Posted Wednesday, April 18, 2018 by RODNEY HOemail@example.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
I’m out of the country through April 18. I’m posting a few items that I wrote before I left. This is one of them. If you want fresh entertainment news, check out Jennifer Brett’s AJC Buzz or Melissa Ruggieri’s AJC Music Scene.
The magic of animation is the ability to suspend time. Bart Simpson, for instance, has been the same age for three decades on “The Simpsons.”
It also allows creators to mess around with time and entire situations. FXX’s “Archer” ditched the spy agency trope from the first few seasons and became coke dealers season five, then private investigators season seven. For season nine returning Wednesday, April 25, creator Adam Reed has taken the show in a completely new direction by sending the core characters back to 1939 and trapping them on an island full of danger. (Thus, the new title: “Danger Island.”)
Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) is no longer a spy. Rather, he’s a semi-functioning alcoholic seaplane pilot who lands in a lush South Pacific island of Mitimotu in 1939. Along with his trusty co-pilot Pam (Amber Nash), Sterling has to survive navigate quicksand, cannibals, super-intelligent monkeys, poison darts and pirates. Fortunately, it’s 1939, so nukes are not in the equation. Or smoke monsters.
I spoke with Matt Thompson, a co executive producer out of Atlanta, where the show is created about the new season returning Wednesday, April 25 and he couldn’t be more psyched.
Q: Did you ever expect to make it to season nine?
Thompson: No. Adam and I never expected to make it to season nine because it’s weird. When you make cartoons, you don’t realize if people like it or not. When shooting a live action TV show, at least you’re out in front of people and people recognize you and talk to you. We’re really anonymous, faceless people. We never have any sense people like what we do and it’s been that way for years… We’ve always tried to entertain ourselves and make ourselves laugh. We had no idea people would watch a show where the characters would have two life arcs, whose life stories went through changes over time. There weren’t five jokes per page. The overall thing was a joke. The overall character is the joke. We had no idea if people would be interested at the time.
Q: “Archer” started as a loose Bond take off. That’s not the case anymore. Since these are animated characters, does it even matter?
Thompson: When it came time for Adam to write another script about a spy, a bad guy in Nicaragua we have to get out of power, one day, Adam looked me deep into the eyes and said, ‘Dear God! I can’t write another spy episode!’ We sat down. What does that mean? That doesn’t mean we won’t go back to it. What it does mean in the short term is we have to tell stories we are interested in first… We had them become criminals and sell cocaine. Next time, we’re not spies. We’re private eyes! That just opened things up. We found it freeing, which goes to a larger point. We’re about to premiere our ninth season of television. I don’t watch shows in their ninth season because I know what they’re gong to say and do. I know the plots. I’ve been down that road before Neo…
Q: So you shook things up?
Thompson: We decided to take the same basic characters you’ve come to know and love and place them in completely new and different situations. They have the same core identifiable traits with some slight tweaks. It’s so freeing as a producer. We’re not going to assassinate a dictator. We’ll do some crazy, totally different thing you didn’t see coming… I want you to be surprised.”
Q: It’s now “Danger Island.”
Thompson: Last season, things got real dark. We got some deep dark murder stuff. It was beautiful and interesting but we really wanted to lighten things up and tell more jokes and tell more stuff for s**** and giggles. The entire tone of this season is different. We’re on this island of danger with hyper intelligent monkeys, giant lizards and quicksand. There are Naxis and poisonous frogs. Everything in this jungle can murder you. And we have our evil scientist Dr. Krieger [Lucky Yates] as a talking parrot named Crackers.
Q: It’s now 1939. Do you try to capture that time period accurately?
Thompson: We try to capture it in a realistic way to a large degree. The car has to match. The clothes is from that time period. The guns, too. But to some degree, it doesn’t matter. We’re in the middle of a jungle. It’s basically almost a ‘Predator’ tale. It doesn’t matter what year ‘Predator’ is. It’s still ‘Predator.’ This is an island where anything can kill you at any moment. We’re trapped.
Q: I suspect you’ll be changing settings a lot from here on in.
Thompson: That’s the best thing about changing settings every year. We like it. You take the core group of six or seven and you want to recognize their interpersonal relationships. But we do make a couple of drastic changes that affect the group. Chris Parnell’s Cyril Figgis has usually been the put upon cuckold, the accountant… Now he’s this bloodthirsty, drug-addicted Nazi murderer. He was our softest character who used to get punched in the face. Now he’s the one doing the punching.
Q: I know most folks watching this show now are veterans and fans. How might newcomers find the first eight seasons?
Thompson: I think it’s now on Hulu. Comedy Central and FX play repeats. And FX just launched FX Now.
Q: You sound re-energized.
Thompson: It’s still a blast. I would argue we’re having more of a blast now than we’ve ever had. We draw and make this entire show in Atlanta. Everything is done here. We have a crew of artists. What they don’t like is doing the same thing every day. We asked them to do brand new art this year and bring this jungle island to life. We’re challenging them more than we were yesterday. I think they’ve reacted extremely positively. They like the challenge. You can’t say we’re telling the same stories every time.
Q: Do fans get on our case if there’s something off or anachronistic?
Thompson: Someone has told us a tie clip Archer is wearing should be on the right, not the left. That was supposed to be on the 1929 model, not the 1932. We try really hard to get it right. Our audience expects it to be right. They like learning about a particular weird car Russia made in 1962. We get letters and calls. We kind of appreciate it…
We took the guiding principle to make it lighter and sillier. We do kind of break the fourth wall for the first time. Archer will make a reference like “Oh God, that’s kind of a Catch 22. Wait. Is that a thing yet? Never mind.” There’s a large thing about a Hobbit debate and “Is that out?” We are kind of playing around with our strict and stringent rules.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add before we go?
Thompson: We brought back a character from season three everybody loved. David Cross plays him as Noah, the anthropologist living among the cannibals trying to eat our cast. It’s amazing having David Cross back again. He and H. Jon Benjamin have this shorthand since they’ve done comedy for a long time together. I just love watching them bicker with each other!
TV PREVIEW “Archer,” season 9, returns Wednesday, April 25, 2018 on FXX