Inside ‘Archer: Danger Island’: Cannibals, Killer Nazis, and a Battle Royale for the Ages
Executive producers Matt Thompson and Casey Willis discuss the new season of the hilarious FXX animated spy series—and that potential Jon Hamm-as-Archer movie.
ATLANTA, Georgia — “Making cartoons, you don’t need to be around people all the time,” says Matt Thompson. “And to be completely honest, we’re not huge fans of oversight. The more you’re around everybody, the more they’re like, ‘Hey, what’s up with that?’”
I’m seated at a hotel in Midtown Atlanta with Thompson and Casey Willis, the co-executive producers of FXX’s Archer. The two men are, along with creator Adam Reed, the driving creative forces behind the animated spy series, made a stone’s throw away at the offices of Floyd County Productions. We’re here for a talk—moderated by yours truly—at aTVfest, a festival presented by SCAD that gives locals, many of whom are design students, a sneak peek at some of the most hotly anticipated shows of the television season.
The Archer gang is here to present the premiere episode of Archer: Danger Island, the 9th season of one of TV’s funniest shows, which is fast approaching the 100-episode milestone. It is ostensibly set in 1939, and sees Sterling Archer (now a drunken, eye-patched adventurer in the Rip Riley mold) crash-land a plane off the mysterious island of Mitimotu in French Polynesia, where the spies formerly known as ISIS encounter a series of perilous events. Thompson describes it as more of a “lighthearted spy-romp tale” that will put Archer’s paternity imbroglio on the back burner.
“In his mind right now, for whatever reason, he’s not searching for his father. I do know that we’re going to come back to that, but we’re not going to be working on father stuff this season,” Thompson tells me. “It’s just going to be fun and oh shit, let’s get away from this shit that can kill me. If it’s quicksand, or giant lizards, or monkeys throwing stuff, or cannibals, it’s all there. And Pam has a very big gun that she shoots a lot of stuff with.”
Indeed, given that all these crazy shenanigans are taking place somewhere inside the comatose superspy’s subconscious, the characters have changed identities. Lana is now an indigenous island princess; Malory is a foul-mouthed hotelier, more Edward G. Robinson than Lionel Barrymore; Pam is Archer’s burly sidekick, who Willis describes as “the Chewbacca to Archer’s Han Solo”; and Cheryl is Charlotte Vandertunt, a wacky heiress who “later becomes a prostitute.” The most changed of the crew is Cyril, who is now a bloodthirsty Nazi officer named Fuchs (pronounced “fucks”) disguised as a plantation owner, and Krieger who’s transformed into…a talking parrot named Crackers.
“It’s a pretty huge leap to have an anthropomorphic animal on the show,” says Willis, adding that Dr. Krieger as we know him will not be making an appearance on Danger Island. “I think the original thought was to have Crackers almost be their Wikipedia, like he would know a ton about stuff, but then it got to be him being just as stupid as everybody else.”
“Cyril is stronger this season. He’s a straight-up murderer. He murders people a lot. I don’t want to say he’s a Nazi, but…he’s basically a Nazi,” adds Thompson. “He’s superbad. He’s the bad guy.”
Whether or not Nazi Cyril will be linked to Krieger’s Nazi past, however, is still up in the air. “We’ve talked about it,” says Thompson. “But I’d like to point out that, in today’s climate, in Season 8 it was revealed that Krieger was not a Nazi scientist but sabotaged everything and was in fact Jewish. I just want to throw that out there real quick.”
Both Thompson and Willis say that they and Reed decided on the Danger Island theme after the noirish Seasons 7 and 8, which they say “just got a little dark, man.” They view this as a return to the colorful and cheerfully chaotic Seasons 3 and 4, including the three-part “Heart of Archness.” In fact, we’ll even see David Cross’ meek anthropologist Noah return for a multi-episode arc that sees him embedded with a tribe of cannibals, and Flula Borg as a German connected to Fuchs.
One person we won’t see in Danger Island is Cross’s Arrested Development costar Jeffrey Tambor, aka ODIN chief Len Trexler, who was recently kicked off the Amazon series Transparent following allegations of sexual harassment. While this interview was conducted in early February, a week before Tambor was officially booted, here’s what Thompson had to say on the matter: “I haven’t kept up with it…We’re not addressing daddy stuff right now, which I think it would make sense to bring him back for.”
Since Seasons 8 and now 9 are technically set in Archer’s subconscious, the question remains as to whether we’ll be collectively emerging from it anytime soon—and also whether Lana is still alive, since she was shot to death in Dreamland. While Thompson and Willis wouldn’t address the latter query, they did address the former.
“We see Archer in whatever is his real time, then we’re going into his mind—into his coma—and we’re inside of his fever dream,” says Willis. “We always have this debate where, we’re inside of Archer’s mind, so that gives us a reason to bring back old characters in slightly new settings as well as maybe this isn’t reality, because it’s what one person is thinking. Maybe it isn’t a talking parrot. Maybe that’s a guy, but this is what his mind is doing. There isn’t a plan right now to go anywhere but Archer’s mind, though.”
Thompson adds, “We may come back out of Archer’s mind for the final episode…or two.”
When I ask Thompson and Willis about the future of Archer, since Reed has expressed how he wants the show to end after Season 10 (when their FXX deal expires), they say that there’s no “blueprint” yet for how it’s going to end, and they’re not entirely sure that Season 10 will be the endpoint. As for a live-action Archer movie starring Jon Hamm that I’ve repeatedly tried to will into existence, Thompson cryptically offers, “You never know. There’s things out there…I’m just not willing to draw any line in the sand one way or the other until I’m there.
One thing they’re for sure excited about, though, is the penultimate episode to Danger Island. And boy, does it sound batshit insane.
“Holy shit. The penultimate episode,” says Thompson, cackling with glee. “I don’t know how we’re going to possibly do it. I’m going to have to call FX to get some more money. It’s a giant battle against Nazis, cannibals, and…mechs. We’ve never done that level of action.”