Press Tour: ‘Archer’ season 5 finds comedy in ‘desperation’

As we saw in last night’s season premiere there are big changes for “Archer” in season 5, and the show’s cast and creators addressed those changes (sort of) during the show’s panel at TCA’s Winter press tour.

Executive producers Adam Reed and Matt Thompson couldn’t pinpoint the specific reason for blowing up ISIS and turning the agents into drug runners but provided a little background in how the decision was made.

“We take a two month break after we finish the season and it just sort of popped into my head,” Reed says. “I started writing down ideas and called Matt to say, ‘What do you think?’ and he was like, ‘Yep, whatever.’ All the backgrounds were already drawn, this was a terrible business decision, but we called FX and they said, ‘Do with that what you will.’ It’s been daily panic attacks ever since then because it’s like, ‘What have we done? It’s a terrible idea!'”

But despite the additional challenges the show has on a production level, both Reed and Thompson agree that fans can expect to see a lot of what they’ve always loved about “Archer.” “At its heart it’s a show about the relationship of these characters, but now they’re drug dealers instead of spies,” Thompson says.

“There’s a lot of allegedly true stories about the CIA selling drugs to fund other operations,” Reed adds. “It’s not as crazy as it sounds. They’ve sold drugs! The real CIA!”

And what do the actors think of the new direction?

“I’m laughing at the idea, not with it,” star H. Jon Benjamin jokes.

“One of the reasons I think the change overall is great for the show is that the characters are not in their comfort zone,” Jessica Walter adds. “They’re more desperate, they’re scrambling and I think that’s what makes comedy: desperation.” (HitFix’s Alan Sepinwall agrees, calling the series “reinvigorated” in his season premiere review.)

We’ll see new sides to all the characters throughout the season, especially for Walter’s Malory and Judy Greer’s Cheryl.

“One of my favorite things that’s happening is Malory is untethered,” Thompson says. “She’s used to being in charge of this agency and now she has no idea what’s going on. She’s kind of directionless until a certain point in the season.”

Meanwhile, Cheryl finds a sideline gig as aspiring country music star Cherlene. “She has a lot of the same personality traits but she screams a little bit louder,” Greer says about Cherlene. “She, turns out, has an awesome voice — which is not me. When you hear the songs it’s not me singing because I do not have an awesome voice. We’re calling it outlaw country.”

That was Cherlene singing “Baby Please Don’t Go” over the montage that closed the season premiere, and Reed and Thompson liked the idea so much they’ve created a full fledged country album that will be released later this season. “We got together with a guy named Kevin Kenny and we made a real country album, not as a Weird Al Yankovic joke album but a real album,” Thompson says. “Almost every episode this season is going to have Cherlene singing a song from the album.”

Not surprisingly some of the characters will have an easier time adjusting to their new path. “Archer is enjoying the fact that he’s basically become a drug dealer, selling cocaine and getting involved in the ‘Miami Vice’ lifestyle,” Thompson says. “And Pam gets highly addicted to cocaine right off the bat.”

“But as food,” Reed clarifies. “She makes it into pudding and yogurt and whipped cream.”

Amber Nash, who voices Pam, adds, “I’ve eaten during every recording session this season.”

There’s also an eclectic mix of guest stars lined up. Gary Cole’s FBI agent from the season premiere will continue to pop up as the character trails Archer and the gang. Ron Perlman will return as former Cuban spy Ramon, who was introduced back in season 1. Thomas Lennon (who played Archer’s gay mentor Charles in the same episode as Ramon) and George Takei (Mr. Moto) are also set to return while Christian Slater will voice a mysterious character who may or may not be a CIA agent and Fred Armisen has signed for a multi-episode arc as a South American dictator.

And then there’s a certain ’80s music superstar the producers have very special plans for.

“There’s a baby shower for [Lana] and Kenny Loggins is involved, it’s pretty great,” Thompson says.

“Kenny Loggins plays a terrible bastard version of himself,” Reed says.

“He calls himself K-Log,” adds Thompson. “It’s funny on the show.”

Speaking of Lana’s pregnancy, don’t expect that to hold her back (it’s animation, she can do what she wants), and it’s a storyline that will carry throughout the year. As Reed explains, they’ve always known how they want to end the season: “We didn’t really know what was going to happen in the course of the season except in the final episode Lana will deliver her baby in a Central American jungle and Archer will be there to deliver the baby with her. That’s the only thing we know will happen, so we’re building to that.”