In a small office, the Floyd County team is talking, extensively, about fingers. Specifically, they’re pondering whether Archer can turn a half eaten hot dog and some scraps into a passable human finger with a class ring on it. Archer, like the team, has to work with what he can get. But this isn’t a joke for an episode. Instead, the team is working out an entirely new way of watching TV, where after seeing Archer dodge mobsters, viewers can do his job for him and even get a prop from the show for your trouble courtesy of their new app, Archer, P.I.
Archer follows Sterling Archer, “the world’s most dangerous spy” as he blunders from one misadventure to the next, dragging along his coworkers as he does everything from oversee the discreet disposal of the Italian Prime Minister’s corpse to a season-long arc where he became the worst cocaine dealer in the history of drugs. The show is packed with in-jokes, pop culture references, and other gags, and that quickly seeped into every crevice of the show: Going through the show frame-by-frame usually yields everything from obscure literary references to subtle nods to past events on the show.
In the sixth season, however, the animation team went further. What looked like random numbers on the profile of a spy the team was hunting turned out to be a hexidecimal code that led to a website. That website, in turn, quickly led fans down a bizarre rabbit hole into the psyche of Krieger, the possible clone of Adolf Hitler and a man with a love of Rush, bizarre Japanese pornography, and turning people into robots. That spawned a second scavenger hunt for the seventh season that saw clues littered all throughout the season, climaxing in fans uncovering a 3D printed file that earned them a prop from the show.
But this season, instead of looking for little clues in the background, the Archer team has invented an entirely new way of watching TV. To find out what Archer’s up to when he’s not on screen, you’re going to take out your phone and solve mysteries yourself, in the craziest, most ambitious scheme the show’s staff has hatched yet. To pull it off, they’ve had to invent new ideas on the fly and even write an entirely new season of the show after the episodes themselves have been completed. Here’s a look at how it works, and how it might change TV.
How Background Jokes Became Groundbreaking Tech
Like everything on Archer, its scavenger hunts started with background jokes. “It was interesting to see people react to it, and then we began to hide stuff,” Matt Thompson, the show’s executive producer, tells us. “We decided ‘Let’s give it to them! Let’s get after it and figure out how tough we can make it.’ It was crazy in its complexity.” The gags were supposed to be just that, jokes, but unexpectedly, the hunts wound up winning Floyd County, Archer’s production company, back-to-back Emmys for Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media in 2015 and 2016.
“We thought for this season we couldn’t just do that again,” technical director Bryan Fordney explains. So the team decided instead to take an ambitious jump. Instead of hiding codes and gags inside the episode, they’d use pioneering technology to turn everyone watching into a detective unearthing exactly what Archer is up to, in between the hijinks we see on screen.
In season eight, Archer, for reasons that will become clear once the season starts, is hopping back to the 1940s. Sterling Archer is now a PI, Cyril and Pam are LAPD, Lana is a chanteuse and possible femme fatale, and Krieger is… well, he’s still a Nazi and a mad scientist. Like most private dicks, Archer has a case he’s supposed to be working while he’s really doing something else.
An Episode Hidden Inside An Episode
The app lets the viewer use augmented reality, or AR, technology to explore the world of the show, in an unprecedented mix of gaming and TV. For the first time, viewers can uncover for themselves an entirely new story, hidden inside each episode, that you’d never know was there if you didn’t have the app. You don’t need the app to watch the show; instead there’s a parallel story, hidden in the show, for you to find, for the first time.