Editor’s note: The Fourth Wall is knocking down barriers between entertainment industry talent and the audience. This recurring feature is a platform for creators, actors, and industry insiders to bring the readers behind the scenes of the production process. In our latest installment, we removed the curtain on the writers’ room for the seventh season of FX’s hit animated comedy, Archer.
This part of the walkthrough looks at episodes one through four from Archer’s seventh season.
It’s a little hard to believe that Archer just concluded its seventh season. The quirky comedy that began as a humble animated parody on the spy genre has grown and changed, much like its home, FX, through these years. Catapulting from a cult series into one of the most popular animated programs currently on the air, Archer has never been one to walk away from innovation.
Seasons ago, the series went through a quasi-reboot in the form of Archer: Vice, and then a subsequent “de-boot” that kept the status quo constantly in flux. It’s not surprising that one of Archer’s masterminds, Adam Reed, comes from the Wild West of Adult Swim, where he refined his talent with avant garde programming like Sealab 2021 and Frisky Dingo. The series also sports one of the most enviable voice casts that have been assembled for a series, with the always-reliable H. Jon Benjamin turning out some of his most satisfying work as Sterling Archer.
This latest season had Adam Reed once again stirring the pot with Archer and company, placing them in the world of private investigating and inserting a serialized mystery on top of it all. Seven seasons in, the relationships between these surprisingly real characters also continue to evolve. I touched base with the series’ creator and writer, Adam Reed, who took me through a tour of the show’s seventh season as we discuss all things Figgis Agency and Veronica Dean—who have you seen in that dress?
Archer Season 7 Episode 1 – The Figgis Agency
“Archer breaks into a mansion to restore the honor of a Hollywood starlet.”
Written by Adam Reed
DEN OF GEEK: This season we see the general premise of the show changing up once again due to the events of last season’s finale, with them now running a private investigation agency. What inspired doing something like this again after the reboot in season 5?
ADAM REED: After 75 episodes, it was becoming more and more difficult to come up with spy stories that we hadn’t already done.
This episode more or less confirms that these guys are finished as spies. Is that freeing in a sense?
We see Hollywood being invaded here, classic femme fatale women, and a lot adding to a noir vibe. Even the misdirection at the end of this episode and the sort of stories you’re telling this season call back to classic noir stories. Was this a genre that you wanted to get into for a while now?
Probably not consciously, but I’ve always loved film noir – and anything to do with detectives – so perhaps there was a subconscious pull in this direction.
The season starts off on a big in media res note. It feels like the most serialized season you guys have done. Why go that route this year? Did it just feel time for the show to do something really hard-boiled?
I think all writers want to write serialized stories, but it’s been my experience that networks tend not to like them as much – especially with comedies – because they feel that audiences want to be able to jump in at any point in a season.
I was a big Frisky Dingo fan, and this certainly feels like the closest that you have gotten to replicating its cliffhanger, binge-encouraging storytelling, and deeply serializing a storyline.
Was it always the plan to have “Archer being murdered” being what kicks off the season? You must know that audiences are going to be skeptical of such a thing unless it’s the final season. Were there other victims that you considered?
No, it was always going to be Archer floating facedown in the swimming pool.
With all of the other changes going on, why did Cyril being put in charge also feel like a necessary dynamic to mix up, even if it is a superficial one?
I thought it would add some additional tension between Cyril and Archer – I don’t think you can ever have too much of that.
I love that you immediately bring up the trappings of how him being in charge is the logical thing that needs to be done in this scenario, and then just as quickly sweep it under the table with Lana’s dialogue.
I also don’t think the others can ever shit on Cyril too much.
There’s a wonderful callback to “La Scandolo” here and retconning a bit of what went down afterwards. It’s nice to see stuff like that from so early on in the show being brought up. There’s even a “Mancy” shout-out.
The show this season truly looks fucking beautiful—not that it didn’t before—but it really feels like a step up this year. Skylines, lighting effects, and characters’ emotions are up on a whole other level. Were there any changes going on here, or was it just the production team getting even better at what they do?
Our illustrators, animators and background artists have always been wonderful at what they do – they are truly some of the best in the business. The show looks more polished now because we’ve been lucky to receive budget increases from the good folks at FX.
Archer Season 7 Episode 2 – The Handoff
“Archer and Lana make a tricky handoff while the rest of the gang hears the best voicemail ever.”
Written by Adam Reed
It’s a small touch, but Archer’s injuries from the premiere sustaining over the course of the season is not only nice continuity but gives you a sense of moving forward through those six months.
Originally, way back in the pilot, we were going to have Archer’s various scars – mainly bullet wounds – be persistent throughout the entire run of the show, and just keep mounting up. But after the second episode, we realized that there was no sensible way of keeping track of them all – he’s a bit of a bullet magnet.
Have you ever had a Corpse Reviver #2 before?
Yes. Vastly superior to the Corpse Reviver #1, in my opinion.
Alphonse Bertillon—nice work there. Of course Cheryl would know about finger printing’s history.
She knows an extremely small amount about an extremely large number of things.
This episode explores Malory trying to push everyone to try and reinvent themselves, much like the show has done, with everyone being reticent. It’s an interesting conversation for a show to being having where a character is trying to push others to evolve, while others just want to stick with what they’re doing.
I think it’s similar to one of the biggest challenges of writing episodic television, which is having to balance your characters’ natural evolution with their established – and presumably comedically successful – interpersonal dynamics.
I think the Archer’s voicemail gag here is maybe my favorite joke from the entire series. I’ve watched it several times, laughing out loud at each. It’s not only hilarious but also a joke that only works because of the intricate callback history of Archer’s answering machine messages that have been established over six years. I almost wish the rest of the episode was done entirely through the phone message.
If you liked that, you will love an episode of Jon Benjamin Has A Van entitled “Breakdown Van.”
Most importantly, we also witness the return to “phrasing” here, complicating and mixing up this running joke even further. Was “Said Ripley to the Android, Bishop” just not doing it for you, or just another case of trying to keep things fresh for yourself at this point? We also get “On my tits”, and “Rimshot” popping up all over the place in the premiere. Personal preference?
I suppose “Phrasing” is the most economical way of – if we’re being honest – ripping off “That’s what she said.”
Archer Season 7 Episode 3 – Deadly Prep
“A prep school reunion leads to an interesting business opportunity for Archer.”
Written by Adam Reed
This episode is a nice change of pace since there’s a focus not only on A.J., but also her beginning to go to school. It’s crazy to think that we’ve gotten that far in their relationship. Is it nice to begin telling a little more domestic stories in a show like this, and putting things like “pre-pre k” and public vs. private school on your radar?
Yes. I like seeing how Archer & Co. react to the mundane, everyday things that normal people have to deal with – and obviously they usually react poorly.
Kind of touching that this is an episode all about the nature of bullying, just as Archer’s child is about to head into an environment where bullying will eventually be present.
I was a bit surprised that Archer being bullied as a child – except by Malory – hasn’t ever really been touched on; his personality is so clearly a product of bullying.
It’s a nice shift to see Archer reduced to such a fumbling wimp here. Was that a nice angle to get to explore, and getting to dig into a pained chapter from his childhood?
Yes, made more enjoyable by Jon’s acting. He does suave Archer perfectly, but when he switches to nervous and/or boyish enthusiasm, it just kills me.
We see another twist in this episode where I.V. has lied to Archer and it’s a case under false pretenses. The same can be said for Alan Shapiro in the previous episode, continuing the idea of how these guys really can’t trust anyone this season. It adds a nice element of suspense to each new character that we meet.
They should probably have some sort of questionnaire for prospective clients to fill out, to weed out some of the double-crossers.
It’s a quick cut—but a super heavy one—where we see that Cyril has orchestrated a Buffalo Bill-esque scenario for the bullies in his past. Talk on that a little?
I think that’s probably just the tip of a very large, dark, and scary iceberg.
JK Simmons and Keegan-Michael Key are great gets as the detectives that help string the season together. It’s a nice moment when one of them reappear here and the larger scope of the season begins to sink in.
Again, I feel like we really punch above our weight with the guest stars.
We get a really nice Archer and Cyril pair-up here, which feels like it hasn’t happened in some time. Did you enjoy getting to return to that sort of story again?
I love pairing up any two of these characters. It often leads to unexpected – for me – changes in their behavior.
Archer Season 7 Episode 4 – Motherless Child
“A mysterious stranger needs Archer’s help in finding his birth mother.”
Written by Adam Reed
I, and think many people, are excited that this episode marks the return of Barry. Of all the mythology and returning characters to the show, Barry is one of the deepest wells that the series has. Is it always a conscious decision to try and work Barry into a season, or does it just seem to happen whenever it feels appropriate or it’s been too long?
We always try to work Barry into a season, it’s just that some seasons we run out of episodes. Dave Willis voices him with such a great blend of malevolence and glee.
This episode by far expands and mixes up his character in the most drastic way. Does this give the character a bit of new life?
I don’t think so – he’ll probably be back to his murderous ways the next time we see him. I mean, meeting his birth mother probably didn’t go well at all.
Damn, Archer’s tinnitus is never going to get better, is it?
It’s not exactly touched upon here, but Barry searching for his biological mother certainly must have Archer thinking on some level about his biological father. It’s without a doubt one of the series longest hanging threads. Is this perhaps your way of slowly dipping back into that well?
Good question. In the hands of a better writer it probably would have been.
We get to dig back into the Carol/Cheryl debate here in a delicious way. There’s been a welcome amount of touches like this throughout the season that have really reflected the full scope of the series.
I’m not even sure what her name is. In the scripts – both in the character tab and the stage directions – her name is always written Cheryl/Carol.
The series has been a little light on the Malory recently, but this is a super strong episode that shows not only the power of the character, but also just how fantastic Jessica Walter is. Were you happy to be able to give her such a showpiece here? I love that she’s her own hero here.
Yes – some of my favorite episodes are the ones where Malory is driving the plot.
This episode manages to have a lot of weight to it. I feel like we don’t see Archer genuinely scared or worried very often, and he definitely is here. Everyone is being held hostage and there’s real tension present. Was it important to treat a “Malory in danger” story in such a way?
Very much so – in this show, there have to be stakes. And, as the late, great Harry Goz once told me “Kid, ya can’t have comedy without drama.”
There’s a reference to Edison and Topsy the elephant here. There’s a very famous Bob’s Burgers episode that spends a lot of time with this piece of history, too. Is this a nice nod to that, or a total coincidence?
Total coincidence – that I then felt like a huge dork for not realizing when I wrote it.
That Wilfrid Noyce reference is just bonkers, by the way.
It’s like she just sits around reading volume after volume of an immense, dusty set of The Encyclopedia Brittanica.
With Barry, it kind of always feels like it’s the last time we’ll be seeing him every time that he appears, but what were your thoughts on him as you closed the door this time? Do you know if we will we be seeing more of Barry?
I’m sure we will – if Barry’s not in at least one episode per season, Dave Willis eggs my house.
Our walkthrough on Archer’s seventh season will continue tomorrow.