Trouble in Paradise
The inspired minds behind Archer preview season nine, Danger Island.
Back in 2009, when Adam Reed's animated spy comedy Archer debuted on FX, fans and critics alike fell under the spell of its bawdy humor, zany plotlines and slick, stylized 2D visuals.
The show, which centers on the exploits of square-jawed agent Sterling Archer (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin) and his oddball gang of coworkers, has a knack for colorful reinventions.
In the fifth season (a.k.a. Archer: Vice, as in Miami) the team went rogue and formed a drug cartel. In the seventh, they were fired by the CIA and formed a private-eye operation in L.A., while the eighth season (a.k.a. Archer: Dreamland) found our hero in a coma and living in a '40s-era L.A. noir dream world.
Reed and fellow executive producer Matt Thompson have planned even more off-the-wall twists and turns for the ninth season of the Emmy-winning show, which returns to FXX April 25. Ramin Zahed caught up with the duo to find out what's in store for everyone's favorite superspy.
You've revealed that the upcoming season — Archer: Danger Island — finds the gang in French Polynesia circa 1939. How did you come up with this theme?
Reed: I've always been fascinated by movies and TV shows set in the South Pacific, especially on the eve of World War II — movies like Only Angels Have Wings  and shows like Bring 'Em Back Alive and Tales of the Gold Monkey [both 1982]. Many action-adventures series in the 1980s were a direct reaction to the popularity of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Of course, Magnum, P.I. was a great inspiration in terms of the locale as well.
We find out that Archer has a seaplane, and he and Pam (Amber Nash) are partners in a variety of shenanigans. Archer's backstory in this period is that he was a pilot in South America. He joined the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War and suffered physical and mental injuries. He is self-medicating to deal with those problems. Other than that, he hasn't changed very much.
Thompson: We went to some dark places during the eighth season, so we wanted to do something totally different and light-hearted. This island looks like paradise, but there is danger underneath this lush surface. We have lots of fun material, and there's plenty of action, which owes a lot to those serials from the '30s.
How do you keep the stories so fresh?
Reed: I take dictation from the characters in my head. I hear them having arguments, and I write them down sometimes. The dramatic stuff is inspired by spy movies and TV shows that we love.
I'm really enjoying writing this Danger Island season. Last season I had shoulder surgery, so I had to type the whole season with one hand. I was in a pretty bad mood, so that's why the action and the palette were very dark. This season is sunny and goofy again.
Thompson: Adam has written these great characters that are very distinct. They feel real and resonate with the audience. The humor works because the jokes come out of the mouths of characters who have distinct POVs. Even though we're constantly genre-hopping, viewers stick with the characters because they've become fully fledged human beings, and they're in a constant state of growth.
What key factors have contributed to Archer 's success?
Reed: The artwork is amazing. I can't think of another animated comedy that has this realistic but idealized illustration style. We're also very lucky to have this amazing voice cast. The actors all have great timing and are great ad-libbers as well.
We look at the script as the worst-case scenario. You want to make it as good as possible, but if something happens in the recording booth that's better, we go with that. The goal is to have a show that is three minutes too long, so you have too much of a good thing and you have to pick the best parts.
Word has it the 10th season will be the last. Have you figured out yet how it will end?
Reed: I've kind of sketched out the finale in my head, but I haven't sold it to the network yet. Having said that, I have epiphanies all the time. Just when I think I've figured it all out, I think of something new and change my mind.
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue no. 3, 2018