Shakefire had the opportunity to speak with Matt Thompson, one of the Executive Producers of Archer alongside series creator Adam Reed, to discuss what fans can expect from the upcoming sixth season of the show as it returns to the series' espionage roots after last season's departure with Archer Vice.
Shakefire (SF): What can we expect this season and maybe can you give us a little tease about some upcoming guest stars?
Matt Thompson (MT): This season, when Adam [Reed] and I sat down and talked about what we wanted to do, we wanted to get back to what we felt the show was at its core, which is a show about Archer and spying and what I would say is like more visceral action; people going out there and high stakes stuff and people dying and that sort of thing. Last season, we had a blast and we kind of took a detour from what we usually do. They kind of bungled their way around selling cocaine. If you go back and watch, nobody even dies in that season.
And so, what we’re doing now is getting back to what we do best. Archer, he’s a spy. He’s a bad guy who’s a good guy who’s a bad guy, and we’re going to go back to seeing his personal journey in this world to which I think the main focus of the season is a lot about him, a lot about his relationship with Lana and how that’s changed when there’s a baby, and we can see Archer taking one step towards being a better person and a better father and then maybe two steps backwards from being not wanting to do that, kind of constantly evolving without evolving. In fact, in the season premiere, we see he’s ran away from being a father all together and he’s off in the jungle somewhere fighting with Japanese soldiers. That is the main thing that I can see happening with this this year.
A couple of things that I’m most excited about are some of the people that we have joining us for this season. One of the things that this show does is it doesn’t really inform people about things that have happened in the past. We’re just kind of always moving forward and we like expect or hope that the audience keeps up with us.
There’s a great character from Season 1 of Archer named Conway Stern who everybody loved because he was somebody who was just as good or better at everything that Archer is. The piece is played by Coby Bell and he’s back early on in the season to see what’s happening with him. What I was saying is that that’s one of the things I think that the show does is like we’re not going to go back and tell you everything that happened in Season 1 with Conway Stern. We just hope that you know and can follow along. It’s not necessary to know what happened in Season 1, but it makes the episode more enjoyable.
Some other things that we have happening is we wrote a specific episode for Kumail Nanjiani as a Pakistani spy. We actually wanted to make sure before we wrote the part that he wanted to do it because we couldn’t foresee anybody else doing it and luckily, he agreed to do the part without a script being written, which was really super cool of him. The episode came out pretty great.
Also, meeting Lana’s parents played by C.C.H. Pounder and Keith David, and it’s kind of fun to see Lana in a slightly different role as the child. Lana’s always telling us what to do almost and kind of being basically our collective conscious. And now, to see her dealing with her parents, it’s pretty fun. One of my favorite things about that episode is like they’re these Berkeley professors out in California and Archer, the baby, and Lana go see them. There’s a moment in the hot tub with Archer and Lana’s parents that is great and pretty much defines who Archer is as a guy. I mean you put him in the hot tub with Lana’s parents and things don’t go well.
Also, back this season, the people that I missed the most in Season 5 were Barry and Katya. They’re both back in episodes this season. I just like the way that Conway Stern works will with Archer because Archer has somebody to play off of. Barry’s the same way for Archer. He always kind of seems to win and lose. I like it when there is that relationship where Archer can bounce off of somebody so hard. So, getting Barry back in an episode; getting Katya back. Actually, the episode that Barry is in is one of our best that we’ve done.
Allison Tolman is playing Edie, Pam’s sister and to have that come together with Barry’s return and seeing—there’s this TV troupe. Like Cheers did it really well with Norm’s wife. Norm would walk in and it would be like, “Oh, what’s up with your wife, Norm” and he’d say something awful. I think Edie was that way for us, Pam’s sister. We always talked about these terrible things that Edie did and we never had any intention of showing you Edie until we got drunk with Allison Tolman at a FX party and listened to her great Wisconsin accent that she did on Fargo and kind of convinced us to do it.
Also, Rob Huebel who we’ve always thought is a super hilarious guy is joining us for a very much—there’s a movie from the ‘70s called the The Eiger Sanction with Clint Eastwood. It’s basically our take on that old Clint Eastwood movie with Rob Huebel as a pretty funny mountain climbing guy.
But, I will say that my very favorite episode of the season isn’t with guest stars. I think the show really works best when it is all of our characters just bitching at each other. You’ll see it like when they all get on a blimp together, they’ll all get on a train together, they’ll all go down to Sealab together. There’s an episode this season where everybody just gets trapped in an elevator and then they just bitch at each other. I love, because these characters feel so real to me, just listening to them all sit there and bitch at each other. It’s great. It was kind of a challenging episode for us because how do you make trapped in an elevator interesting, and I really think we did it. I really like that one a lot.
SF: Are we going to see the baby go out on any missions?
MT: The baby’s out there, yes. There’s some things that happen with the baby. Like Everybody Loves Raymond, it was never a story about Raymond’s kids. So, this series is not suddenly going to become Archer and Lana’s baby series, but there is parts where the emotion of Archer and Lana especially is heightened because there is parts when the baby is in danger. There’s specifically I think about the Kumail Nanjiani episode and there’s danger for the baby, or even the episode for Lana’s parents and meeting them.
I wouldn’t say it’s like necessarily taking the baby on a mission because I would hope that even though our people are pretty irresponsible, but they wouldn’t just like put a bulletproof vest on a baby and go do it, but there are times when definitely the baby’s in danger and we see what happens to our characters because of that.
SF: What is Lana’s mindset is going to be. Does the baby act like more of like a wild card for her now? I mean how does she balance being a mother and being a spy agent?
MT: She’s conflicted. She goes through times of wanting to quit, wanting to get away from it. There’s times where we’re trying to take a vacation from the baby. And so, I think more than ever, Lana seems conflicted and she doesn’t know what she wants to do. She also will go on a mission and leave the baby in somebody else’s care, which is driving her crazy because, one, Malory thinks that Lana’s breasts are filled with corn syrup or something and she’s constantly fattening up the baby. So, Malory is like feeding the baby ice chips to try and slim the baby down, or else like leaving Pam in charge of the baby and like, “Oh, my God. What happened to the baby? Where’s the baby?”
And so, it creates a lot of stress on Lana. She doesn’t really have a good handle with how to deal with it. She’s kind of making it up as she goes along and sometimes she’s handling it well and sometimes she’s not handling it well.
SF: When you’re directing Aisha [Tyler], are you saying to her to be more motherly in certain scenes towards he baby even though it’s like some sort of an action sequence or vice versa? Is there something that’s more of a motherly scene and she has to kind of react a bit more sudden because it’s action? How does she balance that from a directing point of view where maybe she has to put on different hats almost at a moment’s notice?
MT: Yes, agreed. There are times when Lana and you’re directing Aisha that Lana’s just yelling at people. And so, I think that there’s a lot of times this season where we’re taking a step back from that. We’re seeing her and we’re seeing Aisha Tyler get really loving when she’s talking to her baby, or very protective, which is a different form of anger than just wagging your finger at people.
There’s also an opportunity for Lana— later in the season, we’re going to see a love interest come along and to see her in a very loving, romantic side of her. That’s also interesting. Aisha took each one of those things very much in stride. She is really, really good at this. I’ll find like when we’re directing her and stuff and she’ll do something, then you’ll take a step back and go, “Wow, that was really great, Aisha” because we’re so used to her in the yelling at us mode. Then to give her these opportunities this season to either act so loving to her baby or be in a romantic relationship is really wonderfully fun to see.
SF: What is Archer like— has his personality or his actions changed at all now that he has a kid?
MT: Yes. The basic struggle this season is for Archer to take one step forward to being a better person and a better father, and then maybe one step back or sideways against being a better person and being a better father. I think the two are very intertwined for him now. There are specific episodes when we see that he is either running away from being a dad, or that he’s trying to get in Lana’s life a little bit more so he can be a father, or there are specific episodes that happen this season that the baby is threatened and we see what happens to Archer because of that.
We’re using the baby as a tool to tell Archer and Lana’s story and deepen their relationship and deepen their emotional standing. It’s not that we’re going to see the baby all the time and like here’s this baby and what’s happening with the baby. It’s really about how that affects Archer and Lana’s emotional state. It’s one of the driving forces of the season.
SF: Now that Malory’s the grandmother, what’s her reaction to the baby and how is she going to treat it versus the way she raised Archer? Is it going to be like that whole grandmother thing of how Bill Cosby used to say they’re trying to get into heaven now by being nicer to their grandkids than their own kids, or is she still going to be a hard ass?
MT: No. She’s still a hard ass. In fact, she greatly disagrees. There’s a couple of great scenes with her and how she’s dealing with the baby specifically. I’m going to try and remember the exact lines. Like for example, one is Abigene is the baby’s name and it’s named after Lana’s grandmother. In reality, Abigene is the name of Adam Reed’s grandmother, but there’s a great scene where she’s trying to convince Lana by giving her large amounts of money to change the baby’s name to Malory. I think at one point she says, and have the baby christened with her name and “I’ll throw in another $5,000 if you do it in a white church,” which is awful. Sorry, but it made me laugh.
There’s a great part where she believes Lana is fattening the baby. I think specifically to a line about like, “What’s in your breasts? Are they filled with corn syrup?” Whenever she’s in charge of the baby, whenever she’s taking care of the baby, you’ll see her giving the baby ice chips instead of food, or else she’ll be off camera and Archer will be out on a mission. He’ll be yelling back, talking to his mom, saying, “God damn it. You have to feed the God damn baby” because she’s very concerned that the baby is getting overweight. So, no, she is not becoming nicer and trying to get into grandma heaven.
SF: I want to go back to the Archer Vice season now. That was this very different change of scenery for the show. How vital to the production of it was that because I mean you mentioned previously that now you’re going back to the core of the series with the whole spy thing and Archer. So, how important was mixing it up a little bit before going back to its core?
MT: I think it was most important for the people who sit around and think about what the show should do. We needed like to clear our brains out. We wanted to take a step sideways that was still inside of our universe, but do it. More than anything else, it was just like a palate cleanser almost. Internally, we love it. We loved what that season was. We love that we made a country music album. We love that we did something very different without doing something different. I think it’s some of our strongest work if you can sit back and watch it on the face of it.
At the same time, there’s a reason why shows don’t change their standard formula too hard because it does upset the apple cart a little bit. And so, it was never designed as, “Hey, this is what we’re doing from now on.” It was never even thought of that way. It was just thought of as, “We want to go and take this small break from ourselves that isn’t really even truly a break and then go back to doing what we do best.” We do realize what we do best is stories about Sterling Archer, him being a dick, but also being a somewhat good guy and some sort of spy, intrigue, people are going to die, and then insert jokes along the way. We do realize that is when the show is working at its best. We went away from that formula last season, but I’m really glad we did. At the same time, I’m just as excited now to get back to doing what it is that we do best.
SF: Can we expect any more of these random departures in future seasons, whenever you guys get tired again in x amount of seasons?
MT: Maybe. I don’t know. Right now, we’re happy to be back to work. We’re happy to be back to work doing what these people were designed to do, but we wouldn’t rule anything out because we haven’t focus grouped the show. We haven’t done anything because somebody said, “This is what you should do.” My partner and I have always made shows to please himself and myself. I hope that’s the best way that actually quality work gets done. It isn’t done to satisfy some sort of collective need, but instead serves the needs of the producer or the person in charge, but just trying to get your vision across.
SF: You have Season 6 that you’re moving into, but you’re sort of already renewed for Season 7. Did knowing that you wouldn’t have just one season, but also Season 7 already in the works change or sort of impacted what you guys decided to do this season, or impact the storyline?
MT: One thing that you wouldn’t think of that happened, when you get renewed for two seasons and you’re a cartoon show, something happens. Because it’s a cartoon, how good your cartoon looks is all based on money. You can have the most talented people in the world, but it depends on how much money you have to throw at the pipeline and the process. Knowing that we had two seasons left in the show for certain let me hire a particular amount of staff with very safe and secure jobs to say, “Okay, I know I want to make this part right here look better.” So, that money security allowed me to bump up my pipeline.
You’ll see it directly affect Season 6 for the first time. There’s a couple of animations that you’ll notice are better in years past. I was seeing the new promos that I have started seeing. There was a promo of an avalanche that is on TV right now and looking at how that avalanche looks is a direct effect of getting renewed for two seasons. I couldn’t have done that without that stability and knowing that was coming. You’ll see some small action sequences and some small facial animation that is all in direct result to having the safety to doing two seasons at once.
As far as the storyline goes, I would love to sit here and tell you that have this giant board where we make up everything and do it, but we really just do it a season at a time. We know what we want to happen this season. After the season is over, we take a break for the month and then we decide, “All right. What do we want to get done this season?” So, it’s more about the pipeline and the animators than it is about knowing what we wanted to do in season seven. We don’t know what we’re going to do in Season 7 yet.
SF: Well, to sort of talk about something that was sort of a big deal, the name change of ISIS; it just was such a weird thing that all of a sudden, your fake animated show had to change its name because of an actual real terrorist group out in the world. Was that something where you guys just woke up one day, saw the headlines and were like, “Oh, no. We’ve got to change things?”
MT: Yes. We watched it very closely for a long time and were just hoping that we would never to have to comment on it because we feel like any comment we make on it is just— there’s no way to win that conversation. It’s just a terrible, awful, awful, horrendous situation. And so, when we finally bit the bullet and were like, “All right. We got to go. We’ve got to change.”
What we decided to do was to say, and this is something we’ve kind of been working towards because of our love of Christian Slater and liking Christian. You’re going to see him a lot more this season as our CIA handler. And so, we decided, “Okay, that’s it. ISIS is done. We’re going to be contractors for the CIA.” Right when we did that, all that stuff went down with the CIA now and we’re like, “Oh, God damn it.”
The best joke that I think Jon Benjamin’s made in a long time, somebody asked him this question the other day and they go, “Are you going to change your name from ISIS?” and they’re like, “Yes.” Jon said, “After a lot of thought, we’ve decided to change it to something that hopefully people will hate less. We’re going to have the spy agency now called AIDS.” We decided not to do that, but we are basically contractors for the CIA now for better or for worse.
SF: So, continuity. You guys are really, really great with bringing back recurring jokes and themes and everything from the beginning of the season to an episode seasons later. How do you guys track all of that? There’s a lot of shows like How I Met Your Mother or Seinfeld where they bring back old jokes and then there’s shows like Scrubs that would forget what they did two episodes ago. How do you guys remember or keep track of everything?
MT: We try really hard on our continuity, and we fail sometimes. We try not to let our failures leave the house, but there’s been many episodes that we’ve corrected like on the day that we’ve turned them in. Mostly those are visual mistakes where we will forget a tattoo or we’ll forget that somebody’s hair had changed. Like last season, particularly this is for last season. Last season, Cheryl’s tits got huge because of whatever she was doing with this country music thing. I mean we’re going back to normal size. The number one thing that we couldn’t do visually was we couldn’t track Archer’s bullet holes because he’s had over 40 bullet holes. So, we had to just like let that go. Everything else visually; you should see like small changes in hair style that’ll stick and then they’ll change, or be it in clothes or whatever.
The things that have happened to a character are sometimes more difficult and we’ll forget. There’s a very specific thing that— we recorded an episode this season of where everybody’s trapped in an elevator together. We recorded it, edited it, started animating it, and realized there was a mistake in the episode. We had to go back and rerecord something. It was about the number of people in the elevator that had seen Lana’s vagina, and we were mistaken that there was only one of them in the elevator that hadn’t because we had forgotten about Cheryl saw it while she was giving birth. Pam saw her vagina when they had sex. I mean you have to go back, and that’s our continuity - how many people have seen that character’s vagina? We actually messed up, but went back and corrected it at a later date.
Season 6 of Archer premieres tonight, January 8th at 10:00pm ET on FX.