Credit: FX Networks

The sixth season of FX’s animated series Archer (premiering Jan. 8 at 10 p.m.) finds the show’s bickering spies back in the espionage game, after spending the previous year trying to sell a metric ton of cocaine. But creator-writer Adam Reed had originally planned to send self-obsessed Sterling Archer, new mom Lana, booze-sodden boss Malory, and the rest of the team to the hoosegow to pay for their crimes.

“It was an offhand comment by someone,” says Reed of the idea to put Archer & co. behind bars. “We sat down and talked about it and were laughing about it, and instantly story ideas were spilling out. Then some wet blanket said, ‘Well, you know, it’s going to seem like we’re ripping off Orange Is the New Black.’ It just sucked all the air out of the room.”

Not wanting to let a good idea go to waste, we asked Reed and the animators to give us a taste of how the season would have looked if they’d gone through with their “Archer behind bars” idea. You can see the exclusive, prison-movie-referencing Archer-in-the-bighouse illustration above.

1. Ray is obviously the Birdman of Alcatraz. 2. Lana is The Shawshank Redemption, and then 3. Pam is Robert De Niro in the remake of Cape Fear,” Reed explains.

“4. Cheryl is giving Malory a fake head—that’s from Clint Eastwood’s Escape From Alcatraz,” he continues. “I think Cheryl would really thrive in prison. She’d probably, on day one, get pardoned, get a job as the assistant warden, and be in charge. 5. Archer is paying homage to Cool Hand Luke. He’s got probably 49 eggs in his belly, and Cyril and Krieger are trying to shove one more in there.”

So much for the season we won’t see. But what of the one we will? Reed reveals that this year’s guest voices include Matthew Rhys from The Americans, Fargo actress Allison Tolman, and Keith David and CCH Pounder, who will play Lana’s parents.

The season also boasts the return of Christian Slater’s CIA spook “Slater,” who is now employing Malory and her team to do the agency’s dirty work. That plot development dovetails nicely with Reed’s decision to back away from using the name ISIS—the moniker under which Malory’s spy company previously operated—because of the real-world associations it now holds. “They’re just doing freelance work for the CIA,” he says. “So we’ve just let ‘ISIS’ wither on the vine.”

For more on this winter’s most promising TV programming, pick up this week’s issue of EW.

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