The very first episode of Archer, FX’s animated spy series, opens with its impeccably-jawlined not-so-secret agent on the rack. He is partaking in a torture training exercise with a faux KGB operative—one that is cut short when Archer mocks his would-be tormentor’s shoddy Russian accent. That series premiere aired in September 2009, back when a show about an American intelligence agency going toe to toe with the Kremlin seemed firmly rooted in the Cold War past.
Now, in the midst of the ongoing Trump-Russia scandal, it seems downright prescient. “I feel like we stirred all this up,” jokes creator Adam Reed. “I feel like the root cause of all this is Archer.”
Reed famously dreamed up the kernel of Archer at a café in Salamanca, Spain. Upon spotting a striking woman seated nearby he became paralyzed with fear, imagining a Bond-esque spy who could disarm her with the perfect pickup line. That man was Sterling Archer: a suave, remarkably narcissistic lothario with deep-seated mommy issues.
“For me, Archer’s always been an escape,” says Reed. “We never wanted to talk about terrorism, which is why when Archer was first starting, we thought, well, when is this set? And I was like, well, it’s sort of in this non-time period but the KGB is still active. Espionage back then was mostly about terrorism or counterterrorism, and I get enough of that in the news and didn’t want to write about it, so Archer’s roots as a Soviet-era spy was my way to get away from real life. For me, I never want to write anything that has to do with real life.” Real life collided with the satirical spy comedy in October 2010, when The Daily Beast broke the news that Archer would erase the name “ISIS”—the name of Archer’s fictional spy agency, standing for International Secret Intelligence Service—from the show due to the rise of the terrorist organization of the same name. The Season 6 premiere saw the CIA literally roll the ISIS sign out of the agency’s office, and FX disappeared all merchandise bearing the acronym.
“It was so depressing,” recalls Reed. “Every time President Obama would say ‘ISIL,’ I was really rooting for it like, ‘Come on, media! Let’s hook on to that acronym.’ But ISIL doesn’t have the zing that ISIS does.”
According to Reed, he received the dreaded ISIS call from FX in the summer of 2014. “This thing isn’t going away and we need to address it,” they said. Reed’s initial response, in classic Archer fashion, was: let’s sue the bastards.
“I couldn’t get anybody onboard for that,” he says with a chuckle. “Sadly, nobody at Fox business affairs was on my side for ‘let’s go sue ISIS.’ Then I just wanted to ignore it and hope it would go away like you do with a weird mole, and FX said, no, that’s not a grown-up or feasible way to handle this. So it was weird, and it was very tough.” In what he calls “an unconscious desire to get away from current events,” Reed chose to set the entirety of Season 7 in Los Angeles, with the spy gang getting embroiled in a plot involving missing booty, A-list movie stars, a chaotic film set, and a femme fatale. The season ended with Archer lying face down in a pool, presumed dead.
Reed crafted the back half of Season 7 on that film set in tandem with Season 8, a stylish noir-mystery titled Dreamland. The eight season, which premieres on FX's sister channel FXX April 5th, opens three months later with Archer in a deep coma. His underappreciated butler, Woodhouse, is dead, and so Archer has dreamed up a scenario where he is a gumshoe in the 1940s investigating Woodhouse’s apparent murder. Reed views the eighth season as a tribute to George Coe, the voice of Woodhouse who passed away last year. He was inspired by the noir-parodies Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid and Murder by Death.
“Archer in his subconscious has assigned people different roles in his imagination to take him on this adventure, and the fact that he is dreaming about the other Archer characters, to me, shows how limited Archer’s world is as far as people he knows,” says Reed. “He doesn’t have a lot of friends—or any friends—he just has these seven or so other people in his life.”
The whole crew is back: Pam is a dirty cop, Lana is a lounge singer, and Cheryl is a lusty heiress. Krieger is now a no-nonsense bartender with a Nazi past, while Malory is a cold-hearted crime boss at odds with Len Trexler, voiced by Jeffrey Tambor. Cyril is still a cuck. Barry, Trinette, and Cecil Tunt all return to propel the crazy action forward.
“There’s sex trafficking, there’s some privately advanced robotics, there’s some kidnapping, there’s drug abuse, there’s corpse abuse, there’s fake deaths, there are plenty of shootouts, and a lot of flashbacks,” shares Reed.
Archer’s talented art team really went the extra mile with Dreamland, creating all-new character wardrobes, cars, and backgrounds from scratch to reflect the 1940s milieu. “There were a lot of long hours and late nights for all the artists involved,” says Reed.
And, while its creator says that Archer will likely return to its standard mission-of-the-week format next season, the spy outfit formerly known as ISIS will be without one of its key members.
“I will say that not everybody makes it through this season,” says Reed. “We may lose someone.”