Archer Season 12 EP on Jessica Walter's Passing and the New Story - VRGyani News and Media

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Thursday, August 26, 2021

Archer Season 12 EP on Jessica Walter's Passing and the New Story

The new season of Archer continues the latest phase of the show's history, as a coma-free Archer (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin) returns to the spy game with help from his crack team. The world-saving never changes, though this season the squad gets some additional guidance on their strategy from a pair of marketing executives (voiced by Harvey Guillen and Natasha Rothwell).

While the show has returned with its usual sense of fun, Season 12 was produced under extremely difficult conditions — not just the pandemic, but with the additional burden of star Jessica Walter's sad passing in March. In a one-on-one interview with Collider, executive producer Casey Willis explained how the show has adapted to those issues, what went into the new season's more globe-trotting approach, how series creator Adam Reed is involved with this year's writing, and more.

Collider: In terms of Season 12, what was your mandate going in? What were you thinking about in terms of approaching the new episodes?

CASEY WILLIS: Well, in Season 11, we wanted to show how Archer coming back affects everybody else. In Season 11, they had been going about their business and actually became a pretty good spy agency. And then when Archer comes back into the mix, how does that affect everyone? And the plan was that everybody kind of devolves or reverts back to the old way, and Archer kind of realizes that he's kind of the cause of it. But at the same time, now they're doing epic things like saving the world. So we wanted to kind of continue that story. Now that everybody's kind of back to their original roles from the earlier seasons, well, now what happens? So we kind of wanted to follow up on them saving the world, because it was a big deal. And so how can they profit off of that? And so, that's where we wanted to start off with.

A couple of other things that we had in mind as well, in those early seasons of Archer and also in the spy movie genre, it seems like there's always a lot of globe-trotting. So we kind of wanted to get back to that this season too, and just do things in some locales that we hadn't been to before. We realized that we'd never been to London, we've never done a Tokyo episode, things like that, so those were kind of things that we wanted to try this season.

I feel like it's a very different thing when an animated show goes globe-trotting versus a live action show, but I'm sure it still takes some work to make that happen.

WILLIS: Oh yeah. It's expensive for either show I'm sure. For us, that just means the backgrounds team has to draw completely new locales every single time. So it's not the greatest for cartoons, it's hard work, but they pulled together and did a really great job this season and represented a lot of different locales. And we're really happy with it.

The last time we talked, you were all still kind of still figuring out the best way to work remotely and make a season of television. Do you feel like in making Season 12, the process is a little smoother?

WILLIS: I was going to say nothing has changed. We're still trying to figure it out. It's smoother in the way that ... When we started working from home during Season 11, that was in March or April, of 2020. So nobody really knew how long things were going to last or what was going to happen. And so, everything felt temporary. Where on this season, even when planning it, I was planning ... This whole season is probably going to be done [as] work from home. So let's go into it thinking that, which I'm glad we did, because that's what happened. Things did not improve.

The staff knew that they were going to be working from home this whole season, or at least they could see it, by watching the news and stuff. And they're like, "Oh, we're probably not going back." That kind of grounded us a little bit in that. So there wasn't this kind of specter hanging over us: When are we going back into the office? I think a lot of people were, are, rightfully nervous about that idea. So as the season progressed, it became more and more clear that we weren't going back and we were going to be working from home, I think that kind of maybe put some people at ease, and it made this work from home thing more of a routine.

But there were some things that were just very difficult to do in a work from home setting, because you're dealing with everybody's internet connections. They all might have a different speed of internet. And that's difficult when you're trying to review things, review animation or edits. So a few times this season, me and producer Pierre [Cerrato] and editor Ted [Murphy] would go into the office, masked up. There was nobody really there, and we would just sit in a room, socially distanced, and work on timing on an episode of the animatic. Because trying to time out an episode where we're really adjusting things by five frames or something, it was almost impossible to do over this kind of work from home setup that we had.

I'm glad you were able to find a way to do it relatively safely.

WILLIS: Yeah, for sure. And that's the big thing. It's always safety first. Even when we went into the office, it was clearing it with everybody first. Like, are you comfortable with this? Here's the precautions that will be taken. Here's what's happening at the studio.

The studio, at the height of it a couple of years ago, there was almost 200 people in there. And now there's seven people in there. So everybody felt safe and that was our main concern. And then after that ... I mean, I really do feel like even just going into the office for that, and we would only go in for a couple of hours, but we were able to do in a couple of hours, what would take triple that time [at home]. Just all being in there and able to like go, "Just move it five frames forward." And then they do it. And you instantly see the results. You realize, like, oh, some things are never going to be as efficient or as good as being together and working.

In Season 12, there's this thread that's introduced in the early episodes of the season with the marketing professionals, and I'm curious what the inspiration behind that was.

WILLIS: We just had this idea early on, where we wanted to ... Mallory wants to rebrand the agency, and we wanted to bring in some people that would kind of be a bit of comic relief, but also show them that they're living in the past and they need to modernize. Inspiration, just kind of a bunch of things. We've had meetings in the past, in the far, far past, maybe even the Adult Swim days — I remember having meetings with people who are going to make DVDs for us. And it's just that kind of idea, then tossing around buzzwords and things that we didn't understand. And we just had a nod and go, "Oh, yeah. That sounds like a great idea." And then when you asked the one question that you feel that you have knowledge about, then they totally shoot that down. So that was part of it.

But it was also, some of it was to just drive some of this narrative and missions that we wanted to go on, like, oh, we want to do something about the environment. So this is going to be an idea kind of spurred on by this marketing team and then there's some other thing.

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When you come into a season like Season 12, where you're kind of still sticking to the original premise, is that easier or more difficult than say doing Archer in space or Archer in the jungle?

WILLIS: It was equally as hard, because we wanted to kind of go back to those things that we felt were great about those early seasons, like I mentioned before, like the globe-trotting and stuff like that. But also, you don't want to feel like you're just retreading that old stuff. So that's the difficulty in a season like Season 12, which is different from the difficulty of Archer in space, which is, oh, here's a wide open genre for you to play in. And then once you've kind of stepped into it, you realized like, oh man, the genre o sci-fi is huge. What are we going to focus on? Or should we just dabble in a little bit of everything?

So it's kind of like, I guess, having all the colors in the world, or for your limited color palette. Those are two different challenges that are deeply tough to take on.

Yeah, no, of course. In terms of defining the season, did it feel like you came into it with a different energy?

WILLIS: For sure. Especially because we use even more new writers this season. So starting with Season 10, Adam [Reed] wrote a few of them and then we used some other writers to fill out the season. And then in Season 11, Adam didn't write anything, and we used all freelance writers that we worked with. And then same thing happened in Season 12, except that this time one of the writers, we worked a lot with, and he has a co-executive producer credit, his name's Mark Ganek. So we worked with Mark Ganek, and then we got even more new writers, and that was so exciting, to get these new perspectives and voices and ideas on the show. That energized me, to see these interpretations that new writers were taking on Archer and these characters. It was exciting and refreshing. And I think it comes through in the episodes.

Absolutely. What was Adam's involvement in this season?

WILLIS: So every season, he and I will get together and flesh out some ideas and some overarching ideas, but then also some episode ideas. And he's involved in that. And then he'll sign off on things from time to time. But he's very concerned about wanting me and then the writers that we use as well to feel like they have control over the show. He wants to hear their voices, not Adam's voice, shouting over top of them. Does that make sense?

It not only makes sense, but it speaks a lot to everyone involved.

WILLIS: I think so too. And especially for Adam to have written the show almost exclusively by himself for nine seasons and then started to relinquish that control. I know it had to be hard for him, because he's got a certain way that he sees the show and hears the voices of the characters, and then other writers are going to hear that differently. It's kind of my job to try to incorporate those new ideas and voices, but still retain some of the things that make the show what it is. I think it was a big step for him. And I really liked the idea that he doesn't want to throttle the creativity of these other folks. So it's cool.

Yeah. So I have a sad question I want to ask you about, which is of course Jessica Walter — I can't even imagine how you all have been feeling about it.

WILLIS: It's been tough. It's been hard too, especially in the past year, when we don't get to see each other, because we really only get to see each other once or twice a year when we'd go to a convention or something like that. But we would really make the most out of it there. And everybody really loves each other and cares for each other. And we kind of developed really a great bond. And so, it was felt like losing a member of the family.

Beyond that, thinking about it in terms of the artists and the animators and editors, the crew that works on Archer too, I mean, it was tough for all of us, because some people have been here 10-plus seasons. My producing partner, Pierre Cerrato, he also edited the show for a long, long time. So I remember talking to him. And he was talking about like, "I feel close to Jessica, because I would hear all the tapes. And I would cut them up and then go through and choose the ones that I liked." He would hear not only Jessica read the lines, but then hear her comments on them. Like, "Oh, I liked that line or that wasn't my best. Don't use that one." Those kinds of things. So he knew her personality, and he was close to her. Or the people who drew the character of Malory or even did the lip flap, animation lip sync to her lines. Because when you do that, you have to listen to the line over and over again, so that you get. the mouth positions right. So everybody was close to her. So it's tough. It's still tough.

Of course. Did she finish recording everything for the season?

WILLIS: For the most part we got through with everything and there are some things that we ... I don't want to spoil or tell you about, but there's some things that after Jessica passed, we wanted to celebrate her in a way. So there are things that we're going to do at the end of the season that I hope everybody will feel is an apt tribute to Jessica.

That's lovely. Has it affected about what might happen in Season 13?

WILLIS: For sure. If we're lucky enough to get a Season 13, we have ideas of how we want to proceed with it. And we're talking about how the characters are going to react and how we even want to portray it. So I don't want to talk too much about it, because I don't want to jinx getting Season 13. But also I think the way we're going to handle it also, some of it's going to be revealed at the end of 12. But I think we've come up with some good ideas on how to handle it.

One reason I asked is just because I know George Coe's passing had a big effect on the show.

WILLIS: Yeah, one of the inspirations for that "Dreamland" season, which is the first coma season, was Adam wanting to do a tribute to Woodhouse, but he was always unsatisfied with the idea that he'd have. He'd start writing something, and he's like, just one episode doesn't feel like enough. So the "Dreamland" season kind of loosely became a little bit of a tribute to Woodhouse in itself. Those are things that we're thinking about as well.

Well, I know Season 13 is still up in the air, but I'm still really pulling for you to get 14 more seasons. So you can talk to Matt Groening about it.

WILLIS: Yeah. Absolutely. Yep. I can rub it in his face when I call him up.

Only 14 more seasons to go and then you're set.

WILLIS: We're almost halfway there. Right?

Exactly. Really, once you get past 13, it's just going to be downhill.

WILLIS: Right, right. If I'm ever lucky enough to meet Matt Groening again, I'll have to ask him, "After 13, it's just coasting, right?" No, joking. He's great.

New episodes of Archer air Wednesdays on FXX, and are available Thursdays via FX on Hulu.

KEEP READING: 'Archer' EP on Returning to Reality and Why He Wants the Show to Last 26 Seasons



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