How Archer: Danger Island Was Born

Archer producers Matt Thompson and Casey Willis walk us through episode one of Archer: Danger Island.

There are many television programs that have rebooted themselves or embraced a fresh angle in order to give themselves new life in their waning years, but FXX’s long-running animated series, Archer, puts them all to shame. Archer re-invents itself whenever its current skin becomes boring.

The show’s ninth season transforms the series into Archer: Danger Island, which looks to be one of its most playful, creative premises yet. The show morphs back to a version of itself that exists in 1939 where the characters are situated on the South Pacific island of Mitimotu and run an air courier business. While Danger Island is a whole new show with a brand new overarching mystery and story this year, this is still the same old Archer. Furthermore, the well-defined, outrageous characters that fans have gotten to know for a decade still break through their new tropical counterparts. There’s a fresh coat of paint on this show, but it’s still the same hilarious, unbelievable series. 

The season’s premiere, “Strange Pilot,” spends a lot of time on acclimating the audience to this new version of the show, but we got the opportunity to chat with the series’ executive producer, Matt Thompson, to really break it all down and dig into the premiere’s secrets.

Archer Season 9 Episode 1 – “Strange Pilot” 

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“Archer inserts himself into a domestic dispute and engine troubles threaten to ruin his business.”

Written by Adam Reed 

DEN OF GEEK: Why the whole “Danger Island” angle this season? Why did this seem like the best new direction to take things?

ARCHER EPS: Last season, Archer: Dreamland, was inspired by film noir and had a much darker tone than previous seasons. True to the film noir genre, the conclusion of last season was quite a heartbreaker. This season we wanted to go in a completely different direction with Archer and Danger Island was the perfect setting for that. Character designs, story lines, and even the color palette are all brighter and more adventurous. The Danger Island setting even made it possible for “Krieger” to become “Crackers,” the talking macaw!

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Was the impending Second World War a big reason why you wanted to set this season in 1939? Talk on what that brings to the table?

The impending war seems to be a major part of the pulp genre. It gives us something to play with, especially regarding “Fuchs” and “Lanaluakalani” in terms of their relationship and their end goals. It’s also interesting to play with all the characters’ expectations, as they have no idea what lies ahead.

The whole “Arch of Darkness” trilogy from season three kind of saw a similar setting as this year. Did you consider making any connections to that material or calling back to it at all?

You’ll have to watch the entire season, but we can guarantee some bigconnections to “Heart of Archness” that we are very excited about.

Was there anything left in the “Archer: Dreamland” version of the show that you were sorry to leave behind, or were you pretty ready to move on from that playground?

One of Adam’s goals in Archer: Dreamland was to deal with the death of George Coe. He had a couple drafts for an episode in Season 7, but he didn’t feel that one episode was doing George and “Woodhouse” justice. The penultimate scene of the Dreamland season really summed up “Archer’s” feelings and helped show that he was ready to move forward.

I love that the opening frames of the first episode intentionally play into the end of last season, Archer’s mortality, and just exactly when and where this season is taking place. Do you enjoy still jerking the audience around in this area?

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I’m not sure if “enjoy” is the correct word, but it feels more like an unspoken wink and nod to the viewers. They are playing along with the concept of “Archer” being in a coma and we acknowledge that. We do like to play with the viewers’ expectations however, and we hope that shines through as the season continues.

Was it difficult trying to figure out how exactly this new season would start in this new scenario? Did you consider other ways to kick things off?

It actually wasn’t very difficult. The core interactions between the characters are essentially the same and that’s what is great about Archer. We are able to change genres, change relationships, even change species, but the characters are still the same dysfunctional assholes you know and love.

All of the new versions of these characters are a lot of fun, especially Krieger’s parrot form, Crackers. Did any characters have different designs or go through a radical change while you were breaking this season?

For a short time “Crackers” was actually a dog named “Abe,” but changing him to a parrot was a great decision. “Crackers” works perfectly this season and we can’t imagine him being anything other than a plucky macaw. The other major change was “Pam’s” size and shape, which was always planned, but once we saw it onscreen it made her and “Archer’s” relationship click in our minds.

Archer and Pam are really partners in this episode and Lana really takes a backseat. She’s not even in the first half of the episode. Talk a little on that and pushing those characters in that direction?

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“Pam” and “Archer” always have great episodes together. Their chemistry is amazing and “Pam” has one of the purest souls of all our characters. “Pam” can even see the good in “Archer,” which is sometimes hard to do. Just like in Dreamland, it is always enjoyable to see “Archer” and “Lana” meet for the first time and see how their relationship develops. It’s also interesting to view these relationships in terms of them being in “Archer’s” subconscious. What is “Archer” trying to express with these relationships, and is there a deeper meaning to them.

A lot of this episode is interested in the new relationships and dynamics between these characters. Were you trying to explore anything new with the cast this year?

Absolutely. This is always interesting to us and we are always trying to play with our characters’ dynamics. The Figgis Agency in season seven and “Mother” in Dreamland are great examples of this. Danger Island was another chance to give character’s new motivations and relationships.

The animation is once again beautiful this season and ups its game. All of the shots of the exteriors of the island and the plane in flight are gorgeous. Did the animators and artists base this off of a real island and use actual reference points, or what?

The artist and animators are the backbone of the show and they continue to amaze us every day. The Danger Island season was just as difficult to prepare for as Dreamland and the team was able to produce fantastic results. To make two seasons of a show that both look great and look so different from one another, but still be Archer at their core, is an amazing achievement. Everyone did so much research that a shot is never reflective of just one reference but layers of many thoughts and ideas. The dedication of the artists and animators is what you are seeing shine through this season.

Was it always a big plane engine problem that fueled the episode’s final act? With the new setting did that feel like the right way to end this premiere?

The Loose Goose is an integral part of the season and we wanted to highlight how temperamental it can be in the first couple of episodes. This is a nod to the pulp genre, our own work in “Heart of Archness,” and “Archer’s” relationship with vehicles throughout the show’s history.

This episode ends with Archer split up from the rest of the characters, at least for the time being. Why the decision to break up the gang like that?

 “Archer” isn’t alone. He’s got his plane. We wanted to highlight the relationship between the two of them. Additionally, putting “Pam,” “Fuchs,” and “Lanaluakalani” together was a great way to introduce how much of a badass “Pam” is this season.

The whole “Next time on Archer: Danger Island” is a nice callback to the serialized nature of shows like this from the past. Talk a little on bringing that in this season?

It was something fun we did for the first episode for the exact reason you mentioned. This is a callback to pulp serials of the past. But, as the episodes were written, the natural flow of the story and the way Archer episodes typically end made an announcer unnecessary.

Have we heard the last of Whitney Stratton the Fourth?

Probably!

Our walkthrough of Archer: Danger Island’s ninth season will continue in a few weeks with its fourth episode