Malory: What year do you think this is? Archer: I, uh— yeah, exactly. Good question.
Archer, according to Word of God, is deliberately an Anachronism Stew because they wanted a Mad Men feel, but also wanted cell phones so characters wouldn't have to find a payphone to call someone, and so contains cars from the '50s to the '70s, computers from the '80s that are capable of internet access, reel-to-reel mainframes and dot-matrix printers, décor, clothing and hairstyles from the '60s and modern cell phones, pop culture references and racial and gender treatment. As far as some fans have managed to ascertain (based off Archer's stated birth date), the time period is, at its most coherent, a very strange alternate version of the 1970's.
Police cars are 1963 Ford Galaxies but have the modern "blue on white" livery NYPD has used since the early '80s, license plates are the current (April 2010-on) "Empire Gold" pattern — black band and orange NEW YORK at the top, orange background and black letters in the middle and EMPIRE STATE at the bottom.
This mention of a comedian:
Cyril: Shouldn't I learn Karate or something?
Archer: Karate?? The Dane Cook of martial arts?!
Cadillacs are all 1967 models, while Lincoln limos are 1966 Continentals, but also appear with 1974 Mark IV Continentals.
The Soviet Union collapsed and Germany is reunited (at least, as of the map seen in the control room in season two) but Russia is still run by the Communist Party, meaning the show occurs in an Alternate History or Multiple Choice Pastnote Germany reunited in October 1990 but the USSR became a multi-party state ruled by a President in March of that year, with satellite republics declaring independence from March 1990 to December 1991; the Soviet Union announced its own dissolution on Christmas day 1991. The Lubyanka◊ has its symmetrical post-1983 façade◊ and is still KGB headquarters, and Leningrad is referred to as St Petersburg.
Archer is stuck at the Casino de Montréal, which was built as the French and Quebéc Pavillions for Expo 67, and opened as the casino in 1993.
Woodhouse and his squadron mates are World War One veterans, which, today, would make them at least 115 - not impossible, but extremely unlikely - but seem to be in their 70s or 80s, while Malory is a World War II veteran but is in her 50s or 60s.
In Real Life the last veteran of World War I passed away in February of 2012. (Most of the characters' backstories and ages also contradict an Alternate History contemporary setting, but Woodhouse is perhaps the strongest argument for the setting still being earlier than The Nineties, despite all the modern references).
Burt Reynolds appears with silver hair, like he has in the present day.
Archer's age in the pilot is given as 35, and his birth in Morocco during an OSS operation just before World War II indicates 1938 to 1940, making the pilot 1973-75, and Archer is shown to be five-ish when Malory returns from the war. However, he's also shown as being around ten while being read a telegram from Malory about Operation Ajax, conducted in 1953, and is stated to be six when Malory was part of the Guatamalan coup d'etat in 1954, changing his birthdate to 1948. He's also shown as a teenager in a setting that can't be any later than the late 1940s, which could push his birthdate as far back as 1927. This leads into Multiple Choice Past, especially considering that in some episodes, Mallory is shown raising Wee Baby Seamus in the same way she raised Archer, and in other episodes, Malory was completely absent in Archer's life from when he was a few days old to around five.
Zima was marketed in the US from 1993 to 2008.
Flashbacks to Lana's college years have a 60's-70's hippie aesthetic, complete with Lana sporting bell bottom jeans and a huge afro.
In one episode, Archer references the character Wolverine and asks if anyone else at ISIS reads X-Men. X-Men was first published in 1963, while Wolverine didn't debut until 1974.
In a later episode, Pam and Archer have a conversation where they mention the Marvel Comics superheroes Cypher and Gambit. The two characters were created in 1984 and 1990, respectively.
In "Un Chien Tangerine," Archer references Nightcrawler, who debuted in 1975.
In the Season 4 premier, Archer mentions the old Shazam live-action show, which ran from 1974-1977. He also mentions She-Hulk, who debuted in 1980.
The president of Turkmenistan is explicitly identified as the current leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, but with several of the Bunny-Ears Lawyer traits of his predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, who served as head of state from 1985-2006.
The moon landing has already happened and NASA is staffed primarily with ex-Nazis. The Moon landing happened in July 1969, while the Nazis recruited by the US government post-World War II retired or died in the 1970s-1990s.
Archer is enemies with Shining Path, which was founded in 1980, and the Stasi, which existed from 1950 to 1990.
Bearer-bonds are still issued. Because of their ease of use for money laundering (they have no registered owner and therefore no paper trail), bearer bonds stopped being issued in 1980.
Archer mentions having seen Top Gun as a young man. The film was released in 1986.
Rap music is already around and popular, as evidenced by the Running Gag featuring a song called "Mulatto Butt" and several references in "Midnight Ron".
Krieger is explicitly stated to be a fan of the band Rush, who didn't form until 1968, and his van murals are based off the albums Caress of Steel (1975), Fly by Night (1975), Hemispheres (1979) and Exit: Stage Left... (1981).
In "Drift Problem", a 2002 Citrëon Jumper is in the background when Cheryl drives Malory to the drift race.
The RCMP officers in "The Limited" ask the passengers to have their passports ready, and Sterling is stranded in Montréal because he burnt his passport in "Midnight Ron". Passport checks on the Canada-US border were required starting in 2008. The RCMP also use Webley Mk. IV revolvers in .38 S&W. The RCMP long ago switched to Smith and Wesson Model 10 revolvers, which were replaced by Sig Sauer 220 and 226 and Smith and Wesson 5946 semiautomatic pistols in the late '80s.
"Space Race" has a multinational crew on a space station; the International Space Station, which launched in 1998, is the only space station to date with multinational crews. The space station itself feels like something out of a science fiction novel and is more advanced than anything currently in orbit.
While the ISIS staff can be decidedly offensive at times, chances are their behavior towards Lana would be a lot different in the actual 50's or 60's.
North Korea can't make its own weapons-grade uranium; enrichment technology was introduced in that country in the mid 90s.
The Soviet soldiers in "White Nights" use (actual) AK-47s, with milled receivers. The AK-47 was replaced by the AKM, which has a cheaper stamped receiver around 1959, which was in turn replaced by the 5.45x39mm AK-74 in 1974.
The KGB, which disbanded in 1991, is still around and serves as Russia's primary intelligence service.
Both "The Limited" and "Midnight Ron" show the current Canadian Maple Leaf flag, which replaced the Canadian Red Ensign in 1965.
In "The Papal Chase," the Pope is Italian, this would place the episode sometime between the death of Dutch-born Pope Adrian VI in 1523 and the death of John Paul I in 1978 (given the Pope's role and appearance in the episode, this does leave the possibility of an Alternate History where either John Paul II, Benedict XVI or even Francis' place is taken by an Italian counterpart, although by the time Francis assumed the Papacy -which was also shortly before the episode aired-, there had been no surviving World War I veterans for over a year).
In the same episode, Mallory mentions that she took Krieger to see The Wiz, both the Broadway musical and the film. The musical was on Broadway in the 1975 season, and the film was released in 1978.
In "Midnight Ron," the Russian tricolor flag can be seen, which contradicts the repeated references to the Soviet Union still existing and general sense of a Cold War setting, as well as multiple appearances of the Soviet hammer and sickle flag, but is consistent with the wall maps seen elsewhere in the series showing current international boundaries, yet in the following episode, "Viscous Coupling", Katya has a Soviet hammer and sickle flag on her office wall.
In "Once Bitten," Malory makes a reference to the Soviet T-72 main battle tank, which entered production in 1970, in a plotline in which Turkmenistan and Russia are separate countries, which implies a post-1991 setting, though the T-72 is still in both production and frontline service.
Among the technical drawings seen in the background of the opening credits is a schematic of a Soviet MiG-31 "Foxhound" interceptor (first flight 1975, service entry 1981).
Another drawing is a ChryslerCorp blueprint-style sales brochure for the 1965 Imperial Crown coupe.
The burn notice telex printout in "Job Offer" indicates that the DGFI (Bangladeshi Directorate General of Forces Intelligence, formed in 1972), CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service, formed in 1984), SAPO (Swedish Säkerhetspolisen, formed in 1989), TC2 (Vietnamese Tổng cục Tình báo, officially established in 1990 but probably in de facto existence earlier), KAPO (Estonian Internal Security Service, re-established after Estonia regained independence from the USSR in 1991), ABIN (Agência Brasileira de Inteligência, formed in 1999), and the CNI (Spanish Centro Nacional de Inteligencia, formed in 2002) already exist.
The "Whisper Drive" submarine propulsion system (itself presumably a Shout-Out to the 1984 novel and 1990 film The Hunt for Red October) mentioned in "Diversity Hire" is explicitly stated in schematics seen onscreen to be installed in a modified Russian (or possibly Soviet in-universe) Borei-class (Project 935) submarine. In Real Life, the first Borei-class submarine, RFS Yuri Dolgorukiy K-535, was laid down in 1996, launched in 2008 and commissioned in 2013.
Also in "Diversity Hire," Conway says that the Chinese will pay "five times" as much as "those broke-ass Cubans," which implies a recent (i.e. at least The Nineties, if not later) setting, after China's emergence as a major economic power and Cuba's loss of Soviet patronage.
In "The Wind Cries Mary," Archer uses a USB flash drive, which was invented in 1999.
Practically all airliners seen in the series are Boeing 707s. While the 707 was still in widespread passenger service as recently as the early to mid Eighties, the overwhelming predominance of 707s heavily suggests The Sixties or early Seventies. In particular, "Pipeline Fever" shows a 707 (or possibly the 720 short-haul version) on a New York-New Orleans flight where by the mid Seventies a more fuel efficient short-haul type such as a Boeing 727 or 737 or a Douglas DC-9 would have been much more likely, while "The Papal Chase" shows a 707 on a New York-Rome flight where a higher-capacity widebody such as a Boeing 747, Douglas DC-10 or Lockheed L-1011 would have been more likely by the late Seventies.
A 747 is seen in the background in "Diversity Hire," implying that the episode takes place no earlier than the type's service entry date of 1970.
In Archer Vice: A Debt of Honor Ron mentions trying reefer in 1940, 74 years before the episode aired, but he appears to be in his sixties like Malory and was shown in season four to have served in World War II.
In "Swiss Miss" Anka is seen playing a hand-held videogame of some kind, suggesting the episode takes place at least as recently as The Eighties. Of course, the same episode features (presumably) Spanish terrorists heavily implied to be Communist-aligned as the main antagonists, which strongly suggests that the episode doesn't take place any later than The Eighties.
Likewise, Mallory has everyone smuggle as much Swiss absinthe as they can carry. Absinthe production was banned in Switzerland from 1910 to 2005.
In the first season, Major General Jackov has a portrait of Josef Stalin on the wall behind his desk, which would indicate Stalin was still alive and premier, while "Movie Star" revolves around an assassination attempt against the new premier. Stalin died March 5, 1953, and was succeeded as premier by Nikita Khruhshchev.
The primary sidearm of the Soviet Union appears to be the Tokarev TT-33. The Tokarev was phased out of service and replaced by the Makarov PM in 1952. Russian production of the Tokarev ended in 1954, though is still in service (and production) with former republics and satallite states.
In "Palace Intrigue", Lana asks Archer if he's ever seen The Thomas Crown Affair. Based on the context (the high value of fine art), it is clear she means the 1999 remake with Pierce Brosnan (about art theft) and not the 1968 original with Steve McQueen (about a bank robbery), though confusingly Lana implies that McQueen starred in the remake, or that the original was about art theft, not a bank robbery.
In "Pipeline Fever", the alligator attack that Archer mentions as happening "two years ago" really occurred in 1989.
In "Placebo Effect", Krieger is revealed to be one of the The Boys from Brazil. The novelization was published in 1975, and the filmed released in 1978, though it's possible that in-universe the book is Very Loosely Based on a True Story, or just used as a comparison by Pam.
In "Double Trouble", we see Manhattan from Barry's traffic-jammed cab on the Brooklyn Bridge. We do not see the World Trade Centre in the skyline, placing the time period either after 2001 or before completion or near completion of WTC 1 in 1970. On the other hand, the depiction of the Brooklyn Bridge is a somewhat poor representation of the real bridge.
In "A Going Concern", Archer uses the phrase "drill, baby, drill". This phrase became popularized after its use by Michael Steele in the 2008 Republican Convention.