‘Archer’ Creator Adam Reed Spills Season 6 Secrets, From Surreal Plotlines to Life Post-ISIS

Yes, Sterling, Malory, Lana, Cyril and co. return with the Season 6 premiere of FX’s Archer on January 8. Its fearless creator opens up about the hilarious new season.

01.08.15 10:50 AM ET

The “literal tonne of cocaine” has been hawked—or consumed by the ravenous Pam—and Sterling Archer and his merry band of spies have disbanded their slipshod Vice drug cartel in favor of returning to their Spartan office. And thus begins Season 6 of Archer, FX’s gut-bustingly funny animated spy series.

In the season premiere, Archer has escaped to a tropical island where he comes into contact with a Japanese World War II soldier marooned there who still believes the war is going on. Meanwhile, back at the office, a group of movers are seen rolling out the spy org’s ISIS sign, with Malory explaining that the CIA (led by point man Slater, voiced by Christian Slater) are now their overlords.

“We quietly did,” Reed previously told The Daily Beast of removing ISIS. “We were waiting for it to go away—at least I was. Back in Season 5, FX said, ‘This might be a thing,’ and I thought, ‘Maybe it won’t be? Maybe it’ll be the mole that I’m gonna ignore and nothing will happen.’ We got sort of lucky and could organically make a merger with the CIA, so we went back and retroactively painted out the ISIS logos in parts of the show, and we just don’t talk about it in dialogue.”

Reed discussed many of the new season’s secrets in an in-depth conversation with The Daily Beast, including cool cameos, plans for an Archer animated movie, and much more.  

How do you feel about Archer and the gang abandoning the cartel and returning to the office?

It’s like coming back after vacation, or something! It’s been fun. I had a great time with Archer: Vice, but now it’s back to basics. With Vice, part of it was wanting to write a longer narrative arc and have it be more serialized, and also we wanted to make sure everyone was still paying attention to Archer! We were going to have all of Season 6 be spent in prison—a weird, federal co-ed prison—but the runaway (and well-deserved) success of Orange Is the New Black made us think, “Well, people will think we’re trying to rip them off,” so we just decided to go back to normal Archer.

What was going to go down in this prison?

We were sitting around in the producer’s room and started shotgunning ideas out and everyone started laughing. On day one, Malory’s already got her own prison gang and has it totally sussed out, then she has problems with other prison gangs and a crooked warden. There was a lot of prison fiction from movies and books to mine.

I’m picturing Malory with prison tattoos now.

Yeah! Or at least henna tattoos that needed to be re-applied.

We'd discussed Archer dropping ISIS at Comic-Con, but wanted to ask what you thought of the fan reaction to the change, and how you feel about the way it was handled now that you've had some distance?

We haven't had any real fan reaction yet, but our collective fingers are crossed. I think we handled it as well as we could have, given the exigencies of production. The whole thing has just been extremely unfortunate on every possible level—but tweaking a cartoon really doesn't even rate discussion compared to the larger ISIS story.

How did you handle the transition from Vice to Season 6?

There wasn’t a huge talk. FX just asked, “OK, now what?” And I said, “Well, I think we’ll go back to normal.” And they said, “OK, great.” Between seasons, we have a history of Archer running away from home, so that was easily dug out again in the premiere because he’s done that so many times. Then, in a quick way we were able to disgorge a bunch of in-between season backstory all at once, and then get Archer on the phone and set things in motion.


Why do you think Archer runs away between seasons? Does he just need his space from Malory’s suffocating grip?

I think it’s that, and part of it is—now that I think about it—I take a six-week break in between writing seasons and usually go very far away, like motorcycling across Vietnam, so I can consciously not think about Archer, and that helps me recharge my batteries. So it might be me projecting my desires onto Archer to want to just get away from work for a few weeks.

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You do project many of your desires onto Archer, don’t you? Because the genesis of the series was you were at a café in Spain and a stunning woman sat by you, and you didn’t know how to approach her so thought of the type of person who could.

[Laughs] I do! I think they’re pretty universal, widely known desires. I think everybody would like to be handsome and good at karate. But yes, I pictured a James Bond-type just sauntering over to her. I wonder what that lady is doing now, and if she knows what she set in motion with Archer? I should visit that café in Spain and see if she’s still there… I still wouldn’t be able to talk to her.

Still? Even with all of Archer’s success?

[Laughs] No. I’d go over, spill my wine all over her, and then run out.

In the Season 6 premiere episode, how did you come up with the idea for Archer to meet a marooned Japanese WWII soldier? I remember H. Jon Benjamin told me it was a way-too-late apology for Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

For all the World War II stuff? It was a very faithful homage to a Six Million Dollar Man episode. Hopefully not overly close, but we talk about it in the episode how similar it is. I haven’t actually seen the episode—I read the plot summary. But I think Steve Austin has to team up with a Japanese holdout to stop a nuclear bomb from going off or something. A lot of our inspiration comes from movies, though. We have an episode this season that’s very familiar to The Eiger Sanction—an assassination on a mountain. And our 2-part finale to this season is very similar to The Fantastic Voyage where everyone gets shrunken down and injected into a scientist’s body. Our animators are very excited to be drawing the innards of a human being.

There’s also an episode where the entire thing takes place with the gang stuck in an elevator?

The entire thing, and it takes place in real time. Everybody is trapped in an elevator together and tempers run a little hot. And our elevator, it turns out, was pretty small. It was a great challenge for the storyboarders and everybody to physically have them in the same tiny space.

In addition to Allison Tolman, who’s guesting as Pam’s awful sister Edie, are there any other big guest stars this season?

We get so lucky! I can’t believe all these people keep saying yes. We have Matthew Rhys from The Americans as a Welsh separatist. Justin Edwards is also in that episode. We have Keith David and CCH Pounder playing Lana’s parents—the two tallest actors ever playing Lana’s parents. Archer and Lana go back to Berkeley where Lana’s parents are very well-known professors and scientists, and Lana’s been lying to them this whole time because they think she’s been working on her PHD in environmental science. Hijinks ensue.

Do we get to meet Lana’s sister?

We don’t get to meet Lana’s sister yet. We’re going to probably save that for next season!

How about baby drama with little Abijean and the Wee Baby Seamus?

There are a couple of episodes where Archer takes Baby AJ on a mission with him when he just shouldn’t do that. But most of the time it’s, “The baby’s at the sitter’s, let’s go on a mission.” Archer and Lana are definitely still career-driven!

What drama is going to go down with Cyril? He’s still Lana’s spurned lover.

He definitely swings back-and-forth on it. I don’t even think Cyril knows how to cope with these things. He has wild swings between trying not to care about Lana and the baby, and being completely obsessed by it.

Will the Pam/Krieger relationship be an ongoing theme this season? And how will it be explored?

I wouldn't say ongoing, but Pam and Krieger do get paired up a few times this season—I think the first time we've explicitly set out to do that—and the results have been pretty fun. In one episode, they get into some trouble in Area 51.

Will we discover whether or not Krieger is a clone this season, and will that be an ongoing plotline?

We won't find out this season, though it comes up occasionally. The plan is to stretch it out as long as possible, then probably forget about it, and then suddenly remember it. 

How would you describe the universe Archer takes place in? It’s very retro, yet also quite futuristic.

I think the period is 1970-thousand. I’m glad that we decided to do that very early on before we did anything—to not define it. FX didn’t want something set in 1973 where you’re referencing things in the news from 1973, and we didn’t want to do that either, but we wanted it to look that way. Both sides not wanting to do what the other one wanted to led to this beneficial compromise where it’s not set in a particular time, but visually, we’re able to use whatever elements we want. And the same goes for storytelling.

It is a spy series at its core, but you guys never really pull from the headlines.

No—and deliberately so. A lot of the spy stuff we’re seeing right now in the headlines isn’t fun and James Bond escapism; it’s pretty bleak. If you watch hard spy fiction, it’s quite boring because a lot of it is waiting around and seeing if someone sent you a message, which isn’t that compelling to me.

Have you ever heard any feedback from the CIA/actual spies on Archer? And what sort of stuff did they say?

Yes... kind of. Not actual CIA agents, but U.S. government personnel who have worked very closely with the CIA, and who are fans of the show. They say it's frightening how the real CIA is perceived to be as clueless as Archer & Co. 

With Vice, that was an example of you keeping yourself interested too, right?

That was a lot of it. It recharged my batteries for Season 6, and we might be doing something slightly different for Season 7—we’re not sure yet. The interim period between seasons helps us recharge, and we pay attention to the criticisms we get from writers and online forums and fan sites.

What criticisms of last season did you find helpful, and not so helpful?

I could see both sides of it. There was nobody that I read who was like, “This is just… whatever.” A lot of people seemed to say, “This was a bold swing—and a miss, and the bat flew out of their hands and hit a kid in the stands” or “This was great and they really livened things up rather than just coast.” So I think that’s good!

Have there been discussions with FX regarding an Archer movie, and how do you think that would play out? And whom do you potentially see playing Archer? I like the idea of Jon Hamm…

There have been discussions—though I'm not sure how serious they've been. From the Floyd County side (our animation studio) we are more excited about the possibility of an animated movie, so we keep bugging FX about that.