‘Archer’ Exclusive: Executive Producer Matt Thompson Reveals All On Season 5’s ‘Radical Departure’

Not only do we here at UPROXX receive unparalleled access to all things Archer thanks to the lovely people at FX and Floyd County Productions being inexplicably keen on us, but I also happen to live and work in Atlanta — where Floyd County bases its operations  — which means I can drop by the Archer gang’s new offices and attempt to get the scoop on the upcoming season, in which we’ve been promised a “radical departure.”

In a recent interview, Archer Executive Producer Matt Thompson gave me a glimpse into Season 5 and it’s not something I’m sure I could have properly prepared myself for, not only because the changes that are coming are bold and drastic, but also because our conversation took place in Archer creator Adam Reed’s office and I hadn’t been privy to any of the new key art accompanying the new season. Needless to say Matt did most of the talking, and for good reason: he’s the man with the goods.

Here’s part one of the interview, complete with convenient lead-ins so you’ll know where things are heading (part two now available here). Spoiler alert: Many, many things about Archer Season 5 will be revealed.

On what brought about Season 5’s “Radical Departure”…

There is a big radical departure this season on Archer and that came about frankly because Adam got bored. He is the sole writer of the show and he felt like he was spinning his wheels at some point, which is (Sterling) Archer looking for his father, trying to figure that out, and dealing with his mother. It has kind of almost evolved into spy mission of the week, which is fine. And it’s going well. People liked it. Our ratings have gone up every year. FX is really happy with us. And so you have a show that is successful and/or becoming more successful and we decided to change everything because we were bored and because we just want to make the show that makes us interested and happy in the end.

And when we presented FX with this idea we were like, “I hope you don’t hate us but we want to change everything.” And they were coolly like, “OK great. Sounds awesome.” And we’re like, “OK,” which kind of weirded us out because you know you don’t just like change a show in the middle of it.

On exactly how Season 5 is going to be so different, starting with the premiere…

So what’s happening is you’re going to see in the very first episode of this season that all these years that Malory’s in control of ISIS, and they’ve been doing all these covert operations — kind of like the CIA or whatever — that that was never legal. She was just contracting out this stuff, kind of like Black Water or whatever, and in the first episode of the season the government comes in and shuts them down, throws them all in jail. Like, “What the f*ck you guys doing? You’re not allowed to do this. Stop doing this immediately. You’re assassinating people. You’re all going to jail.”

On how the season drastically changes from there…

Some things happen and they eventually get out of jail but it’s with the understanding that they can never go back to ISIS headquarters. That’s been confiscated. They can never be spies again. So they don’t know, they’re like, “Oh sh*t what are we going to do?” And that’s what happens at the very end of episode one. They realize from their various operations — for whatever reason — they have one ton of cocaine and they decide that they’re going to sell it. They’re just going to sell a ton of cocaine and everybody’s going to become a multi-millionaire and retire. Easy peasy.

On — wait — did you say “sell a ton of cocaine”?

We are now a f*cking drug cartel. And so it goes from there and as you might expect they are not so successful at selling one ton of cocaine. We end up for a large part of the time in Colombia, then a fictional nation, then another fictional nation in Latin America, just trying to sell cocaine to people, whatever. I think it’s a little bit of Breaking Bad and a little bit of us just trying to keep the same relationships that we have, which is still basically the same characters with the same relationships. Except Malory kind of becomes untethered because she’s no longer necessarily theboss. They’re all kind of in this together as drug partners. And then it’s just seeing what happens as they try and sell this literal one ton of cocaine.

On how the cast and crew reacted…

They were like, “WHAT?” They were excited too though. Because they want to do something that’s different. A lot of them have brand new things that are going on for their characters. Their characters have seen a dramatic shift, but they’re still the same characters. Cyril is still Cyril, but Cyril’s no longer necessarily serving as the accountant. Turns out that Cyril’s also a great lawyer. So when we need a lawyer to get us out of some sort of jam, Cyril is serving in that function as a former district attorney, which we found out is part of his background. That we just gloss right the f*ck over.

On what else will be insanely different in Season 5…

Also: Cheryl. Cheryl needed a different motivation than everybody else. Cheryl’s rich as sh*t. She doesn’t need to sell cocaine to become a multi-millionaire. And so we needed different motivation for her and what Adam came up with is he wants to turn her into a country music star.

On Cheryl attempting to — wait — did you say “country music star”?

So she is now “Cherlene.” She’s on the road. She’s doing country songs, and we’re actually putting out a country album with the show this year. Not a joke. A country album. We’re doing “Danger Zone” as a country song. We’re doing “Eastbound & Down,” like from Smokey and the Bandit. There’s a big Smokey and the Bandit episode coming where they have to get Cherlene to the concert in Texas and Archer’s in his f*cking TransAm Blocker car and we’re playing “Eastbound and Down” and Cherlene’s singing. It’s pretty great.

On how the hell you go about making a country album for a character in an animated sitcom…

It’s a real country album. A friend of ours, there’s a guy here in Atlanta named Kevn Kenny who has been around music forever. He’s awesome. He used to be in a band called Drivin’ and Cryin’.

Kevn basically has made this album for us. I don’t know what it’s going to be called but right now it’s just called “Cherlene Sings” or “Cheryl Sings” or something like that. But it’s 12 country songs.

On whether Judy Greer does the singing as Cherlene…

No we hired somebody who sounds like Judy. Judy’s f*cking thrilled with it. She’s loving listening to this girl ’cause she wants to be able to sing. Judy is not a great singer. So she loves that she gets to pretend that she’s a great singer.

On getting away from the office environment…

It’s gone. Episode one, you’ll see what happens to it. By episode two they are no longer in the office. They are living somewhere else and it’s pretty funny. So far it’s been really interesting because it’s been different. It’s the same, like, Archer still beats down Cyril psychologically, and Lana still gets mad at Malory for not doing the right thing or whatever. Those relationships all still exist how they were, but it’s just now all geared towards either A) Selling Coke or B) Making Cheryl Famous.

On what it’s like to start all over with the animation…

Our poor folks. It’s like, “Remember all those drawings that we did of every single thing for all the ISIS locations?” It’s just gone.

Watch any cartoon that’s on TV. I’ll just use The Simpsons, for example. It’s all the same. You’re in their house. You’re in their living room. They’re wearing those same clothes and that’s done that way for a reason. So you don’t end up spending a billion dollars every day. And we’re just dumb, I guess. Because now we’re living in different places, we’re going different places, we’re wearing different clothes. And it’s not the most cost effective thing to do in the world. But it makes it interesting.

Catch your breath. When Archer goes radical departure they go full radical departure.

UPDATE: Part 2 of the interview. WOO HOO! UPDATE: Sterling Archer Supercut