“Archer” returns Wednesday (April 5) with the debut of Season 8, “Dreamland,” on FXX. The season picks up with Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) in a coma after being shot and nearly drowning at the end of Season 7, placing the season inside Archer’s mind in a 1947 film noir tale.
Executive producer Matt Thompson tells us the entire season will be set in 1947 — acting as Archer’s, and the show’s, way of dealing with the death of voice actor George Coe (valet Woodhouse), who passed away in July 2015.
Why did you go this way, with Dreamland? Was this always the plan, or did you leave Archer in the swimming pool and then later decide to go this way?
It came later. Our world is a pretty realistic world for a cartoon — so when someone gets shot, you want that to have weight. You don’t just want to come back next season and be like, “Boy, how about that time I almost died?”
So it started right there. He’s on death’s door, so what does that mean? What that meant for us was, wouldn’t it be great to start off with him in a coma? And then we didn’t just want it to be oh, he miraculously wakes up at the end of the episode…
So that led to [creator Adam Reed] thinking, what if the entire season took place inside of Archer’s mind? And once Adam hit on that part, he was then searching for what was the tale he wanted to tell.
Why did you choose this particular era for the setting?
We wanted to tell some sort of searching tale, and we haven’t really dealt with the death of the actor George Coe, who played Woodhouse. So once we settled on this, the film noir thing was a great way to deal with the death of Woodhouse — turning that into searching for your partner’s killer. …To go out and avenge, and find out who it was that killed your partner… That already sounds like a film noir movie.
And I know that Adam is a big fan of “The Maltese Falcon,” and when he was thinking about how to deal with Woodhouse — Humphrey Bogart’s partner is named Miles Archer and his partner, Archer, dies, and Humphrey Bogart, Sam Spade, has to search for Archer’s killer. So it kind of made sense to us, a coincidental, anecdotal thing, with a lot of visual references to “The Maltese Falcon” as well.
Speaking of Woodhouse, you said two years ago you had ‘huge plans’ for him, but then sadly George Coe passed away. Then a year ago, you said you ‘shifted’ the Woodhouse plans, but that they were a leading idea for Season 8. Did the Woodhouse plans get scrapped altogether, in favor of ‘Dreamland’? And if they were scrapped, can you reveal what they were?
There was a plan we were going to use in Season 7 and we will never use it now, which was — when we moved the gang to L.A. to be detectives, the plan was, “Where has Woodhouse been for a season?” Well, he knew that they were going to move there eventually, so he just went there and set up everything for Archer in advance, so everything would be perfect by the time they got there.
But for obvious reasons, with George passing, it became hard to do it. This whole entire season has a lot to do with Woodhouse — in the final episode you’ll see what I’m talking about, I don’t want to give it away, but it really gave us a chance to talk about Woodhouse the character, and talk directly to George Coe, and — especially as we get going into the later parts of the season — you’ll see that more.
The setting certainly makes Archer’s famous pop culture references a bit trickier. Have you scaled back on those in Season 8, or are you doing the 1947 version of pop culture references?
Yes. There are appropriate references… Once we’re in 1947, we’re in 1947. What we don’t do is wink and nod at something that happened in 1980 or ’90 or whatever. But we do make those types of references, obscure 1947 references.
But actually, the number one challenge of going back, for this show, wasn’t the pop culture references. It was that Adam didn’t understand when he first started writing the season how difficult it was going to be having the cast, once they go off and do their own thing, how they communicate with each other. How often we rely, inside the show, for the cast to make a phone call and somebody else has their cell phone on them.
People in 1947 don’t have instant access to their cell phones wherever they are, so Adam found it extremely difficult to have people communicate with each other because they didn’t have a direct mode of contact. It would absolutely drive Adam crazy that he couldn’t just have somebody jump on the phone.
Will the entirety of Season 8 take place in Archer’s mind or will we jump back to the present at some point?
You will not. Once we’re in his head, we’re there. What we didn’t want — we wanted you invested in this story, because everyone’s a little bit different. Cyril, who’s a pushover, is now a crooked cop who wants to frame Archer for murder. He’s changed. So we didn’t want to flop back and forth between what is our present day, and 1947, because which character are you viewing? Once we’re there, we’re there.
Speaking of characters being different, out of curiosity — is Pam supposed to be a man?
We’re saying, “Why is it important?” Is she a man, or is she a woman… There are a lot of things this season where we don’t know, and we don’t gender identify, whatever it is that Pam’s doing. I particularly like her storyline the most, out of all the way people have changed. She has a great subplot that continues for the whole season that has to do with the Chinese prostitutes that I find incredibly endearing.
Adam had her typed as Russell Crowe from ‘LA Confidential,’ and then we were like is she a man or is she a woman, because in 1947 [a woman] wouldn’t necessarily be allowed in that position… And then we said, “You know what? I don’t know what she is. Why do you have to gender identify?” So the answer is: Make up your own mind.
Are you still discussing any ‘Archer’ spinoffs with FX? Perhaps the Archer and Archer-bot ‘Simon & Simon’ idea you mentioned a year ago?
There hasn’t been — because every time we get into talking about it, it’s like we’re still interested in what this is, and we don’t want to siphon anything off from it. I really love the way we’re allowed to tell these stories, and the freedom they allow us to do it, so we’re really not talking about anything serious. It could change at any time, but we’re still sticking with this.
Since ‘Dreamland’ encompasses the entire season, do you know what happens going into Season 9, when Archer wakes up? Or maybe doesn’t?
I don’t know if he’s going to wake up. I don’t know that. But I know one thing for certain — we’re not going to come back to “Dreamland.” This is a one-time 1947 tale.
Adam and I always wait at least two months until we decide what it is going to be next season. There is a very good chance that he wakes back up and goes back to doing what he was doing in Season 7, and then there’s a chance that he doesn’t wake up, and he has a different tale that he goes into for Season 9. We’ve talked about a couple things that I don’t want to lay out there.
But we’re not certain, because we’re too close to it. We try to get as much distance as we can from the season, and then go back and figure out what worked and what didn’t, and what makes the most sense to do.
“Archer: Dreamland” premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FXX.