The following contains spoilers for Archer Season 10 Episode 1.
Archer is kind of the perfect example of how you can’t tell a television show what it’s not allowed to do. This is all too appropriate since the same can essentially be said for Archer, the character, as well. If an animated comedy about spies doesn’t want to be about spies anymore, then it ends. It doesn’t turn the team into drug runners, or become a stylish noir mystery, or a throwback to adventure serials from the ‘50s. Archer has inexplicably turned into all of these things and more and it hasn’t shown a dip in its confidence.
Somewhere the series’ main character is lingering in a coma that he may or may not pull out of, but at this point it’s clear that Adam Reed and company are more interested in playing “What If?” with its cast of characters than anything else. Maybe this season will finally tie up loose ends, or maybe it will just segue into “Blazing Archer,” a Western facelift for the show.
This season turns the series into Archer: 1999, a glowing love letter to science fiction and space operas, with inspiration coming from classic films like Alien. Archer’s cast has seen some extremely weird transformations over the past few years, but Archer: 1999 may take the space-cake. Krieger is an android, Malory is a ball of energy, and Pam is a freaking rock monster now.
The season’s premiere, “Bort the Garj,” spends a lot of time on acquainting the audience to this new version of the show, but it still manages to throw the crew into chaos before the time the credits roll. We got the opportunity to chat with one of the series’ producers, Marcus Rosentrater, to break down Archer: 1999’s new look, jump into the premiere’s production, and chart where this space journey is heading.
Archer 1999 Episode 1: Bort the Garj
“Archer and the crew of the Seamus wake up to the smell of shepherd’s pie and see a business opportunity in their new guest.”
Written by Adam Reed.
DEN OF GEEK: At the end of season nine, you give a brief preview towards this latest narrative pivot. How much of Archer: 1999 had you guys figured out while on Archer: Danger Island?
MARCUS ROSENTRATER: We knew a long time ago that we wanted to do this season in a galaxy far, far away. At the end of the seventh season, Adam Reed had a big idea (which we don’t want to reveal as it happens late in this space season) that he wanted to build around. That idea was this season in outer space and specifically the later episodes of this season. We actually figured out “Danger Island” after we discussed what this season would entail. It is the first time we have ever planned a season before a previous one.
What sort of films or television shows did you guys watch beforehand to use an influence for this season?
We looked at a ton of source material. The Art Direction team has a collection of sci-fi art books and movies that they gathered while preparing for the season. Our goal was to visualize the season how a 1970/80s production designer would envision 1999. We focused on a lot of sci-fi from that time period and we liked the look of a lot of tech from the Alien franchise. So if we had to pick one visual tentpole, it’s Alien. But there are many, many other things we lean on this season, shows we all love. To name a few others: Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, Space: 1999, early Captain Kirk Star Trek and TNG, as well as Guardians of the Galaxy.
It feels like through the years Archer has been slowly building to a lengthy, all-out Alien homage. Was there a lot of excitement to actually get to dig into that kind of material?
YES!!! Spoiler alert: there is a huge correlation between people that make cartoons for a living and love of the sci-fi genre. We are all avid consumers of everything sci-fi and this season is a love letter to a lot of things we have enjoyed over the years. There are going to be a lot of nods to Alien for sure, even some deep cuts if you look for them. You may have to watch the show a few times just to find them all. However, the designs and level of tech needs to fit with our Archer universe. So it’s not a complete Alien homage as we go into several sci-fi sub-genres.
Archer has always occupied this weird alternate history where it’s not exactly clear what year it is. Even though we’re still in coma land, we learn it’s June 28th, 1999. Any significance in that date, or just going for the Space: 1999 parallels?
June 28 is just a really solid date. One of the better dates, actually, and a terrific date to start our series. It’s fun to look back at how art and entertainment looked out at that distant horizon… 1999, the turn of the century! Archer has always been a show that could exist in the past, but always feel like the present. Archer: 1999 presented an opportunity to exist in the past, but feel like the future.
There are some especially radical character re-designs this season, particularly with Pam and Malory. Were there any other ideas or space tropes that you considered before ultimately siding with things like rock monster, energy ball, synthetic human?
While the designs are fun and radical, we also like how these incarnations are consistent with how these characters have been evolving already in the show and in Archer’s head. Pam continues to grow larger in size with her physical role in the group. Malory’s design as an ascended being (Stargate SG-1) gives her power and a near omnipresence within the group, while Krieger turning full synthetic in a nod to Alien’s Bishop seemed like a given. But there are smaller changes as well.
For example, we definitely wanted Barry to continue his evolution into being a full robot. In this season he’s really lost all semblance to humanity and we thought of him similarly to IG-88 and Scud. Cheryl’s design contains a reference to Battlestar’s Starbuck, while Ray is somewhat modeled on Inara from Firefly. We did consider more changes to Lana and Cyril, but we had to leave a few characters a little more grounded in the Archer-verse or it would seem like too much of a reinvention. There is a balance and hopefully, fans will think it works.
In this “timeline,” Archer and Lana were married, but are now divorced. She’s also still messed around with Cyril. Talk a little on the significance, if any, of that relationship choice for them?
While Archer and Lana would sometimes bicker like an old married couple, there is a dynamic here we’ve never explored between them. In the previous two seasons, Archer was meeting Lana for the first time. In those seasons, he is totally smitten with her, and pursues his affection for her. For this season we wanted to go the opposite route and put Archer and Lana into a situation where they already share a ton of history. They are not learning about each other, but instead done learning about one another. Lana’s relationship with Cyril is something that digs at Archer’s psyche because it keeps coming up in these seasons.
These new versions of the characters continue to offer more insight into who they are, but there are also lots of new outrageous entities this season, like Bort the Garj. Did you feel that it was also important to bring some fresh blood in this season?
The show has always created great opportunities for new characters to put our crew into uncomfortable, interesting, and funny situations. And it gives us a chance to work with talented people like Sam Richardson, who we’re big fans of. Bort’s character and backstory is the perfect wrench to throw into our crew’s plans. As the season progresses, some other great comedic actors will join us like Jillian Bell as a rival starship Captain, Thomas Lennon reprising a fan favorite assassin role, and the hilarious Matthew Berry (Whiskey!) as the ultimate destructive weapon.
Barry’s also back! Talk about the decision to include him in this season as a major antagonist after he was absent from Archer: Danger Island?
Barry is Archer’s most significant nemesis and when we don’t get to see him in a season, it hurts us personally. David Willis voices Barry and he is not only one of the show’s dear friends, but one of the most talented cartoon writer/creators working today. All that said, with the constraints of being on a jungle island, the story of 1930’s Danger Island just did not provide a good opportunity for robot Barry to come in and do battle with Archer. This sci-fi season, our robot antagonist is fairly present throughout and the show is the better for it.
Was this structure with the distress signal, Bort, and the double-cross always the plan for this premiere, or were there other story ideas that you played with to start off the season?
It’s been planned out for some time. The distress signal waking our crew is another example of taking a cue from source material (Alien), but then immediately twisting it into something uniquely Archer. It is hard to remember which thoughts actually came first, but the Alien style distress beacon launching the season was one of the very first things Adam wanted to do as he began formulating this season’s story.
The show’s animation has gotten more impressive with each new season, but was it particularly exciting to now get to tackle things like the terrains of galaxies, space battles, and a scale unlike anything ever before seen with the show?
Yes! Even though we’ve been starting new each of these past few seasons, we’re still building on what we have done before. For example, the WWII dog fight in Danger Island established animation techniques used in this season’s space battles. It’s safe to say that science fiction stirs the imagination of our FCP crew more than any other genre we’ve explored.
Another way to put that is if you want to make a talented illustrator happy, ask them to draw a space alien that no one has ever seen before. Giving our artists the freedom to tell the showrunners what things look like — be it drawing, animating, or visual effects — allowing them to stretch and push their own already considerable abilities, is very fulfilling. They’ve tackled these new locations and challenges of this season with tremendous enthusiasm and we can’t wait for you to see how they’ve outdone themselves, again.
Also, that’s Babou on the crew’s insignia patches! Cheryl’s pet ocelot from previous seasons of Archer. Because of Archer’s adoration of this animal, it felt like the perfect mascot for our crew this season.
At least at this point it looks like this will be another very serialized season. Why that approach rather than a more episodic planet hopping Star Trek kind of vibe?
It’s going to be a mix. Without saying too much there will be some fun surprises in the way this season goes. We would call this lightly serialized with some one-off jaunts in the middle.
Ten seasons in, was there more thought put into things like callbacks to the first season or trying to thematically tie the series together in some sense?
We love callbacks that are specific to our own universe. In fact…uh… Wait, I had something for this. Nope… “space” lost it.
Our behind the scenes coverage of Archer: 1999’s writing process will continue at the season’s midway point
Daniel Kurland is a published writer, comedian, and critic whose work can be read on Den of Geek, Vulture, Bloody Disgusting, and ScreenRant. Daniel knows that the owls are not what they seem, that Psycho II is better than the original, and he’s always game to discuss Space Dandy. His perma-neurotic thought process can be followed at @DanielKurlansky.