Spoilers Ahead: If you haven’t watched the Archer: Danger Island season finale, then you may want to turn back.
Some shows are slavishly dedicated to inches-thick creative bibles that lay out every move for the life of the show — Archer is not one of those. Absolute in its embrace of change, Archer has taken fans on a journey across different settings, throwing characters into a plethora of situations on both sides of the law and the divide between reality and dream state. It’s a style that clearly plays well with series co-creator/executive producer Adam Reed’s sensibilities because, as he happily admits, sometimes he just doesn’t know where things are going. But with an endgame for the show approaching (next season is supposedly its last), one would imagine that might change things. Or maybe not.
In this interview with Reed, we touch on the just-concluded Danger Island season, Reed’s reasoning behind killing Sterling Archer in the final moments (but not for really real), and whether the season finale’s final scene — showcasing the gang on a spaceship — will be tied to the main Archer storyline. Reed also talks about the reality of crafting an eventual series finale that he knows won’t please everyone and the possibility of an Archer movie and/or the show continuing on without him beyond that suggested endpoint.
Why was it important that Sterling died at the end of Danger Island? For the series… the overall show.
Adam Reed: For the overall story, I don’t know. It seemed like a good way to put, I guess, an exclamation point, sort of, on the end of that chapter of Archer. I don’t know that it was necessarily important to the overall story. I guess maybe in one sense it sort of, you know, there is going to be another season of Archer and [when] he dies, maybe it sort of lets you know that boundaries aren’t as finite as they once were… maybe? But I think, really, it was probably just trying to make a noise as a writer and surprise viewers.
Do these events, these dream sequences, matter to the overall story or are they self-contained? Or is it a mix? Are you still working that out?
[Laughs] I would like to say that it’s a perfectly balanced mix, but I’m always flailing around so hard just to… like, I couldn’t remember from one episode that came before who was still alive and who had been killed. I’m just treading water so it would be dishonest to say it’s a grand scheme. But, I think there is a balance and we talk about it sort of like if something in these later seasons is outside or beside the established logic of Archer… you know, Cyril is a Nazi, and well, why is he a Nazi? Well if this is in Archer’s subconscious, you know, he’s going to project all sorts of bad stuff on Cyril ’cause he hates him.
I think we probably use that as a crutch, or I do, to get out of logic jams. Which is, on one level, extremely lazy, but it’s also pretty liberating, you know? And it’s nice to be able to… and I know everybody doesn’t agree with it, and some people, you know, I’ve read comments and they’re like, “well this means that nothing that came before it mattered if you’re just gonna start going crazy.” But I don’t feel that that’s the case, really. The main goal for me, is to make each season, even if you’re starting with a new reality and our old characters are in new roles, ideally, it should feel as important to a viewer as the five seasons of Archer Prime. Or Archer One. And if that isn’t the case, I haven’t done my job as well.
As a writer, I am just as caught up in what’s going on. Invested, you know? And I’m scared for them and hope they get out of trouble. So, maybe that was another sub-conscious, like, you know, “hey, we’ll kill Archer in this one. And maybe that’ll scare some folks.” You can’t let them get complacent. The actors, I mean.
Creators, writers, it’s usually rare for someone to say “I don’t know.” And I appreciate the honesty when you offer that answer. I really do. Because it’s so endemic to the process. People should say that more often because you know that they don’t know.
I really don’t and I would say a lot of times, I don’t know how a particular script is gonna end. We’re just like “OK, this is on a blimp or this is on a train and here are some bad guys. And what happened?” And it’s like “I don’t know what’s gonna happen!” We’re just gonna stumble along with them and whatever. You know they diffuse a bomb. You probably knew they were going to diffuse the bomb but you didn’t know how. Usually, Archer isn’t gonna die, but other than that I don’t know how it’s gonna end.
Adds a little bit of danger to your day, I’m sure.
Exactly. It’s so stressful. You never know. I might accidentally kill everybody and then nobody would have a job.
Exactly. I’m sure they all love it. So, last season, at the end of Dreamland, you guys left it cold. This time you’ve given an indication of where this show is going next season. Why do that? Was it just that you guys were settled on the idea earlier this time than you were last time?
No. Well, yes, actually. Because I think at the end of the last one it was still like we weren’t sure what we were gonna do. And then Matt came up with the Danger Island setting. And this one, we started thinking about it a little earlier like, “Hey, it would be nice to know if we’re gonna be drawing knights in armor or cowboys or what are we doing.” So we could get a jump on that. So we decided a little bit earlier. But as far as what’s gonna happen with that, I’m just working on the first script of season ten right now. We just have a pretty rough outline of that. “Outline” is probably a pretty generous term.
Will we get a sense of if this is a continuation of the Archer Prime story or is there going to be ambiguity going forward?
I think it will be tied together… hopefully in a really well-written way. It might be, sort of… whatever resolution might be divisive. Thinking about writing the last episode of this coming season, I don’t know a lot, but I do know that every single person isn’t gonna go, “That was the best finale ever!” [Laughs] Get a 100 percent. Unanimous acclaim.
Unless you want to remake the Six Feet Under finale, I don’t know that that’s really possible.
[Laughs] I still don’t know what happened on that.
They showed the future. Everybody dies when they’re 80. Old age makeup. There’s a Sia song. Everyone loved it and I just saved you a Wikipedia trip. What are some inspirations for next season in terms of the look, the feel of the story? Other films, TV shows, books, comics, anything that you’ve kind of stumbled upon that you’ve pulled from?
A lot of 70’s sci-fi. Like Aliens, Black Hole, and even some old Atari game covers. The goal is to have it look like a set designer’s version of the future but that set designer lives in 1975. So, some of the set descriptions were like the ship where the keys go “clackity-clack” and there are floppy disks instead of holograms. So, it’s not gonna be this shimmering white, sort of… It’s not Logan’s Run. I’ll say that. It’s more blue collar, I guess. Logan’s Run is weird. Have you seen it?
Not in a long time.
It’s super weird. That was on the list of, you know, “let’s watch some 70s sci-fii to brush up on it.” It’s worth watching just the first 10 minutes because they do establishing shots of the city and it’s all clearly models, like Hot Wheels cars zipping around and hamster trail tubes. Then the scenes where the people start getting raised up toward the roof for their annual purge, the cables are clearly visible. Nobody is bothered by it. You can actually see people walk into other people’s cables. Fantastic.
If they remade that right now and did it the exact same way it would be praised as high art. That’s how it all just comes back around.
Yes. Yeah. And when we see stuff like that it’s like, is there a way we can like, in the cartoon, sort of mimic the low budget sci-fi of the 60s and 70s. But we’ll talk about it for hours and hours and hours and the upshot is always, just, it will look like we don’t know how to draw. So it’s hard to fake badness.
Are we gonna see aliens in this?
We are. We are gonna see some xenomorphs. Not the ones from Alien. The very first episode they immediately, and through no good idea, the xenomorphs board their ship. And that will sort of drive the action for the first couple of episodes.
One thing I noticed with Danger Island was there were a lot of episodes where it was a lot of groupings of, “it’s just gonna be Archer and Pam.” It wasn’t everyone all together. Is that something we are going to see going forward?
That’s one of the things that I didn’t necessarily think through the ramifications of. “Hey, everybody is strangers and they’re all getting introduced to each other for the first time and they don’t all work at the same place. Oh, now it’s harder to just have a group argument.” So, then everybody’s back on this one ship together. It’s like this floating office. Mallory and Archer are mother and son again. Archer and Lana are actually divorced and co-own the ship together… which is terrible. You don’t have to go to crazy lengths to figure out a semi-logical way for everybody to be in the same place because they just already are.
By far, I think the easiest episode that I’ve written for Archer was the elevator episode because there was no plot to it. There were just 20 minutes of bickering. These won’t all be just 20 minutes of bickering, but you don’t have to accidentally drive by somebody’s house to get too involved in what’s going on.
Last year, I asked you about the end of the show and whether you’d wanna put it down for a few years and pick it up again. Is that still the attitude and is there any desire to do a movie?
There have been rumblings about doing a movie. There have been rumblings about the show continuing without me at the end of this coming season. And I’m not sure about any of that. I hope it keeps going and then I hope we can make a movie at a point in the not-too-distant future. This coming season, Casey Willis [another executive producer] is actually the showrunner. So, that’s just getting started on it. He and I, sort of, we didn’t switch places. But he is the showrunner now. And I’m just, sort of, one of the writers.
It’s been fun and a new experience. I’ll start writing something and go, wait let me, I have to talk to Casey about this. And I’ll be like “Hey, what about this?” And sometimes he just says no! [Laughs]
So that’s been a fun new thing. I think for the best. Finally a check on my madness.
What’s the creative benefit to doing a movie? What would you get out of that that you can’t get out of the show?
I think, maybe, one big, big story and a bit more time to let scenes go a little longer or to pack in cool scenes. And I assume the plot would be rather simple like most of the Archer episodic plots are pretty simple. You’d have a chance to really do some bigger, bigger action scenes and do a new twist on airboat chases or jetpacks or whatever. More opportunity for physical comedy.
If you transition away from the show and it continues on without you, not having that level of control or input, is that something you’d be really comfortable with?
I think I would. The first couple of years it was unthinkable to me. But now I think it might be time for a fresher set of eyes and typing hands to take these characters on new and different adventures.
That’s such a rare thing, obviously, because people hold on to these creations and don’t want to let go. It’s impressive that you’d be able to let that go. I don’t know that I would if I were in your shoes.
[Laughs] Well, I say that now. I’m sure I’ll be pounding on the window of the office in the rain or something at some point. Holding up a boombox with some script ideas.
Archer season 10 will premiere at some point.