Archer is one of those rare shows that’s capable of finding humor both high and low in its characters’ diverse and often self-inflicted quandaries, whether they’re dangerous missions in exotic locations, or just a bevy of HR complaints. Like anything great, Archer has its following on Tumblr, including copious gif sets from choice jokes, two different Fuck Yeah Archer blogs, and fandom crossovers like Sterling Archer Draper Price. Although show creator Adam Reed was indisposed (in his “writing cave” attempting to finished the season finale’s script) Matt Thompson, Executive Producer and collaborator with Reed on such wonderful shows as Sealab 2021 & Frisky Dingo was nice enough to answer our most pressing questions about Archer.
How did you two start working together?
Thompson: Adam and I were both working in the On-Air Promotions department at Cartoon Network (1994???). It was a really great place to work too. It still had that small, us against them feel as the network had not been around that long. At that time it was mostly a place to catch old Hanna Barbera cartoons as Adult Swim did not exist yet. Our boss, a really great guy named Stephen Croncota, decided to pair us together to make some small interstitial shows to wrap around things like the Smurfs. We came up with a talking hand show where my hand was a no nonsense cowboy and Adam’s hand was my wacky sidekick. I use to have tons of tape on this, but I can no longer find it. I did find one thing online, a promo we did for an upcoming show of ours. It starts at the one minute mark.
A running theme in your shows has been high-flying settings (dangerous missions, world domination) mixed with the incredibly mundane (pay raises, political campaigns). What things have informed your choice to juxtapose those situations?
The high-flying setting stuff comes from Adam’s love of Ian Fleming’s James Bond character. Not the one we have today (which is great too), but the original novel version of the character where he is much darker, much more of a misogynist. And Adam likes to have fun with that. Additionally Adam is incredibly well traveled having spent recent time in the Middle East and Vietnam. And he speaks fluent Spanish and French.
The mundane thing comes from the two of us running a small business as we have owned the company that makes all of our shows since 1999. We employ a staff and deal with standard small business stuff everyday: taxes, health insurance, paper jams, office colds. No matter what business you work in, I think people can all identify with someone at the office throwing a fit because we are out of staples.
And we have always had fun putting those two things together - life and death danger goes to the HR department.
You mentioned in a previous interview that the characters were drawn from real people in Atlanta. Was that the process used Frisky Dingo? Why did you choose to create the characters that way?
We do create characters from real people in Atlanta… mostly. For example Cyril Figgis happens to run a series of very high end restarants in Atlanta. Pam Poovey has an antiques shop in a part of town called the highlands. Ray Gillette is actually Lucky Yates who voices Dr. Krieger. Then our staff fills in a lot of the other characters. This year our lead character designer, Chi, actually appears in a couple of episodes as herself.
It was slightly different on Frisky. Frisky was a little simpler. But the basics of the process are the same.
We choose to create the characters this way because we were looking for something that a large staff could draw quickly that we would not have to worry as much about everyone’s different drawing styles. But now that our illustration staff has been together so long, they are making up a lot of characters out of thin air. Which is nice.
Walk us through the writing process of an episode of Archer.
Adam sits down at his computer and bangs them out. He does a lot of this from home, where things are more quiet. People always ask me about how wacky our writers room meetings are. And then everyone is shocked to find out this is just one guy typing away.
Even if the scripts were not great (which they always are), he should be commended for the amount of actual words he writes in a year.
Which character do you have the most fun writing for?
I would think that Adam would say Pam. She is unfiltered, but yet she seems kind. I think she gets the best lines.
Having the show set in an indeterminate time period allows you to draw on a lot of imagery—and technology—from diverse points in history. Has there ever been something you felt was too out of place?
Hmmm… not sure. I know we had a big talk about cell phones early on. Because we definitely wanted them and wanted them to exist. At the same time, we did not want phone cords to exist. But that was strictly out of them being a pain in the ass to deal with animation wise. I think I am going to turn this over to our Art Director, Neal Holman, for better insight.
Holman: In 203, Movie Star — the episode where the actress/assassin Rhona Thorne was “Amazing!” —- there is a shot of Cheryl and Pam watching an internet broadcast on their computers. It didn’t stick out at the time, but in hindsight, that crossed over a line into familiar modernity that we try to avoid. Most of the ISIS computers have the old MS DOS interface. Malory’s computer and those in Signal Intelligence are the only machines that are supposed to have that level of technology (internet, satellite, etc.
You already got your wish in working with David Cross for the ‘Heart of Archness’ trilogy. Is there anyone else you’d like to have on the show?
This season we are going to have Timothy Olyphant playing Archer’s best friend. And he was just great at the whole thing. Charming, funny, and attractive - ugh. Also, Anthony Bourdain plays a bastard celebrity chef in something this season. Adam wrote the part specifically for him as we think he is one of the coolest people on the planet. And for the two part season finale, we have a big secret casting coming. But I am going to hold on to that for a while.
There are a lot of people that I think are really great that we would love to do something with. But if I had to pick just one, I think it would be Daniel Craig. But I would want him in a role as far away from his James Bond character as possible. Something that would allow him and us to make fun of the spy stuff together.
One of the coolest things about the show is its spectrum of humor, which can transition immediately from a Melville reference to dick jokes. How do you balance the two and do you see much of a difference between them?
It is a really tricky balance and honestly I do not know how Adam does it. Let me give you an example. Myself and producer Casey Willis avidly read almost every spec script we get. We do this because we are desperate to not have Adam writing so much as his fingers may literally fall off. Anyway, almost every time we read these scripts, there is something too gross in there: “jokes” about menstruation or jacking off monkeys… weird, un-funny shit. The writers are trying too hard to push the boundaries and would be better off just being clever.
I do not know how Adam can write a fart joke and it comes out like it does not stink. But he does it. I think he is able to do this because he is a very bright guy that has no desire to please anyone but himself. He does not hang out in LA; we all live and work in Atlanta. He does not have a Mercedes; he drives a russian made motorcycle with a sidecar (Ural). And he will frequently hand me a great book, urging me to read it. But then warn me that he just farted on it.
There are a lot of oddball references throughout the show, but one of the most unexpected was the ‘Archers of Loaf-cross’ (and on that note, Woodhouse’s apparent taste for Charles Mingus). What music are you into?
Adam knew Archers of Loaf while he was in college at UNC Chapel Hill. Adam listens to a lot of classic stuff like Mingus and Sarah Vaughan. But really his tastes are all over. A LONG TIME ago we lived together and I remember a lot of G Love and Special Sauce mixed with the Rebirth Brass Band. But the thing I remember most about his music tastes are the things he hates: Pink Floyd and the The Doors come to mind.
I end up listening to a lot of sports talk radio during football season. But when that is all over, I return to Black Keys, Radiohead, and lately a lot of Alabama Shakes.
Will learning the identity of his biological father make Archer any kinder?
Have we seen the last of Baboo?
Baboo will be back. But there is now a new animal in the mix this season that Archer falls in love with. It comes in an episode late in the year. Basically it is Archer hanging out with Cujo.
Plus have you seen this shirt we had Pam wear? We had an in-house design contest where the studio voted on which shirt design most people wanted for our Production Crew shirts. This shirt was one of the runners up. When we used it in a Pam tweet the other day, the internet was asking why it is not for sale on FX’s website. We are asking them this as well.
Can you give us any details about the Archer/Bob’s Burgers crossover? How did you convince the networks it was a good idea?
It was not the networks as much as convincing Loren Bouchard that we meant no harm to his Bob’s universe. Luckily he was super cool about the whole thing. And I can not wait for people to see it. It will look like their restaurant and their characters, but we have “Archer-ized” them to exist in our world.
And the requisite TV Hangover question: What’s your alcohol of choice and best hangover remedy?
Bourbon. Always bourbon. For both Adam and myself. But I try my best to avoid it as I like staying married. But we just got some for the crew last week. If you have not heard of B&E Bourbon, google it immediately. They are made by a distillery in California named St. George Spirits. It is amazing.
Best hangover remedy: drink more bourbon. One of my favorite Archer lines: “If I stop drinking all at once, I’m afraid the cumulative hangover will kill me.”
Archer returns for a fourth season tonight at 10pm on FX.