In its fifth season, Archer rebooted itself as Archer: Vice, dismantling the spy agency where its hapless-yet-somehow-brilliant characters worked and saddling them with a mountain of cocaine that they then tried to sell. The next season, the gang was back at the old office, and in Season 7, they moved to L.A. and opened a detective agency.
Season 8, Archer: Dreamland, which premieres tonight on FXX, blows up the show’s premise yet again: The slightly truncated season takes place entirely in Archer’s head while he’s in a coma, recovering from a gunshot wound he suffered at the end of Season 7. Archer: Dreamland transplants the characters to L.A. circa 1947. Since real-life Archer (the voice of H. Jon Benjamin) is also grieving the death of his beloved manservant, Woodhouse, in his dream, he’s a detective investigating the murder of his partner — named, of course, Woodhouse.
Flavorwire spoke to Archer executive producer Matt Thompson about starting from scratch — all over again.
You kind of threw out the rulebook back in Season 5, with Archer: Vice. Did you have this idea back then that you were going to essentially reboot the show every season?
We enjoyed Season 5 immensely. It became a way to keep the comedy and the storylines fresh. Now we’re selling cocaine! Now we’re private detectives! Now we’re in 1947! The relationships are not that different, but they’re different enough to keep us interested, and that’s the important part for Adam and myself — how do you keep a high level of interest in continuing to make a show in its eighth season? How you do that is, this is the first season of Archer: Dreamland. This is the first season of Archer: Vice. And when it’s the first, you’re having fun all over again, like you just started dating your boyfriend or girlfriend for the first time instead of those soul-sucking four or five years of like, “Empty the dishwasher.” This is much more like, “Hey, do you want to get ice cream? I like ice cream!”
At the same time, again, it can’t be so far of a right turn that you lose the audience that has come to know and love Pam and Archer and how they act. It’s not like all the characters have changed, but there are big changes [this season] that make it more interesting for me. For example, Pam, she is playing, maybe, a man this season. That’s a big deal, to take your characters and make them potentially a different gender — to take one of your characters and change her name from Malory to Mother, and yet she’s not Sterling Archer’s mother, but she still lords things over him and threatens him with physical violence all the time. It’s still the same, but it’s also entirely different, and I love that we get to do that.
I love the art deco, L.A.-noir style of this season. Did you have any specific influences?
A hundred percent Maltese Falcon. We’re referencing a lot of The Maltese Falcon all over the place. A lot of people don’t realize that in The Maltese Falcon, Humphrey Bogart’s private detective partner who gets killed and prompts the whole search is named Archer. And in our story for this season, our private detective partner Woodhouse is killed, and Archer tries to solve it. There are visual references all over the place to The Maltese Falcon but I would say that would be the number one.
The rebooted seasons feel similar to the recent trend of mini-series and anthology series — I think for an audience it’s easier to follow just one season, particularly now that there are roughly one billion shows made every year. Did that logic play into it at all?
I love that it’s happening at the same time for us, but I believe this has all grown out of just Adam and I, our pattern of the shows that we made. The first show that we made was called Sealab 2021, and anything could happen. Any character could die, anything could blow up, and in the next episode you would come back and everything’s fine, that never happened, you just don’t discuss it. Nonsensical. And then in the next show that we made [Frisky Dingo], it became extremely, heavily serialized because we had gotten tired of the nonsensical and no rules. Then when we started Archer, we reacted negatively to our last serialization on Frisky Dingo because we thought that it made people tune out.
When we first started Archer, the idea was to try and cast a happy medium between heavy serialization and allowing people to enter your world. And that lasted for a good four seasons. We didn’t want it to be “mission of the week,” because we thought that would be death to us. So when we finally got to Season 5, we were like, what if we just start telling these stories by season? You don’t have to have seen Seasons 1 through 7 before you see Season 8 — but if you have seen them, it’s deepening the comedy for you.
This season feels very divorced from current politics — it’s set in L.A. in 1947, and it’s kind of all a dream. I guess that’s true to an extent for the other seasons, but I was wondering if that was intentional, to avoid making a comment on actual world politics.
I try my best to not bring up politics in general because it sucks all the air out of the room right now. But Archer has always taken the standpoint to, for the most part, create our own pop culture — we’re not talking about current events ever on Archer. If we do talk about something, it’s something that is famous enough to have been around for 15, 20 years. There are no deadmau5 references. I think South Park does that better than anybody’s done that, ever. The only way to compete with something like that is to not play, so we create our own world and we fill it out the best that we can with our own references and our own recurring gags.
So I take it next season is not going to be Archer: Trump.
Archer has been renewed for another two seasons, and that’ll be that. Do you know yet what those two seasons are going to look like?
Adam and I never decide until the show’s been on for at least a month and we can see how everybody’s reacting to whatever it is we’re doing. There’ve been no decisions made. There’s been a decision about when we’re gonna talk about making the decision. I know for a fact that we’ve enjoyed being in 1947, but that’s it. Archer: Dreamland is case closed, problem solved. We may be going back to L.A. to be detectives, and we may be going back to New York to be spies. We may be, I don’t know, going to outer space to have adventures in outer space. But the great thing about working with FX is, they’re cool with it as long as we tell them why — as long as we explain, here’s why it’s important for us to do this, they’re on board.
Archer: Dreamland premieres tonight at 10 p.m. on FXX.