TV

H. Jon Benjamin On Taking Archer To Space, And Catching Hell For Picking Roast Beef Over Burgers

FX

With Archer: 1999, an homage to Alien and other 1970s space adventures, series creator Adam Reed may have found the perfect playground for Sterling Archer and company in the post-Archer coma years. But despite the fun, and as with the other one-off adventures, it’s hard to totally block out back of the mind thoughts about how the events this season will reach back to that hospital bed and the Archer: Prime story that has been sitting without resolution for years. Or if they simply won’t.

Recently, Uproxx spoke with Archer star H. Jon Benjamin about those questions, and while he couldn’t give any set in stone answers, he did offer valuable insight about the direction of the show before also discussing his Arby’s doppelgänger and the dearly departed Jon Benjamin Has A Van.

How are you doing?

I’m good. A little winded.

Are you running? Are you fleeing?

I always do interviews while jogging. So I’m on the treadmill.

I’ve experienced a few things close to that. People getting food delivered, moving their car from place to place, cleaning.

I just carried a steel beam up to my apartment. An iron beam. I’m having a Game of Thrones chair built.

Ah, so you’re too big to build it yourself? I’m sure there are YouTube tutorials.

I have other people do my iron work for me.

Smart man. So, how do they go about telling you guys that Archer’s setting is changing again?

They used to skywrite. That was the only way to get messages from Atlanta. Now they use a telephone.

Gotcha, so no letters?

No, no paper trail. Although now, with the NSA involved in every phone call, it’s problematic… But no, in the past, especially for big changes… Well, I wouldn’t say big changes, but stuff that sort-of requires some of the cast members to be slightly prepared, I think the production call. The first major call in that regard was for the Bob’s Burgers crossover which was the first episode of, I think, season four. That was just to prepare and I think it was also, like, “can you call [Bob’s Burgers showrunner Loren Bouchard] to see if it’s cool.” In that case, I was more of a middle man. But on the whole, sometimes depending on the nature of the season, I think they give everybody a call.

Is it a take your temperature kind of thing, or is it more just “here’s the plan?”

I think it’s more here’s the plan, I imagine, because Adam [Reed] writes the whole series, basically, and sort of planned out each season already. So a pushback would be futile.

How do you feel about this season?

It’s good. This is great. Every new sort of reboot now, it’s always fun to see what Adam has in mind. I think when the first reboot started, a lot of fans were…some were not so thrilled about the changes and nature of the show, but I always enjoyed it. And for me, the dynamic and the tone of the show never really changes, so as far as my role, it’s just always fun to see what genre he’s exploring.

Are you a sci-fi fan?

I’m not like a completist fan, but I dabble. Like, I told [producers] Matt [Thompson] and Casey [Willis], I was never a big Star Wars fan, and I think they’re pulling a lot from Star Wars this season. You know, considering that’s the biggest sci-fi franchise… I guess, this with Star Trek peppered in. I watch it sometimes. Occasionally
I’ll read a sci-fi novel.

Why do you feel this season specifically works for the Archer character?

It’s complicated. I think like, the arc of the entire sort of Archer coma sort of coming to a conclusion… I think based on what Adam had really wanted for the show, I think this is sort of a culmination of the final chapter in this fever dream where he’s kind of exploring the characters in his life and different dream settings that he’s having. So I think that space was the final frontier. So I think like, that was probably a plan, maybe early on, I’m not sure about that. Adam can speak on that… or Matt. But I feel like this is the last place to go, right?

I know in the past he’s kind of been a little bit noncommittal about if he wanted to actually resolve the coma storyline or not.

Yeah, I think there was probably either an internal debate or just a debate on whether to ever return to the original conceit of the show. So, I’m not totally certain, but I did think there was a possibility that the whole show would end in space. It might have been at some point considered literally the end. And now that I know it’s not, yeah, I don’t know how that went down.

It seems like everything is kind of in play. It doesn’t seem like there’s a set Bible, I don’t think, for when it’s gonna end. But who knows? I know these things shift constantly.

Yeah, I mean I think probably partially it’s just about, like, literally the commercial side. The nature of keeping the show going. And then finding out that we can get another season and then working it out creatively to figure out if that works or not. So, yeah, I’m not sure what the intention was. It seems to me, if I were Adam, if I were to put my two cents in, that the show would have ended in space. I guess is some sort of, you know, open-ended confusing [laughs] never resolving anything ending, which I feel would probably be a consternation to most of the audience but would appeal to Adam.

FXX

When a show is ending or near ending, I always wonder where the priority is: if it’s the audience or if it’s the creative team and kind of just satisfying the creative idea? Do you have any opinion on that?

I only can go on my experience with other shows. You know, there’s a huge amount of weight and burden put on concluding the show in a pragmatic fashion, as in for the audience’s sake. At some point, the show becomes kind of an organism… a symbiotic organism between the audience and the people who write the show. In this case, I think it’s a little different just because I still think the show is skewed toward one person’s vision of what he, in this case Adam, wants to do. So he might be a little less beholden to audience opinion.

I would imagine so, yeah.

I know he works in a very cloistered fashion, so I don’t know how much sway, even the opinions of people around him matter. Not that he’s a poor collaborator, I just think that he’s found a rhythm in writing these season arc reboots that have kept him creatively detached.

Going back to something like Jon Benjamin Has A Van, when you were more the lead in terms of the creative direction of something, was that how you collaborated, or was it more about your vision, just kind of pushing forward that idea?

[Laughs] That was just a mess. That was like a sort of controlled chaos. It was the first time I’d ever run a show and obviously that’s a lot different than animation.

Yeah, of course.

We didn’t have the opportunity to smooth it out because we were canceled. So, I feel like we probably would’ve. We had written about half of a second season for Comedy Central. We started figuring out a better way to do the show where everything was a little more connected and it wasn’t so all over the place as far as the theme and the tone. I’m not sure whether that would have been better or worse. I think that we felt that we were coming to figure out what the show should be as far as comedy goes. We just didn’t have the opportunity.

Was it maybe just not the right time? I rewatched a couple of episodes the other day, and…

How does it hold up?

It holds up really well. It feels like it would work really well now and I know there are other shows that have kind of gone in a sort of similar direction. Newsreaders on Adult Swim had a similar kind of vibe. That got canceled after two seasons. So maybe it wouldn’t have been super successful now, but it would definitely stand up.

Yeah, I don’t know. I think part of it is it’s experiential. It was a difficult experience to make a show at the time. I think the idea was ambitious and Tim and Eric’s production company was sort of fledging for making a show that ambitious… For that small a budget. So, there was a lot of pressure on figuring out how to even get it done. So, that played a part, but yeah, as far as it goes, with the comedy, I hope it holds up.

I have a stupid Arby’s-related question. Because you’re always in a sandwich lab… Is that a real place and did you get to actually tour it?

It’s a real place! It’s in California. It’s like a cooking school. So, it is a set, but it mimics [it]. I feel like I got the part because I look like the literal Head of Sandwiches. There is a literal Head of Sandwiches. That’s not a joke. I mean, it is a joke, but it’s not a joke.

Have you ever met this person?

I met him the first day of shooting one of the first ads. He was there and it was like a doppelgänger. I was like, “Who are you?” He was like “I’m the real Head of Sandwiches. I’m you.” And I’m like, “Why don’t you just do it?” And he’s like, “I’m not real good at talking.” So, apparently, he does all the internal videos for Arby’s employees and teaches them how to make sandwiches. So, he is well-known in the Arby’s world. I just play him on TV.

I don’t know if I believe you or not.

I’m telling you the truth.

You could say that and still be lying.

That’s true.

Okay, so Arby’s… they have sandwiches. If a burger place had approached you, would you have automatically shut them down because of Bob’s Burgers? Is the Arby’s thing alive because it’s sandwiches and not burgers?

It was kind of arbitrary. I have been getting a lot of negative notes for doing roast beef instead of burgers.

[Laughs] Really, there’s controversy over that?

I don’t know if there’s controversy. I just use Twitter occasionally and I will get people who are like, “You sold out to roast beef!” I just picked the wrong preparation of meat.

×