Adam Reed has jumped from the Adult Swim ship to FX Networks, but the content will be reassuringly familiar in terms of humor to fans of his previous shows, Frisky Dingo and Sealab 2021.
Archer debuts tonight at 10 p.m. on the FX with two back-to-back episodes. The series follows the adventures of Sterling Archer, voiced by H. Jon Benjamin, who works for the spy agency ISIS.
Among his unusual cohorts are Jessica Walter of Arrested Development fame as his domineering mother and boss Mallory Archer; Aisha Tyler as his ex-girlfriend and current co-worker, Agent Lana Kane; George Coe as his aging-but-loyal butler, Woodhouse; Chris Parnell as ISIS comptroller and Lana’s new love interest, Cyril Figgis; Judy Greer as Mallory’s lovesick secretary, Cheryl; and Amber Nash as Pam, the director of human resources for ISIS.
Reed says he came up with the idea for the series while on an extended vacation in Spain. But Archer is not your usual spy and he’s a far cry from either James Bond or Maxwell Smart.
‘I didn’t want to do the bumbling spy who gets it right accidentally, but also thought it was important that Archer not win all the time,’ says Reed, who wrote and directed the voice actors for the first four episodes. ‘I thought if he won all the time, then you wouldn’t root for him. So rather than make him stupid and bumbling, we decided that the only way to have him fail was he’d need to get in his own way and fail 90 percent of the time due to selfishness.’
That leads to some pretty strange and funny stories that definitely push the envelope of propriety as Archer and everyone around each uses international crises as an excuse to lie, cheat, steal and indulge their every whim. An early episode makes fun of everything from torture to masturbation ‘ and it’s finding the limits of how far it can go that’s part of the fun of making the show, Reed says.
Tyler, a comic and actress who did a voice on The Boondocks and has appeared on such series as Friends and CSI, says she was a big fan of Sealab 2021 and jumped at the chance to be on the show. ‘I’m a fan girl,’ she says. ‘I grew up collecting graphic novels and comic books, and I love animation.’
Her character is a tough as nails and super deadly spy who ‘looks like a backup singer for Danity Kane.’ While there’s some resemblance between them, Tyler says she’s not as alike her character as people seem to think.
‘I will say that I’m particularly uniquely suited to play Lana in that I am obsessed with video games and action movies and things of this nature,’ she says. ‘There’s this scene when Archer and Lana have to fight their way out of the yacht and they’re in their underpants and they’re both firing automatic weapons ‘ that’s a childhood dream of mine. ‘ Some girls put a T-shirt on their head and dream about their wedding; I held up a hairbrush and thought about shooting my way out of a $7 million yacht in my underpants. These are the dreams that I had as a girl and I’m living them out on this show.’
Reed says he likes working in animation because it’s more flexible and a lot less boring than hanging around a live-action set all day long. ‘I think (people) cut animation some slack and I think you can get away a little more with violence because it’s a little more divorced from reality,’ he says. ‘For example, Lana shoots Archer in about half the episodes and by the next episode he’s fine, whereas in live action you’d have to spend a three-episode arc dealing with the character’s physical therapy and surgeries.’
Reed and Tyler both said that while the finished scripts are very funny and well structured, the fast production process ‘ three weeks from finished script to final mix with character designs that borrow heavily from photographs of actors ‘ gives them plenty of freedom to play around in the recording booth.
‘Though the scripts are very funny when we get them and they are very well defined, there is a good amount of back and forth and play in the booth and then they go animate that,’ says Tyler. ‘It gives these guys incredible comedic flexibility to say, ‘Well, this was funny when we did it this way in the booth and we’re going to animate to that rather than what we said we were going to do when we wrote the script.”
Archer debuts tonight, Jan. 14, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX.