archer, now a private investigator, looking into the death of his partner.
In the dream, Woodhouse was his partner, but in previous seasons he was Archer’s butler. “Dreamland” was dedicated to George Coe, who voiced the character for five seasons and died in 2015, giving the episodes an even more serious resonance outside the vengeful central story.
This loss, along with personal hardships, pushed Reed into a different mindset.
“‘Dreamland’ was pretty dark because I’d had this major reconstructive shoulder surgery, so I basically typed that season with one hand while watching the clock to see when I could have another painkiller,” Reed said. “That season is quite dark because I was in a super dark place mentally and physically.”
Reed said “Danger Island” is a “reaction to that” — a “chaser or palate cleanser from ‘Dreamland’s’ Darkness.”
“I mean, we killed dogs. That’s messed up,” Reed said. “Let’s just go have fun in the jungle with a parrot.”
Brighter in look and feel, Season 9 is a respite from the gloomy streets of L.A. as Archer finds himself in an island paradise — well, it would be if it weren’t for all the dragons and quicksand. Employed as a pilot and living at his mother’s remote hotel in the South Pacific, Reed said the new season is an adventure inspired by “Indiana Jones” and “Tales of the Golden Monkey.”
“I really wanted to do a buddy picture,” Reed said, nodding to Archer’s co-pilot Pam Poovey (voiced by Amber Nash). “Pam just kind of felt like a natural, and we made her […] bigger and stronger than before. That was really fun — to have her be this towering, almost like a Chewbacca sidekick.”
“It’s strange to look back to the pilot when she was just a blabby HR lady and Archer was beating her with a puppet,” Reed said. “She really has evolved in ways that are surprising even to me.”
The show overall has grown in surprising ways, too. Though Reed said he doesn’t plan to kill Archer “anytime soon,” that’s in part because of the series’ independent ventures into the character’s comatose mind.
“I really like doing it as a writer,” he said. “I think it staves off burnout because there’s a new set of rules or internal logic that you need to follow with each new setting. You can write hardboiled film noir dialogue [like] last season, and then try to match 1930s screwball comedy dialogue this season.”
Reinventing Archer and the gang via standalone stories has invigorated Reed; so much so, he’s not as eager to say goodbye. In 2016, FX Networks gave “Archer” a three-season pickup, carrying the show through a tenth season. Soon after, Reed said he was planning to end the series with Season 10. Now, he’s not so sure.
“I don’t know right at this moment,” Reed said. “We’ve really been enjoying these different worlds. So I can’t definitively say right now whether Season 10 will be the last time we ever see Archer grace the screen. Things are kind of up in the air.”
There’s a lot of options for “Archer” moving forward. Reed even said they “could do all the Bible stories. […] Like Archer as King Herod — that’s a great story that needs to be told.” But he promises fans won’t be left high-and-dry about the character’s “real” fate.
“We are going to check back in with Archer’s real life at some point,” Reed said. “People are going to get some closure, I guess, about what’s going on in the real world of ‘Archer’ — [real] sounds weird to say. ‘Archer Prime,’ I guess?”
For one season, at least, that closure can be set aside. “Danger Island” isn’t going to be what kills Archer. In fact, it might prove to be what saved him.
“Archer: Danger Island” premieres Wednesday, April 25 at 10 p.m. ET on FXX.