FXX’s animated hit Archer might have started as a humble spy comedy, but it’s a constantly evolving anomaly. The series about to go into its eighth season and for the past few years, Archer has managed to find new life in rebooting and “de-booting” its premise as its creators see fit.
Seeing Archer and Co. become drug runners and private investigators has been a lot of fun, but this season goes even deeper. It is set entirely within the coma fantasy of its main character. After a tumultuous cliffhanger last season, this season is in Archer’s subconscious while the regular cast of characters are refit into film noir archetypes from 1947. It’s also the most energized that Archer has been in a long time.
With the show’s exciting new season, subtitled Archer: Dreamland, about to drop, we spoke with the series’ executive producer Matt Thompson about constantly re-inventing a series, their painstaking efforts to embrace film noir, and how they considered doing the season in black and white.
DEN OF GEEK: I love that Archer is a show that continues to reinvented itself in recent seasons. Why did the noir genre and the 1940s seem like the next place to take the series?
MATT THOMPSON: I don’t know if it’s the best place to go next, but it’s what interested us. Kind of the long-ish route to get there, but it’s a world that we hope has consequences—even though it’s animated. What I mean by that is that in Sealab we just blew the whole place up at the end of every other episode and killed everybody.
In our next show, Frisky Dingo, people would be blind for a few episodes maybe, and then un-blinded, but never die. And then with this show, the rules just keep getting more and more realistic. We really loved how we ended last season by faking everybody out. They all thought it was going to be this Archer robot that gets shot, but nope, it’s really him! And so we wanted to make sure that that had a consequence. We didn’t want it to be like, “Hey, remember when you almost died? Let’s go get those bad guys!” We wanted it to have weight, so the best way to do that it seemed was to put him in a coma. So then what does that mean? Is it just going to be one episode where he’s in a coma, wakes up, and miraculously moves on? No, that just feels so normal. What would be more interesting would be to do anything we wanted, so let’s do a season entirely in Archer’s mind.
So we boiled it all down. Even when it was spies, or cocaine, or anything else, at its essence it’s really a detective game for these people. It’s a film noir homage going on in this action-comedy workplace. So it made sense for us to go right at film noir because—and this is a Hollywood word that I hate—but there are tent poles, which are structurally integral to our show.
So those things existed and made it a nice easy transition to make here. It also allowed us to make the show look even more beautiful here. I will say that when we first had the idea, Adam and I were fighting over who would have to tell FXX, “Okay, we want to do a season in 1947,” but then we wanted to go one step further and Adam was like, “I want to tell them we should do it in black and white.” Oh God! You can’t do that. 1947 is already so much of a jump. That was the original, original plan though, to do it in black and white. But we never even told FXX. To their credit, they probably would have even gone with it! They’re all about pushing boundaries. If you’re going to swing, swing hard.
That’s a really cool idea though and now’s the time that there’s actually an audience for that. You should at least try to get it going for the DVD.
So this season has a lot of flashbacks. Archer this year is coming out of World War II and is stuck with a lot of PTSD, so he’s stuck with a lot of flashbacks accordingly. When we do these flashbacks we have a sort of heavy sepia put on top of it to differentiate things, but then later in the season we were like, “Aw man, why weren’t we doing it in black and white?” So there’s a very Krieger-heavy episode that deals with his work for the Nazis during WWII and we actually did those flashbacks in black and white. The reason I like that is because they’re short flashbacks. Doing a whole 22 minutes in black and white is another story.
I’ve read that you’ve said that after figuring out this season of the show, the following seasons came into view really well. Is that still the case? Do you know what next year looks like?
I know what the next year isn’t. I know that this 1947 thing has a very beautiful bow on it at the end of the season. It’s a really satisfying conclusion. It’s beautiful as it’s touching, and just a high stakes consequences situation. I know that we’re done with 1947. But Adam and I always wait two months after the season is over before making a definitive call on what we’re going to do next season. So we have a lot of ideas that have jumped out of this detour. We may go back to the present timeline, we may not. But we don’t like to make that decision right now, until we’ve had the benefit of granting ourselves as much hindsight as possible.
You guys have done some great movie homages in the past—I’m particularly happy that Eiger Sanction made the cut—but what are your favorite noir films and were there any films that you especially wanted to pay service to this season?
There’s a lot of Maltese Falcon in here. There’s also—and I always get this backwards, but it’s either Archer & Woodhouse or Woodhouse & Archer detective agency in Maltese Falcon itself. Please, Google away! There’s a lot of other things that we watched and it wasn’t specifically one movie as it was the whole genre. Specifically, the lighting. An inordinate amount of time was spent on film noir’s lighting because they didn’t have things like color to play around with. So you will see that this season we are paying a lot more attention to our lighting, specifically how it comes in through blinds, what’s black and what’s not, and those high contrast situations. I would say that the number one movie influence is definitely Maltese Falcon, even right done to tiny shots and stuff like that.
The animation this season in the show is really incredible. It’s crazy to not only look at just how far the quality has improved since the start of the show, but also how far you’ve come from you days of intentionally trying to reuse assets back in Sealab.
It’s crazy. Each one of Adam and my show’s has been two things at once. It’s been extremely silly—almost Dadaist—to almost realistic, like clever dialogue wordplay. Like moving far away from something like, “Oh hey, that tree’s talking and isn’t that funny because it’s a tree.” So it’s gone from super silly to probably Wikipedia too smart, and then also going from the lowest of the low tech to pushing budgets around to make this show as gorgeous as possible.
Sometimes there are fight scenes now where there are fluid kicks and motions that are unreal. Other stuff too like the cars or buildings in the background as well. We’ve heavily researched the correct vehicles to use, the correct handguns—every gun model is new this season—every outfit is brand new this season. We hired a costume designer from the show Mob City to send us costumes because we wanted to make sure we had real 1947 clothes on our models before drawing them. It creates a very detailed tapestry that you’re working from that hopefully does transport you there.
You go even one step further with all of that with beautiful transitions of things like a safe lock turning into car wheels or ice dissolving in a bourbon are so, so gorgeous and really add to the atmosphere that you’re going for, too.
That glass dissolving thing—Adam wrote that and it just didn’t work forever. One of our animators really worked on it and tried to slow it down. Really, all that it’s supposed to be is a passage of time. But also if you look, it’s two bodies fighting against each other, melting against each other as things bubble to the surface. There’s a lot going on in that tiny little shot. So that shot was actually fucking horrible to work on. It took forever and ever and we slaved over it, but it was for three seconds. But it was supposed to be doing this symbolic thing, and it wasn’t quite doing its job. And it’s great when you have the money to fix those things. One person worked on that one shot for four or five days. That’s a dream that we could never afford on Sealab.
Adam and I would always ask ourselves, “Is that joke worth 100 dollars?” Because we would literally have to figure out if we wanted to spend another 100 dollars to get this joke across. More times than not, we’d just be like, “Let’s just shout about it off screen.” But now we’ll do it.
I really love the dynamic of Archer and Lana “meeting” each other for the first time here. Was it fun to get to cast that relationship in a new light and sort of hint that they’re fated for a certain outcome.
Yes! And there’s a big secret that we’re hiding until later episodes with those two. We were trying to figure out when they would somewhat fall for each other and re-figure itself out. You know, things with them have gotten complicated over the years. They’ve got a kid together now, they’re weighted down by history… so to just be able to see them walk in and see each other fresh, acting all animalistic, it’s great. Then to see them fall back into “I love you/I hate you”—because that’s where they’re destined to be anyway—is just a lot of fun.
I like to think that every relationship this season, every character this season is different, but the same. Archer is still a self-serving jerk, but now he’s inspired by the death of his partner and he’s really trying to do what’s right. You still feel that Lana is still sort of the voice of reason, but now she’s a lounge sister and trying to exist in a man’s world. All of these characters will shift into familiar patterns. It’s just so interesting to me—and the actors are crazy about. To play someone for seven years and then get to do something new. There’s an episode this season where Lucky Yates, who plays Krieger, had to speak German for the entire episode. And like a lot of German. Getting to do little things like that is exciting for an actor, especially when you’ve been in the role for so long.
Lastly, what are you most excited for people to see in this season of the show?
I’m most excited to see Archer the series, and every character within Archer, being explored in a new way that also doesn’t leave you disappointed. To see Cyril Figgis to not be the put-upon accountant but actually a dirty cop that might murder people? That’s interesting! If you like this show at all, you’re going to like this show all changed and trying to shift back into recognizable patterns. That and brand-new beautiful artwork, plus we’ve got Jeffrey Tambor back and as a selfish Arrested Development fan, it’s always so much fun to see him and Jessica go back and forth.
Archer’s eighth season premieres April 5th at 10 p.m. on FXX.