‘Archer’ EPs Matt Thompson & Casey Willis on How ‘Danger Island’ Was Almost ‘King Archer’

     April 23, 2018

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It’s hard to keep any TV series fresh nine seasons into its run, let alone an animated series. But that’s definitely the case with FXX’s Archer, which began as a James Bond-esque comedy about a spy agency, but which recently has take major leaps by centering each new season around a genre theme. This began with Season 5’s Archer Vice but took a major step forward in Season 7 with Archer Dreamland, a 1940s-set noir-esque tale that took place entirely inside Sterling Archer’s head.

Archer Season 9 is yet another theme season, but it’s drastically different than Dreamland. Archer: Danger Island is a throwback to 1930s serials and, yes, Indiana Jones as the colorful cast of characters are now stranded on a South Pacific island in the year 1939. Archer is a hard-drinking pilot, Lana is a princess and local revolutionary, and Cyril is a Nazi. This season has a very different pace and feel to it than Dreamland, which admittedly got very dark. In contrast, Danger Island is a ton of fun. It’s extremely colorful, breezy, and far more flighty, kicking back and not taking itself too seriously.

With Archer: Danger Island premiering on FXX on April 25th, I recently got the chance to speak with executive producers Matt Thompson and Casey Willis about the new season and the series as a whole. They revealed this season’s theme was nearly King Archer, talked about why they settled on Danger Island, and admitted they wanted to get back to having fun after the darkness of Dreamland. They also discussed the show’s endgame, revealing Season 10 may not be the end of the series after all, and talked about how these “theme seasons” are still taking place inside Archer’s head. It was a very fun and fascinating conversation with some terrific insight into how one of the funniest shows on television gets made.

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Image via FXX

Check out the full interview below.

How did the idea for this season first come about? What was the pitch? 

MATT THOMPSON: The pitch for it was we were trying to figure out a genre where these folks could all go live inside. Adam Reed had a couple of different ideas about different places that they could go, and we talked about the pros and cons of it. This one was almost King Archer, like Archer and the Knights of the Roundtable. But it became this island where anything can kill you which is very much like an old serial from the 30s because it was a really great way to put all of our people together where they can’t leave and they’re trapped, and they have to deal with each other and they have to deal with everything surrounding them. So the genre in and of itself, the cliffhanger and the anything-can-kill-you, it really lent itself to a really interesting season where you could watch all these people get on each other’s nerves and deconstruct almost.

There’s a very strong Indiana Jones vibe throughout the first three episodes. Was that something that was discussed as this was coming together? 

THOMPSON: Oh yeah definitely. This season does have a very strong Indiana Jones feel to it, but I would argue that that is not necessarily because of Indiana Jones but more about the stuff that Indiana Jones itself is based upon, the stuff that it harkens back to like the serials. But you can definitely find all that stuff in there where we’re searching for an idol against Nazis and anything you do around any corner can kill you, so there’s a lot of similarities with Indiana Jones and his merry gang that is built into this season, but it’s actually referencing stuff that came before Indiana Jones.

The decision not to do King Archer, was that because you found more cons for that idea or that this island idea had so many more possibilities to it? 

CASEY WILLIS: One con that I brought up was animating all the horses and how it was going to be a real pain in the ass (laughs). 

THOMPSON: Animating horses is one of the most time-consuming processes because the musculature on their leg and hindquarters is just brutal. We decided we didn’t wanna get into it. We liked that Danger Island was almost like a closed ecosystem. I showed the promos to my 13-year-old son who all he does all day is—well basically in between Fortnite breaks I talked to my 13-year-old son and he’s like, ‘This is like Fortnite!” because you’re parachuting into an island and everybody’s trying to kill each other. And I was like, you know what yeah, say that. Don’t say this is about something before Indiana Jones, say “This is about Fortnite!”

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Image via FXX

Something that’s really great about these genres is getting to play around with your characters. In Danger Island Krieger is a Parrot and Cyril is a Nazi. How did you guys settle on the roles the characters would fill in this season? 

WILLIS: I think Adam always wanted something big to happen to the character of Cyril. And because the mad scientist was something he didn’t feel he wanted to play with in Danger Island, and originally we were gonna have a dog but we decided against that.

THOMPSON: We needed him to be able to fly to get to different parts of the island. We needed basically a walkie talkie who could keep in touch with different parts of the island, so that became really important. We realized we wanted one character that could get around everywhere, then it lent itself to a bird, and then a wise-cracking bird lent itself to Krieger. The big departures this season are obviously Krieger is no longer a parrot he’s a wise-cracking bird named Crackers—and interestingly enough the name Crackers comes from the actor Lucky Yates’ own life where he was given a bird named Crackers when he was 3 years old for going poop on the potty. So we worked the name Crackers in just for him.

But besides that I think the biggest change is Cyril Figgis, who was always the cuckhold, the accountant, the whatever guy who gets pushed around is now a ruthless, murdering, drug-addicted Nazi, and it’s great. Archer is very recognizable as Archer, and Lana even though she’s a princess is very recognizable as Lana, but by doing most people as something that you recognize you can take huge departures on one or two, so a big giant swing on Krieger and Cyril feels great because you’re still grounded in the basic themes, story, and characters you know and it hasn’t gotten too crazy. It allows you to take one to two big, big right turns and everybody else is kind of operating amongst their similar roles. An example would be Mallory: Mallory is back to being Archer’s mom, and she’s back to being in charge. She’s not in charge of a spy agency, but she’s in charge of the business they run and the hotel. Her motivation, her character, her love for her son—although she begrudgingly thinks he’s a fuck-up—that’s all real recognizable. Keeping those guys within the purview of past seasons, you can take those big swings on a couple characters.

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Image via FXX

So Dreamland was very self-aware in that we were inside Archer’s head as he’s in a coma. The finale of that season never returned to the land of the living, even as Archer came to some pretty important realizations about himself. And when Danger Island picks up, there’s no frame story or acknowledgement of Dreamland beyond Pam saying she doesn’t give a shit if Archer’s dreaming or not. So are we still in Archer’s head, or is this season its own beast?

THOMPSON: Until further notice, we are in Archer’s brain. It’s how Archer perceives reality, right? So for example we have a character Noah played by David Cross, who’s back this season and is a fan-favorite from all the way back in Season 3. And he’s playing the same basic character, this put-upon anthropologist who now lives with the cannibals on the island. Our crew are people who’ve never met him, but he’s the same guy because he exists that way in Archer’s head. Pam this season is a six foot five beast of muscle and Archer’s partner, but that’s how she exists in Archer’s mind. So if you read into it just a little bit more, it’s about how he sees those folks that we’ve come to know around him.

WILLIS: Even last season in Dreamland there was a call in some of the latter episodes of a prostitute, and I talked to Adam and I said, “You know, it wouldn’t be just any prostitute it would be Trinette because she has such a connection to Archer in his past,” and Adam got very excited about that and I think what was just gonna be a small role blossomed into a bigger thing and we had Trinette for the last three episodes of the season. 

THOMPSON: Right, and I think what we’ve now realized is Russia has the best prostitutes.

(Everyone laughs)

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Image via FXX

This is true. So they’re all constructs, and I guess it makes even more sense now that Cyril is a Nazi.

THOMPSON: Yeah it makes sense. There’s something inside of Archer that feels that Cyril is a murderous Nazi.

WILLIS: And Archer before he even knows he’s a Nazi doesn’t trust Fuchs and wants to punch him and hopes he dies. So he knows what’s up.

THOMPSON: It makes sense to us.

After Dreamland, were there any lessons you guys learned from that season and applied to Danger Island?

THOMPSON: There’s a big lesson that we learned from last season that we applied to Danger Island, and that is to have fun. We got really dark last season and the reason is actually quite simple. Last season, Adam Reed who writes every single episode of the show, had gone through a very painful shoulder surgery and he was incredibly angry, and he didn’t feel good. Every time he sat down at the keyboard and it was just like this, “Rawr! Argh!” and it just made the whole entire season dark. Going back to our post-mortem on the season it felt like Anchorman, like “That escalated quickly!” So we said we didn’t know how we’d do it, but this season is gonna be more fun, lighter, brighter, more for shits and giggles. We break the fourth wall every once in a while. There’s a constant running joke of when we get out of time with something like, “Hey that’s a Catch-22. Is that a thing yet?” We will actually reference that whereas in the past, we’ve never kind of broken the fourth wall like that. The lesson we learned is, “Lighten up, Francis.”

Is the plan still to end after Season 10? Is next season the last season? 

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Image via FXX

THOMPSON: I never say never. There is not an actual confirmed hard plan in place about anything. I have designs on doing this show until I can’t figure out another story to tell. We already have next season mapped out pretty nicely in our heads, we know where we’re headed. You’re actually gonna see in the final episode of this season where we’re headed for next season, for the first time we’re tying it together. So we’re excited not only for this season and the danger that comes with being on Danger Island, we’re excited about next season and I see a way that this can keep going with this freeing narrative of, “Where do you wanna go? Do you wanna tell a King Archer tale? Do you wanna do this?” But I can’t say for certain that we’re not going to. It’s up for discussion and I really don’t have any better picture than that. It’s a firm “I don’t know.”

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