If you watched the season-six finale of Archer and guessed that Sterling’s aviators were not only a nod to Magnum P.I., but also an indicator of the story for season seven, well, you deserve a prize. Be it a weekend at Poovey Farms or a romantic evening in Dr. Krieger’s van, you should get something for being such a genius, because the intelligence agents behind FX’s celebrated animated series were certain no one would get it. Rather, we were all expected to have quite the “A-HA!” moment when Archer’s spectacular shot-for-shot remake of the Magnum P.I. opening credits premiered on Monday, and it was definitely a hell of a way to kick off February for those of us living in the Danger Zone.
But as any hardcore Archer fan knows, this isn’t the first time that the series has paid tribute to Tom Selleck’s classic character. In season two’s “Placebo Effect,” Sterling took down a dirty pharmaceutical kingpin in a scene that served as an homage to Magnum P.I.’s dark and controversial episode “Did You See the Sun Rise?” in which “Magnum just murdered somebody!” Specifically, he murdered a Russian colonel named Ivan, whom Magnum knew from his time in a Vietnamese POW camp, and Archer brought that scene back to the mainstream with a Regis Philbin twist on the payoff line. And then, obviously, murder.
This time, though, the Magnum P.I. reference is much more important in terms of what it means for the entire upcoming season, which premieres on March 31.
When we last saw the spies from the agency formerly known as you know, they were stranded on the side of the road after being blacklisted by the CIA. Their failure to successfully zurp and furp Dr. Kovacs with their Fantastic Voyage-inspired mission has left Mallory Archer and co. without a source of income. But Sterling viewed this new dilemma as a positive, because he and his cohorts are “The Outsiders, the scrappy underdogs, we’re Delta House, the Dirty Dozen, the Rebel Alliance… The Commitments!” They’re “the Bad-News-friggin’-Bears and our Lupus is an openly-gay cyborg dying of sepsis in a wheelbarrow.” So why, Sterling asks his mother, would she want to go back to working for the CIA?
The answer, of course, is money, and Sterling’s “thoughts on that” refer to the Magnum P.I. lifestyle, solving crimes for people in need, on a case-by-case basis. Thus, the shot-for-shot remake is a “subtle indicator of the story to come,” according to Archer executive producer Matt Thompson.
“He may not talk about it as much as Burt Reynolds or others, but Archer always had a love of all things Magnum,” Thompson tells us. “We were talking about how we wanted to introduce that fact. We’ve got a big change ahead of us, so the easiest way to do that, or the one that made the most sense to us, was to show Archer farting around, being Magnum P.I., and we just had a lot of fun with it.”
“We’d been talking about it for a while, but we didn’t know how to do it correctly or why to do it,” adds co-executive producer Casey Willis. “As much as we wanted to talk up his connections to Magnum a couple years back, it now makes sense with what we want to do for our storyline. It’s a great convergence of something we’ve always wanted to do and also being the right time to do it.”
But you can’t just up and decide to become a private investigator, no matter how much experience you may have in the espionage business. That’s where season seven’s first twist comes into play, and it’s a good thing that the team has kept Cyril Figgis around.
Before season five, Thompson told us that the decision to make Archer Vice came from the fact that creator and showrunner Adam Reed was “bored.” Reed was concerned that the stories were becoming repetitive, so they shook things up and turned Mallory’s disbanded agency into a cocaine operation. They lacked the organizational skills of a major cartel, and it didn’t help that Pam was eating and snorting all of the merchandise, but it was certainly fun. Season seven will be another “big departure” for Sterling, in that he will have a new, but familiar boss.
“Everything is so wide open, and Adam just figured out what is the story that he wants to tell,” Thompson explains. “That is what has led us to where we’re at for season seven, which is our gang is picking up, moving to L.A., and opening the Figgis Detective Agency.”
It’s not quite Hawaii, but Los Angeles offers way more in terms of storytelling. Reed always knows where the next season will take us as the current one is ending, with the details usually coming after one of his epic vacations, and season seven simply seemed like the right time for Sterling to fulfill his Thomas Magnum fantasies.
“Adam knew exactly where it was going,” Willis says. “He doesn’t plan out every episode of the season, but he always knows where he wants to start and where he wants to end. As we were ending season six, putting on the sunglasses, we definitely knew where we were going and we also knew what the end of season seven is going to be.”
The obvious question is: Why is it the Figgis Detective Agency? Just as Magnum often had to answer to the by-the-books Higgins, Sterling will be answering to the only man actually qualified to become a private investigator.
“Cyril is the owner and operator, and is the only person who is a licensed detective,” Thompson reveals. “This is because, and this is the actual law, you have to have 2,000 hours of training and field work as a private detective to have your private detective’s license. Unless you have a law degree, and since Cyril has a law degree, he is the only one who can open a private detective agency. Technically, Archer works for Cyril and is accumulating hours toward his own private investigator degree. That obviously creates a lot of new, great tension, which is Cyril being the guy in charge.”
The key to season seven is teamwork… or lack thereof. As private investigators, the team members will still be using their specific skillsets to solve crimes, but they’ll be working together now more than ever.
“This is another big departure for us, but it’s what I’d call change without changing,” Thompson tells us. “It’s important because our show survives and is good when all of our core characters are interacting with each other. The best example of this is the episode we did last season when everybody was stuck in an elevator. I love it when it’s just our core people talking. Even though we’re moving to L.A. and they’re becoming private detectives, they’re still the same characters. All of their roles have slightly shifted and that changes the conversation.”
The promo video doesn’t tell us much about the roles that Sterling’s coworkers will be playing, unless Ray and Krieger having an underwater knife fight serves a purpose (and it probably will, all things considered). However, with everyone’s roles having “slightly shifted,” we can assume that they’ll still mostly treat each other like dicks and somehow it will all work out.
“In the Magnum video, we’re kind of hinting at that,” Thompson continues. “It turns out that everything they’re great at, those covert operations, are all the things needed to be a successful private investigator. When they open this agency, they still have the idea that they’re going to be able to generate a large amount of revenue. Mallory is concerned from the start, because she doesn’t want to do it and thinks it will all be so grubby. What they’re really after is high profile cases where they’re going to find themselves in basic spy missions.”
And while we’re not asking for spoilers, Willis offers this crucial bit of information about Pam’s role: “This season, she refers to herself as a folksy B.A. Baracus, so there’s a little A-Team in there, too.” As for fans of Krieger, Thompson assures us: “He’s still fucking crazy.”
Finally, the most pressing question is: Will we hear from Tom Selleck at some point in the seventh season of Archer? “That has been on the top of my list forever because I think it makes so much sense for Archer, just from his love of mustaches alone,” Thompson admits. “I can’t confirm or deny right now, but it has been on the top of my list for a while.”
Even if Selleck doesn’t show up, there will be plenty of beloved actors making guest appearances. Like most popular ‘80s shows, Magnum P.I. featured early appearances by some of today’s biggest or most beloved stars. We likely won’t be hearing from Sharon Stone, Ian McShane, or Ted Danson in roles created as nods to those cameos, and Thompson and Willis were quiet regarding a take on Orson Welles providing the voice for the never-seen Robin Masters (we hear Maurice LaMarche does a great Welles impression). However, we do know a few of the names behind the voices we’ll be hearing from this season.
“We’re going to see two investigators at the edge of a lot of our stories, Keegan Michael Key and J.K. Simmons in an Odd Couple pairing that we’ll have a ton of fun with, because they’re both so great and so funny,” Thompson tells us. “Patton Oswalt is also in multiple storylines this year as a dirty, grubby lawyer. Jon Daly, who is one of the funniest people in the world, and Jon Glaser come together in a great story as old friends of Sterling’s.”
Thompson also reveals that while Sterling and Cyril will be taking on individual cases in each episode, there’s going to be one major case that will “drive us through the season” and it will focus on Old Hollywood. But now that Mallory’s agency has been blacklisted by the CIA, have we heard the last of Gary Cole as Special Agent Hawley and Christian Slater as Slater?
“Definitely not,” Willis assures us. “Slater is definitely going to be around.”
Additionally, we shouldn’t be surprised to hear the name “Joan Fulton” in an episode this season. That was the name of Jessica Walter’s character in a 1986 episode of Magnum P.I.
It seems like this is an idea that has been kicked around quite a bit over the years, as the crew of Archer wanted to make sure that they only rolled it out when they were absolutely certain that it would work. So, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that when it came to just the promo for the seventh season of Archer, everything had to be as close to perfect as it could be.
“We tried our best to be as accurate to the Magnum P.I. opening as possible,” Thompson explains. “But at the same time, we tried to bury some Archer Easter eggs inside of it. The goal for Magnum was to be as accurate as we could while still doing a little bit of a joke, while making sure that our characters are still coming through. The Bullitt thing was more of an homage, but this Magnum thing was designed to be a straight-up duplication, with love.”
On top of it all, Los Angeles presents a bigger task for the animation team, as they’ve spent so much money and time in the past creating scenery for the other locations. Archer could have just returned to New York City and opened the P.I. agency there, but what’s the fun in that?
“We never learn our lesson,” Thompson says. And we hope they never do.