When Casey Willis, the current showrunner for FXX’s animated hit, “Archer,” remembers the late, great Jessica Walter, he notes that it was Walter’s participation that got other people to sign on to the project. “If it wasn’t for Jessica Walter signing on to do the show, it might never have happened. Once she was attached everybody was like, oh yeah, we’re definitely going to be in this show,” he shared with Gold Derby in our Meet the Experts: Television Animation panel (watch the exclusive video interview above). But Willis also remembers how Walter, who voiced Mallory Archer, the manipulative matriarch, would play innocent as she asked what some of the more risqué jokes meant. “It was so challenging to have to explain to this sweet woman what teabagging is or something like that. Then she would just come back with the zinger later on because she knew that it was uncomfortable for you.”
The FXX animated spy comedy wrapped up its 11th season last year. The show has been a favorite of both critics and audiences, with the show at one point becoming FX’s highest rated comedy series. The show at first had a rough track record at the Emmys. It didn’t score its first nomination for Animated Program until its fifth season in 2014. Two years later, however, the show picked up the prize for Animated Program. The show has also claimed the Critics’ Choice TV Award for Best Animated Program for four consecutive years (2012-15) and the Gold Derby TV Award in the same category twice (2013-14).
With the show returning to its usual format after three “coma seasons” that saw the characters transported into different dreamlike settings, Willis encountered several challenges that caught him by surprise. “We thought that we could just reuse all those old drawings and save a little money, but that did not happen because we had done so many things in the interim—those coma seasons that really upped the game.” These challenges also extended to the actual storytelling and trying to get the right balance that had made the show work for so many years. “It was difficult getting that balance right between Archer trying to worm his way back into the group and them excited that he’s back but also like, hold on, we’ve kind of had a good thing going while you were away.”
One of the characters that had to have that balance threaded just right was Cyril Figgus (Chris Parnell), an accountant who became a field agent and also used to be Archer’s punching bag. “He has to have some wins once in a while, otherwise he’s just this sad dog in the corner that Archer just kicks around.” In the three years that Archer was in a coma, Cyril got jacked and became the top agent at the show’s spy agency, but all of that becomes threatened once Archer is back in the picture. “Where other characters, we were trying to show a bit of emotional change, with Cyril we could physically show him go from this ripped guy to kind of regressing to what he was with Archer affecting everyone.”
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