How Last Man on Earth Pulled Off A Post-Apocalyptic Roadtrip

Our walkthrough with Last Man on Earth executive producer Andy Bobrow continues with episodes three and four.

Editor’s note: The Fourth Wall is a recurring feature for creators, actors, and industry insiders to bring our readers behind the scenes of the production process. In our latest installment, we removed the curtain on the writers’ room for the third season of Fox’s, The Last Man on Earth. 

This part of the walkthrough looks at episodes three and four from Last Man on Earth’s third season. Previous installments of this walkthrough can be found here.

Last Man on Earth Season 3 Episode 3 – “You’re All Going to Diet”

“Tandy sets up an alarm system in the house, only to learn that Melissa has already done so, then the group decides to enjoy a change of scenery.”

Written by Tim McAuliffe; Directed by Jason Woliner

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DEN OF GEEK: You mentioned before that a lot of what went on in the first two episodes was to build to a certain gag in episode three. What was that payoff?

LMOE Executive Producer ANDY BOBROW: Maybe I phrased it wrong. I didn’t mean to imply it was a specific gag, but rather the whole idea of them spending episode three back in the house, trying to make it safe from Pat. I was also talking about using episode three to show Melissa really starting to slide off the edge. So I just didn’t want to spoil those ideas with my answer. The ending of episode two was specifically to set up the fun we wanted to have with the fish and the bombs and stuff. We could have had them on the road in episode three, but we really wanted to do an episode about fear before putting them on the road. 

That Big Mouth Billy Bass alarm system gag is so glorious. From now on I’m going to think of Last Man instead of The Sopranos when it comes to that toy, which is high praise.

I think that just came out of the room. I don’t remember who pitched it. And until now I had forgotten it was in The Sopranos. But I think that wouldn’t have dissuaded us since our use of it is very different. We wanted to use “Don’t Worry Be Happy,” but it was cost prohibitive. I wouldn’t have guessed it was out of range, but I suppose it just comes down to who owns the publishing rights and how much demand there is. Music licensing is Chinatown. 

I loved the addition of the death threats to the walls last episode, but Carol dressing them up as niceties this week is even better and perfect characterization on her end.

Yeah, that kind of stuff is easy. We’ve had some discussions this year about how dumb is too dumb. And I’m sure we’ve crossed the line a bit, but Carol is Carol.

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Digging deeper into Melissa is continually interesting, as is her decision to turn to land mines in the end. They lead to some really great visuals. Explosions have happened plenty on the show, but this is the first time that this sort of power has been so up close to everyone.

Yeah this is Melissa’s year and we are really excited. In any sitcom writers’ room, you find the writers getting stuck in quicksand with at least one character. I mean, not knowing how to make them funny or where to push them or what else to do with them. I know on Community there was a time in season one when Britta was a frustrating character for the writers — just the uptight ingenue, the icy object of desire. We didn’t know what else to do with her. Then we discovered just how fun it was to see Gillian be awkward and the character grew a huge dimension overnight. Suddenly she became this helpless ruiner of things. I don’t think you can create a character like that out of whole cloth. You have to experiment once you’ve established a couple traits. And I think the same happened with Melissa this year.

January is awesome and she’s always played Melissa very stingy, very withholding. When we put a gun in her hand last season, it was kind of cool and funny and it looked right. This year, we just kind of followed that energy and discovered this awesome new level. The combination of the military thing with that casual disaffection that January does so well —  it’s just funny and cool and interesting. I mean, the effect is far exceeding our expectations.

The note that the episode goes out on is a rather big one. Was it exciting for you guys to be hitting the road and moving into a new, uncharted chapter for the show?

Big yes on that. When we sat down in May to figure out the season, we started immediately talking about a move. We changed locations at the start of season two, so the discussion was, “Is this our thing? Do we change locations each season?” I mean, story-wise, there’s no reason not to. Money-wise it’s a different answer. 

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We had to beg our studio for the overage, and it kind of came down to the wire. It’s way outside the norm for a TV show to build new sets every season. And it’s hard to justify. I mean we’re not a huge hit. Just a solid little show with a small devoted audience. But creatively it was exciting for everyone, including the studio. The promise of the pilot episode was a huge empty world. So road trip!

Last Man on Earth Season 3 Episode 4 – “Five Hoda Kotbs”

The gang goes to war with each other on a post-apocalyptic road trip.”

Written by Emily Spivey; Directed by David Noel

This episode spends a bunch of time thinking about bigger topics like rebuilding society and the future in general. Tandy compares himself to Noah a number of times here. Is it nice when you can touch on these larger themes of the show?

Yeah, we’ve been stingy with that kind of talk, for the simple reason that it doesn’t yield big laughs or deep emotions. I mean our laughs come from stupidity and petty acts of selfishness and small dumb shit. And our emotion comes from personal experiences of loss or loneliness. So we have this discussion periodically – “when do we do the society stuff?” 

In theory we like them talking about building stuff and preparing for the future, but in reality, they could live out their lives just breaking into stores and living off of dead people’s shit, which is more entertaining. So with this episode, we indulged some of that Noah talk and it feels organic. It fits with Tandy’s pathological need to be considered the hero by everyone. I guess what I’m saying is, if you’re watching the show and saying “why aren’t they farming?” the answer is we’ve considered it a million times and we can’t figure out how to make it funny.

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This show has had an interesting relationship regarding flashbacks and restraint on the matter. We sort of get our first one this week, but I love that it’s almost just a non-sequitur of Tandy screwing around. Why did you want Tandy to be responsible for San Francisco?

Ha. I think any time we discuss having anything break or go wrong on this show, we immediately ask ourselves if it could be Tandy’s fault. I mean, it just feels right. He’s Gilligan. You’re right that this flashback is way outside of our pattern. It’s almost 30 Rock-ish. I think if we made a habit of it, we’d be jumping the shark a little. But this one was fun.

The look of this episode with everyone on the road is some really beautiful stuff. I know that it might have been a nightmare logistically, but was there any thought on structuring the entire season as a road trip?

Oh believe me, I would love that. I think we would do it in a heartbeat if we could afford it. I mentioned before that while we loved Malibu, we realized after a while that we were missing the post-apocalyptic feel in those episodes. Just a really nice house on a secluded beach. So we knew we wanted to open up the world, and when you see episode 5, you’ll see how we hopefully solved the problem of showing an empty world on a budget.

I’d love it if Gail’s self driving car that gets away ends up running into some of the search signs that Tandy sent out for Carol during the beginning of last season. Please consider those random objects somehow colliding, just like these people did.

Ha, will do. We also know we have Tandy’s trains all over the country. We keep looking for ways to run into those things.

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This is certainly an interesting episode for Tandy’s character. He’s a lot to take and is even wearing Carol down. Talk a little on where you push Tandy this episode and if his regression of sorts is a necessary move?

I’m not sure if was necessary or not, and we may have pushed it a little too far in this one. But the story definitely demanded that everyone get on everyone else’s nerves. As Lewis says, road trips are stressful. Tandy is trying to be the leader and he’s trying to make everyone happy and of course he’s accomplishing the opposite. The looks he gets from Lewis really make me happy.

Gail nearly getting up and leaving felt like a very natural move for the character. Was this a move that you were actually considering, or a bluff until the discovery at the end of the episode?

Originally the pitch was everyone fights so much that they all agree to part ways. We sat with that idea for a bit, but it felt like too much. And we tried to dial it back and say, “well what if they talk about splitting up, but they don’t get that far, just more of a philosophical discussion. Like “What makes us a family?”” And we got there in Gail’s dialogue. I’m really glad you accepted the premise, because frankly, we had doubts that anyone would believe Gail might actually do that. I think Mary’s performance is what makes it plausible. Gail is very unhappy, and we explore the crap out of that in the next several episodes. Really cool stuff coming up for Gail.

That said, no, we never actually considered having her move away. Actually I take that back. We did talk early on about Gail and Erica just going, “fuck these idiots” and going to live somewhere else. Which is certainly believable, and kind of funny, but the idea really scared me for the simple reason that I learned in improv classes: Characters who don’t want to be there are kind of a bummer for the audience. I mean, the audience has to be there, so any character who says, “I don’t want to be here,” is kind of saying “don’t watch this shit.” I mean, characters can hate something, but wanting to leave is different. The audience doesn’t want anyone to leave. They want them to stay there, suffer, struggle, fight, make up, whatever. Just not leave.

Gail’s speech towards Tandy and his ideals really stands out. Is it important to inject some cynicism into something when dealing with rebuilding and starting over?

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Yes great point. I’m kind of laughing at my previous two answers and my rant about not leaving, because you’re certainly right. It was very useful to have Gail talk that way in that moment. It was cathartic for us to write it and make fun of Tandy’s dumbass patter. It was a fun way to really challenge the conventions of the show too. Like on a lot of shows, an emotionally wise person will make a speech towards the end that tugs at the heartstrings and creates that warm feeling sitcoms do (except Seinfeld of course). And on our show, that person is Tandy, and he’s not smart at all and his speeches are horseshit. So it was definitely fun for Gail to say “why should we put up with all your blah blah?” 

I’m just thinking philosophically now, since I’m at my computer typing answers to your questions, and I’m thinking that I’m a cynical person like Gail. And my cynicism, probably like many people, comes from a feeling of vulnerability. Hard on the outside to protect something scared on the inside. Most funny people are like that. So that’s probably Gail too. 

Talk about that final moment in the episode. How excited were you to have a big, new playground at your disposal?

That cinematic shot and the looks on their faces. Oh man. Dave Noel directed that and we went way late on that day and our producer was pointing to his watch saying we really need to wrap. It was the final shot of that night, and completely worth it. 

Our walkthrough on Last Man on Earth’s third season will continue every two weeks!