The animated spy series was nominated for a well-deserved Emmy for its batshit crazy fifth season. Its creator opens up about why Archer went rogue, and where it’s headed next.
Archer, the delightfully wacky spy-satire series created by Adam Reed, has long been one of the most laugh-out-loud-funny shows on television. And the TV Gods finally took notice, nominating the FX show for its first Emmy Award—for Outstanding Animated Program—for its unhinged fifth season, dubbed Archer Vice. The revamped series saw the ISIS gang, led by narcissistic superspy Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) and his trusty "sidekick"/babysitter Lana Kane (Aisha Tyler), eschew the Cold War-tinged spy-office format in favor of taking the show on the road, with the group forming the world’s most disorganized drug cartel in order to shift a “literal ton of cocaine.”
Labeling it “insane” would be a vast understatement. After the U.S. government raids the ISIS office, they’re forced to disband and sell a ton of cocaine they’d stored in their company vault. And the drug biz has some bizarre effects on the ex-spies and office workers. Pam becomes a skinny cocaine-eating monster who runs afoul of the Yakuza; Cheryl transforms into “Cherlene,” a famous country singer; Malory becomes an arms dealer; Lana is pregnant, so Archer books a kung-fu kickin’ Kenny Loggins (naturally) for her baby shower; Krieger meets his Nazi clone-brothers; and Cyril becomes a dictator. And it all ended with Lana delivering baby A.J., her child with Archer, in a war zone.
Season 6, which will hit television sets sometime in 2015, will see the Emmy-nominated series revert back to its office/spy format. The Daily Beast spoke at length to creator Adam Reed about the Vice deviation, what goes into making an episode of Archer, and where the show’s headed next season.
The big moment at the end of Season 5 was the introduction of A.J., the baby of Lana and Archer. Why did you decide to introduce a baby into the mix? That’s a big move.
I don’t know? I guess it’s not a natural progression. I worry that people will get bored of the show, so I figure, “Here comes cousin Oliver!” But the baby’s not along on every mission. It’s like shows where the kid would ostensibly be part of the family, but then you’re just like, “Oh, where’s our kids? They’re over at Joe’s house,” and they won’t be in the rest of the episode.
Was it also because you had fun writing the Wee Baby Seamus?
Well, Seamus will now be a toddler so I’m looking forward to the play date we’re going to have between Seamus and baby A.J. and catch up with him, and Seamus is going to look exactly like a 4-year-old Cyril. I think we’re even going to grey his temples. Archer will know Cyril’s the father but no one is going to believe him—even when they see mini-Cyril.
I heard there will be a scene in Season 6 where Pam feeds baby A.J. chewed up food out of her mouth like Alicia Silverstone. Will we see any other crazy baby A.J. shenanigans?
Archer is going to end up taking baby A.J. and the toddler Seamus on a covert mission for hilarity to ensue—trying to break into the CIA, but he’s got these two babies in tow. That will probably happen somewhere in the middle of the season.
I read that the show is “unrebooting” in Season 6 and reverting to the spy/office format?
Pretty much. We’re sending them all over. There will be a lot of missions!
You’ve been to deep space and under the ocean… where is there left to go?
The human body, Marlow! Fantastic Voyage is what I’m thinking. Our epic finale this season could take place within the bloodstream of a nuclear scientist. We have some new characters coming in, too. We’re going to meet Pam’s sister, who will be voiced by Allison Tolman from Fargo, and a couple of others but nobody’s signed a contract yet so I don’t want to jinx it—but we’ve got some great guest stars this season. And Barry the Cyborg will be back. Jakov, however, is dead.
Where’s Malory headed this season? Will she have another love interest?
Yeah. She got back with Ron, then they broke up, then they got back together and had an open marriage for a while, but I think some old flames will definitely come for Malory, who will struggle with the decision she made to get married.
And will Pam and Cheryl revert back from the Coke Monster and Cherlene?
No, they went right back to normal. Our first episode will really hang a lantern on everything being reset, and they just go right back to who they were.
What was the initial impetus for going Vice? Did you feel Archer needed to, in the words of Emeril, kick it up a notch?
I sort of felt some pressure to shake it up a little bit, but I think that might have been self-applied pressure—especially judging by the initial response, which was, “What the heck is this? I don’t want this!” But I thought it would be fun and it was one of those things that snowballed in a meeting where we were laughing and talking about story ideas, and then everyone got really jazzed about it. And then FX was like, “Yeah, that sounds fine.” It’s a rare, lucky relationship to have. We had a really good time doing it but are happy to be coming back home.
How much was Vice inspired by Scarface, Grand Theft Auto, or Miami Vice?
It had a lot of all of that. I’d never really seen Scarface before, and it seems like I had seen it because you see all the posters all the time and hear all the quotes…
…So you’ve never been to a rapper’s house before where it’s playing in the background 24/7?
[Laughs] I have never been to a rapper’s house at all! And I’d like that to change, also. Maybe this will be a springboard to that? I would like a rapper to invite me over. But yeah, sitting down and watching Scarface I was like, “Oh my God.” It was kind of hilarious. The accent was a very bold choice. There would probably be a long talk about cultural appropriation if that movie were to come out now with a non-Latino actor. So… I probably won’t watch it again! Also, there’s a scene where a guy gets murdered and his friend is just hitting on a girl the whole time. You’d at least think he’d stand by the back door during a drug deal and not just be sitting in the car trying to get a phone number. I also sat down and watched a lot of episodes of Miami Vice and was struck by how much slower television was edited in the ’80s. They let things breathe a little bit longer back then.
What were some of the storylines that you were most jazzed about in Season 5?
I really liked Cherlene being a country singer. We made a standalone country record with some really talented musicians from Atlanta that hasn’t been certified gold yet—I think it has a ways to go for that—but we got to sit down and produce a record, which I’d never done. I also enjoyed Pam’s descent into cocaine-fueled madness, and Cyril being a dictator. We all just had a good time… I don’t know if that’s self-indulgent or not!
Looking back on Season 5, was there anything you’d have done differently? Did you have a hard time fleshing out any storylines?
Probably the overall CIA selling drugs to fund various things. I had hoped that it would be more of a through-line during the season, unbeknownst to the Archer characters, and then I think through just ineptness on my part we didn’t explain it ’til the very end. We’d been talking about Freeway Ricky Ross and some of the crazy CIA cocaine stuff from the ’80s, and probably didn’t execute that as well as I would have liked.
I’m curious how much of Archer is you acting out your own personal fantasies through the character?
I think all, basically. Everything that he does is something that I’d like to do, and the things that he says are things that I say to people when I’m in my car, but wouldn’t say to people in real life because I’d get beaten up.
How long had you been trying to get Kenny Loggins on the show?
I think they contacted us. He might share an agent with one of our actors and they said, “Kenny thinks all that stuff is hilarious, and if you’d ever like for him to be on the show, he’d be into that.” So we wrote an episode all about Kenny Loggins. He was great, and had a really good sense of humor about it.
There’s a huge Arrested Development connection on Archer, with Jessica Walter and Judy Greer voicing Malory and Cheryl, and then Jeffrey Tambor voicing Len Trexler.
I was a huge fan of that show. It’s my second favorite sitcom of all time after Andy Griffith. David Cross has also been on. We’ve repeatedly tried to get Will Arnett. We’d love to do an Andy Griffith crossover, but I think the window on that has probably closed.
If and when Malory’s nemesis, Trudy Beakman, is revealed, you should totally have Liza Minnelli voice her.
[Laughs] Oh my God! Have Liza come on as Trudy? That would be good! We’re going to have to start greasing those skids!
Will there ever be a live-action Archer movie, and have you had those discussions?
The budget would be a lot! But yeah, we’ve been asked about it several times by FX: “So… what would this take?” And I’m like, “How much do you have?” I think the budget would have to be huge, unless we did a live-action movie where they’re all stuck in an elevator—which I know people would just line up to see.
How long does it generally take to create an episode of Archer?
From start to finish, an episode takes five weeks. I turn in a script every three weeks, and I start April 1 and then we go to air in January, so I’m on Episode 6 right now. After I turn in a script, everybody at work gets it, and the character designers start designing what the characters will be wearing, or what they’re going to look like, and the storyboard artists start boarding it out while the background painters are painting new backgrounds. While that’s going on, we start recording everybody, and then our editor does an entire radio play with not just the dialogue, but sound effects, gunfights, and a rough pass at the music. And then the boards get put to that. But the main thing for us is that the audio cut should be the best thing you can possibly do, because it can only get better from there. We say it should be something you could listen to in the car and always enjoy.
Who’s the most difficult character for you to write on Archer?
Lana. It’s weird to have one of the funniest women in the business, Aisha Tyler, doing the voice, but her character has become the de facto voice of reason because no one else can be depended on to do that; all the others are very strongly in the “let’s just mess everything up” camp. It’s hard for me to be reasonable. Aisha is like, “Why am I always the one saying, ‘Let’s not do this?!’” I’m very conscious of it, but then when we get to the scene, someone has to tell people not to smoke at the gas station, and it’s Lana.
So Aisha doesn’t want Lana to be the buzzkill, but is totally cool with all the jokes about her character’s man-hands.
Yup! I think because, in real life, Aisha could be a hand model if she wanted to. She has amazingly beautiful hands.
Is it weird to see all the current animosity between the U.S. and Russia now? You were really ahead of the curve there on Archer with the Jakov plotline.
In some ways, I think we caused it! [Laughs]
Putin doesn’t have nearly as glorious a mustache as Jakov.
Nobody did. Nobody did. I bet [Putin] could take him in a fight, though.
That’s probably true—judging by those shirtless horse-riding photos.
[Laughs] Exactly. Dressed up like a bear.
How long do you see yourself doing Archer? We’re entering Season 6 now.
I’d like to keep doing it ’til they lock the doors and don’t let me into the office anymore. It’s sort of a dream job, so I’d like to do it for a long, long time. I think someone else will make that decision for me! The bar’s going to close at some point but I’ll be the drunk guy there being like, “No! One more season!” They’ll have to kick me out.