Before he became the world’s second most famous spy novelist, literary master John le Carre famously disliked the world’s most famous spy (who never actually seems to spy much). He has said of James Bond that “you felt he would have gone through the same antics for any country really, if the girls had been so pretty and the Martinis so dry.” We can argue about whether or not that’s literally or just figuratively true of 007. However, it’s very definitely the case if you’re talking about Sterling Malory Archer, the cocktail-guzzling, murderously self-centered yet oddly competent titular protagonist of “Archer,” Adam Reed’s blend of super-smart, reference-heavy, super-black comedy spy satire and frequently filthy animated workplace sitcom. If you’re a fan, like this writer, you’ll be delighted to know that the show returns to FX with its seventh season this Thursday night, March 31th.
Last summer, just as the new season was starting to go into production, I was lucky enough to be invited to a Comic-Con roundtable with pretty much the entire regular cast of the show as well as creator and voice actor Adam Reed. That’s pretty impressive considering the show’s cast includes voice acting comedy genius H. Jon Benjamin (“Bob’s Burgers,” “Home Movies,” etc.) as the voice of Archer; multi-talented actress Aisha Tyler as the even more multi-talented and super-smart superspy Lana Kane; SNL-grad par excellence Chris Parnell (“30 Rock”) as weaselly espionage accountant Cyril Figgis; borderline ubiquitous working actress Judy Greer as the lovably psychopathic billionairess Cheryl Tunt; the less well-known but seemingly no less talented Lucky Yates as mad scientist Dr. Krieger; and the voice of poly-addictive fan favorite Pam Poovey herself, Amber Nash. Present in the room but, sadly, not at my table was genuine acting great Jessica Walter (“Arrested Development,” “Play Misty for Me”), whose Malory Archer is easily the scariest mom in spy fiction this side of “The Manchurian Candidate.”
What follows are highlights of the conversations I was lucky to have or listen in on.
Judy Greer on the very short three-minute frame she was allowed to speak with us.
It’s okay, because we’re not allowed to tell you anything, anyway!
Adam Reed, the show’s creator and voice of the relatively sane gay cyborg Ray Gillette, on the roots of Sterling Archer and another superspy.
Somebody gave me a set of all the James Bond paperback novels from the 1960s with the great cover art. I sat down and read a bunch of them. In the books, James Bond’s a really, really dark character. There’s some creepy stuff going on in there. I wanted to make that fun, to have Archer be as self-involved and like the [dark id of 007] as much as possible, but have him still be likable. My theory is that, if it weren’t for Jon Benjamin’s voice, nobody would like Archer… Even when he says terrible things, they come off as charming or goofy, or both.
H. Jon Benjamin on his uniquely loose style of voice acting, and it’s roots on his first big voiceover gig on the late 1990s comedy classic, “Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist.”
HJB: The way they did Dr. Katz. It was pretty much completely improvised and I really didn’t know what I was doing back then. It was pretty much the first job I ever had. So I did a lot of stammering and figuring out what to say next, and then that became kind of a staple way I did everything. Sot, there you go…
Bullz-Eye: So, you were…
HJB [Interrupting]: I’m doing it now.
Aisha Tyler on the reality that Lana Kane is by far the most levelheaded character on the show and therefore the de facto straight woman, who also does most of the serious emoting.
They tend to just write the hard acting for me. Everyone else gets to fart and ride an ocelot. I gotta do the emotional [work]. I need a raise!
Lucky Yates on what he knows about whether or not the question of Dr. Krieger’s possible status as a “Boys from Brazil”-style Hitler clone (who looks nothing like Adolf Hitler) will ever be solved.
I don’t know if we ever will. That’s an Adam Reed question. Do I hope we’ll get there? Yes! Would I love to see it investigated a little further? Sure.
I know which Krieger we had at the end of Season 5; there was a big Krieger fight between him and the three clones. One of them survived. Nobody knows if it’s Evil Krieger or Good Krieger but Adam Reed and myself…and I ain’t sayin’! [Writer’s note: There’s a good Krieger????]
H. Jon Benjamin, on the apparently unlikely possibility of “Bob’s Burgers” creator Loren Bouchard repaying the favor of the “Fugue and Riffs” episode of “Archer,” a sort of crossover.
I don’t know how Loren would do it. He did say once he was going to bury an “Archer” episode inside an entire season of “Bob’s Burgers,” which would be more of something for the Whitney Biennial…I feel like that would be maybe overlooked.
Judy Greer on Cheryl Tunt’s brief time as a country music star during the “Archer: Vice” fifth season.
If I could have any kind of other life I guess it would be as as country music star. It would be a dream come true for me, even though it was animated and it wasn’t really me [singing]. People are like, “Oh, I liked ‘Archer: Vice,’ but now I”m glad it’s back to normal. And I’m like, ‘Oh, you’re a fool. A damned fool.”
Chris Parnell on the moments when poor Cyril Figgis is able to rise above his punching-bag status.
I liked when he was sort of briefly a dictator… I enjoyed that situation. He did alright as an agent when he got to go out in the field. Hopefully, he’ll get to do more of that kind of stuff. We’ll see.
Amber Nash on envying her lovably unhinged and unfiltered animated alter-ego, Pam Poovey.
I always wish that I was more like Pam, because she doesn’t give a shit. She can do anything, apparently. She’s capable of like any badass thing on earth. I wish there was more Pam in me. We’ll see. I just have to stop caring about what anybody thinks and just be like straight on Pam.
H. Jon Benjamin on whether his voice as Archer is really so likable that there’s literally (but not figuratively) nothing he can do or say that would cause him to lose the audience’s sympathy.
I don’t know if that’s true. I’d like to see him try. I dare Adam Reed to try and cross the line, because I will cross it.