Film and TV series pitches often come down to a simple phrase, combining two or three existing TV shows and/or films. Fox’s “Glee” is “High School Musical” meets “Election.” Sandra Bullock’s “The Proposal”? “Green Card” meets “The Devil Wears Prada.”
So two Adult Swim alums, Adam Reed and Matt Thompson, came up with this pitch: James Bond meets “Arrested Development.”
FX bought it. And the animated series “Archer” debuts on the network Thursday at 10 p.m. How do they feel? “Utterly freaked out,” Reed said.
The animation, which has a ’60s era retro feel, is created primarily in the Atlanta-based offices of Radical Axis, which also does work for Adult Swim shows such as “Aqua Teen Hunger Force.”
Reed and Thompson worked for a time under Adult Swim guru Mike Lazzo, creating “Frisky Dingo” and “Sealab 2021.”
Lazzo’s philosophy: “Show me something I haven’t seen before.” ”He is such an expert on everything that’s ever been on TV or in the movies, that was really hard to do,” Reed said. “So he really made us work hard to surprise him. For which I’m damned grateful.”
The pair, both age 40, left Adult Swim and pondered another viable animation idea. Reed said he wanted to take a familiar genre and put a twist to it. They decided to tackle the spy world.
The Bond-ish star of their show is Sterling Archer, a pompous, arrogant jerk of a spy with the maturity level of a fifth grader. He hurls insults at his butler, threatening to stick sand into his minion’s eyes if he finds dog hair in his apartment. He stands up a comely secretary at his office but doesn’t even bother to apologize.
“I read a lot of the James Bond novels and he’s actually a bit mysogynistic and racist,” Reed said. “I wanted to focus on that.”
Sterling has some redeeming values – barely. “He’s really good at his job if he wants to be,” Thompson said. “He just doesn’t care. There’s a lot of wasted potential there.”
“He’s handsome and looks good in a turtleneck,” Reed added.
It also helps that Archer is employed by his mom, who runs the spy agency. To make matters even more awkward, Archer has Oedipal issues.
He used to date fellow spy Lana (voiced by actress and “Talk Soup” alum Aisha Tyler), who found the aforementioned Oedipal issues a bit gross. Instead, she goes after the agency’s square comptroller Cyril (”Saturday Night Live” alum Chris Parnell) — “the anti Archer,” Reed said.
With everyone throwing nastygrams at each other, the entire show does indeed resemble “Arrested Development.” In fact, Archer’s mom Malory is played by the delightful Jessica Walter, who played the matriarch on Fox’s beloved Emmy-winning sitcom. “We sent out a request to Hollywood agents for Malory saying, ‘Think Jessica Walter,’ ” Reed said. “We didn’t think we’d actually get Jessica Walter.”
During pitch meetings, some networks showed impressive lack of interest in “Archer.” “One guy said one word,” Reed recalls. “No.”
“Another guy,” he remembers, “spent the entire meeting texting.”
But fortunately, the FX execs were attentive. They found the show to be fit FX’s “guys will be guys” thematic set by shows such as “Rescue Me” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” The cartoon definitely hits upon adult themes, especially references to sex. “I wouldn’t want my 14 year old watching it,” Thompson said.
Originally, “Archer” only had six episodes but FX liked the first two episodes so much, they got bumped up to ten.
The show is purposely unclear when it’s actually happening. “It allows us to pick the coolest things from a 40-year span,” Thompson said. “Archer’s suit might be from Sean Connery in ‘Dr. No’ from 1963. The car is maybe a 1970 Pontiac. They use cel phones. It’s sort of a mish mosh.”
Sample dialogue. Cyril and Sterling are being chased in a car. Cyril, training to be an agent, is a wee bit nervous as bullets whiz by him.
Cyril: So why aren’t you better at this?
Sterling: I’m the best at this, Rain Man, okay unlike…
Cyril: Who? James Bond?
Sterling: I don’t like to make that comparison but yah… basically.
Cyril: So do something!
Sterling: I’m doing all kinds of stuff Cyril. I’m shooting the gun, see. I’m driving the car.
Cyril: I can drive better than that!
Sterling: So I”m ejecting!
“Archer,” FX, 10 p.m. Thursdays