The ever-changing ‘Archer’ finds inspiration in classic L.A. noir
When we last saw Sterling Archer, the coldly efficient (if cheerfully idiotic) former spy turned private eye was floating face down in a Los Angeles pool in a moment straight out of “Sunset Boulevard.” When we see him again on the new season of the animated comedy “Archer,” which debuts on its new home on FXX on April 5, he’s navigating post-war L.A. as a hard-boiled, hard-drinking gumshoe straight out of classic noir. (Though, to be honest, he was always hard-drinking.)
How has a series known for rapid-fire comic exchanges, giddily obscure references and surrealistic flourishes such as a Q-like inventor on staff with a thing for holographic companionship arrived in the world of Raymond Chandler? That’s a question for series creator Adam Reed, who for seven seasons has shifted Archer — voiced with perfect baritone certitude by comic H. Jon Benjamin — through homages to other macho touchstones “Smokey and the Bandit,” “Miami Vice” and “Magnum P.I.” One episode even crossed into Benjamin’s other gig as Bob on Fox’s “Bob’s Burgers.”
“My worry has always been, I don’t want to repeat myself or bore anybody, so I try to come up with ways to keep people interested,” Reed said, speaking by phone from North Carolina, where he splits time between his home in Atlanta. We chatted with Reed about what’s next for Archer, the Figgis Agency and the pleasures of not being topical in 2017.
You’ve packed up the show up and taken it to post-war L.A. for the new season. Why and how did this happen?
It just sort of popped into my head. But I started planning for this season early on in the previous season, and that’s why we [situated] the back half of Season 6 on a movie set that was kind of a film noir detective thing, to plant all those seeds in Archer’s subconscious so this would make sense. Or at least make sense to me.
Where did you get the idea to jump the show into a new timeline?
I wanted to, in a longer form, deal with the death of [Archer’s devoted valet] Woodhouse, both in the character Woodhouse and [actor] George Coe passing away. We left him with his future uncertain, but injuries so grievous that it seemed at best a coma. And then once we were dealing with Archer’s subconscious we could do anything. I had been a longtime fan of the detective genre and film noir and wanted to write some hard-boiled dialogue.
A lot of the characters’ behavior has shifted too, like Archer is pretty toned down from his usual self. And did Pam’s character [Amber Nash] actually shift genders?
It’s just assumed that she is a man. She has a male haircut and wears men’s clothing and is a homicide detective, which I don’t guess women probably got to do that much in the ’40s. But we don’t really talk about it, it just sort of is.
The slots are sort of predetermined, I think, with detective fiction. You have the detective anti-hero, which obviously was Archer, and Lana [Aisha Tyler] fit neatly in the femme-fatale category. Cyril [Chris Parnell] fit neatly into the cop on the take. But I wanted two cops to be partners, and Pam just made the most sense. It’s sort of also a tip of the hat to Bud White in “LA Confidential.” She likes to smash stuff.
You’ve spoken before about FX being very helpful with letting you stretch out, is that still the case?
Absolutely. They give really great notes, which I hate. I think the only thing worse than bad notes is good notes. You can’t argue about them, you just go, “Oh God, that’s right, that was great.”
But early on I pitched FX the idea of doing this season as a straight drama and they sort of chuckled and moved on to the next topic. A few days later I was like “No, I’m really serious, what do you think about doing this as a drama?” And they did have some input there and said, “No, we don’t like our comedies to not be funny.”
The references in some of the jokes you write can run pretty deep. I think (1930s comic duo) Wheeler & Woolsey is one coming up this season? I had to look that one up.
I also looked that up. And I can’t remember what the joke was going to be, but I’m terrible for that because I will have a germ of a joke in my head and then spend an hour on Wikipedia finding the most esoteric version of that joke I can get. And then the character, usually Archer, is like “How do you not know that?”
Now that you’ve jumped out from the espionage agency where this series started, suddenly spies have become topical.
I know, I joked that we’re somehow responsible. It’s kind of crazy how cyclical this is — it’s like bell-bottoms, we’re back to where this is a thing now.
Do you miss it? Is there a chance you’d go back into the spy universe?
I’m glad that they’re currently a detective agency because then you can focus on not necessarily the geopolitical stuff that’s dominating the news.
As a writer, for me, my goal is to just sort of forget about what’s going on in real life for as long as possible when I’m buried in an “Archer” script. I think they’ll be doing extramarital affairs and finding missing dogs and jewelry for awhile before we get back into the Cold War.
So “Archer” is now signed through its 10th and final season. Are you thinking in terms of what happens beyond that?
I can’t currently think in those terms because I hyperventilate.
Follow me over here @chrisbarton.
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