Archer Producers Discuss Season 12’s Kingsman-esque Opener

Archer EP Casey Willis and Pierre Cerrato break down season 12’s big premiere and the new dynamic that Sterling struggles with all season.

Archer Season 12 Premiere Medal Ceremony
Photo: FXX

This article contains spoilers for Archer season 12 episode 1.

After eleven seasons, over 100 episodes, and four radical reinventions, Archer has become one of the most ambitious and respected animated series of its generation. The show has elevated itself to something greater than a (hilarious) parody of the spy genre and has slowly allowed both itself and its characters to evolve in fascinating ways. Around these massive changes, Archer has never lost sight of itself. Its core sensibility and acerbic characters never falter.

Twelve seasons in, Archer has returned to a relative place of normalcy. Season 11 brought Sterling Archer back to reality from his coma, but season 12 is where the harsh ways of the world really begin to set back in. Archer himself may have his groove back, but his team is still in a highly unstable place and this season presents a version of them that are more vulnerable than ever before. Archer’s executive producer Casey Willis and producer Pierre Cerrato get candid about season twelve’s direction, the new enemies that The Agency face, the glorious return of the Tacti-Cane, and more. 

Note: Casey Willis and Pierre Cerrato jointly provided answers under their production tag “Floyd County Productions.”

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Archer Season 12 Episode 1 – “Identity Crisis” 

Written by Shane Kosakowski
“Archer and the gang just saved the world from a nuclear catastrophe and their reward is five nights in a rat-infested Moldovan hotel.” 

DEN OF GEEK: This premiere picks up right after season 11’s finale and really functions as the continuation of that story. Was it always the decision to immediately continue from the events of the finale or was there consideration to give more of a breather and push the clock forward with this premiere?

FLOYD COUNTY PRODUCTIONS: We really wanted to explore the ramifications of Archer and the gang saving the world. How could they capitalize on this achievement? That’s why we set the events just a few weeks after the end of the season 11 finale. That’s also why we brought in the Cloudbeam folks as “Malory” is getting desperate and needs to make some money. Additionally, we knew we still wanted Archer to have the Tacti-cane, so having this season start only a couple weeks after the events in #1108 felt natural.

Was this season approached any differently than previous seasons or was any kind of mission statement that you guys wanted to make with this premiere?

This season we approached the story in a similar way to season 11. We had story goals and character goals and we plotted out the season and tried to show growth in the characters along the way. 

To talk about the creation of the show for a bit, the first thing on our mind this season was the safety of our cast and crew. This is the first season that we started and will complete in a work-from-home scenario. To facilitate that, we had to make a lot of adjustments to our workflow. We have such amazing cast members, writers, artists, animators and production staff, and everyone really stepped up to not only make one of the funniest and best looking seasons of Archer, but to do it safely. We are so proud of everyone and can’t wait for you all to see this incredible season.

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Last season was the first year that had Adam Reed in a reduced capacity and no longer steering the ship. What was his level of involvement this season?

We worked with Adam in a similar way to season 11. Casey Willis and Adam worked together to create a framework and some episode ideas. Then Casey, Matt Thompson, and Mark Ganek fleshed out the season even further and we assigned writers to individual episodes. It’s really the best of both worlds because we get to work on a thousand-foot view of the season with Adam, and then get to hear new and exciting voices from our writers. We are very proud of the writers who came onboard this season and we look forward to working with them again in the future.

Is Fabian Kingsworth, the head of the International Intelligence Agency supposed to be a riff on the Kingsman movies? There are definitely parallels going on there.

It wasn’t intentionally Kingsman specific; it was more about the whole concept of the gentleman spy. We felt it would be a great foil for Archer and something that might remind him of his pre-coma physical prowess. When we got Kayvan Novak (What We Do in the Shadows) in the booth, he had a lot of great ideas and affectations that gave life to Fabian.

Why did the IIA feel like the right sort of antagonist to be Archer and company’s major source of frustration this season?

We wanted to play with the idea of small business versus a giant company. The Agency is the boutique mom-and-absent-pop spy shop, while IIA is the big-box retailer of the spy world. We wanted Archer to have a villain to play against this season in Fabian, but he represents something larger that the whole gang can get behind and try to fight. It also is a bit of a throwback to earlier seasons of Archer when our characters were concerned with the difficulties in running a small business. Now those concerns are amplified with the threat of a giant corporation like IIA taking all the business.

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There are some excellent action setpieces at the end of the episode that involve a helicopter, truck, and eventually a fist fight between Archer and Fabian. Talk a little of the construction of those sequences and if they’re inspired by any movies or anything in particular?

​​We’d like to praise our Art Director, Justin Wagner, and our Associate Art Director, Chi Duong Sato, for bringing that sequence to life. They worked with the storyboard team to create all the action and we worked with our editor, Ted Murphy, to put it all together. Unfortunately, there was a lot we had to cut for time including a mini-gun shredding another vehicle! 

Initially we drew some inspiration from Mad Max: Fury Road, but it’s nothing compared to a San Diego Comic-Con piece we did in 2015. In that piece, we had Pam dressed as “Immortan Joe” and Krieger as the “Doof Warrior!” Pretty sure you can still see it online!

In this premiere there’s great use of a helicopter, which at a point may have seemed grand for the show, as well as some really effective 3D CG stuff. Talk a little on some of those more exaggerated elements and how work on the other seasons, like Danger Island, helped prepare for larger setpieces and the growing sophistication of animation.

We feel the show evolves every season as we learn new techniques and refine others. If you look back to the episode “Jeu Monegasque” in season two, you can see some of our first attempts are integrating 3D animation. It may have also been the first 3D helicopter on the show. From that point to now, we feel we have had an incredible evolution. In season nine, for example, Cyril’s mech suit was a combination of all of our departments working together to make the suit look incredible and move in an imposing way. Archer owes a lot to the teams that keep improving the look of the show year after year.

This premiere forces The Agency to work outside of their comfort zones a little because they don’t have any money, but this largely gets resolved by the end of the episode. Was there ever a version of the season where The Agency was destitute for longer? 

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Malory is a master of misdirection, so things might not be as stable as they seem. You are just going to have to keep watching.

This premiere teases that the IIA could poach certain Agency employees. Was that ever under deliberation, even if it just went on for a temporary period during this season?

Again, you need to keep watching because it may be more than just a tease!

Our writers’ room walkthrough for Archer’s 12th season will continue with this season’s fifth episode.
Previous writers’ room walkthroughs that break down Archer’s earlier seasons can be be found here