Last Man on Earth: Breaking Down Fred Armisen’s Guest Role

We go behind the scenes with the crew of Last Man on Earth to break down an important character arc.

The Last Man on Earth prides itself on pushing challenging stories. This season, the series has certainly settled into a comfortable, more familiar nature, but it still knows how to get wild and release the hounds. A new “friend” temporarily shacks up with Tandy and company, but surprise surprise, he’s a cannibal! Fred Armisen kills it, both figuratively and literally, as Karl in these string of episodes. If nothing else, it’s just nice to see Forte get to riff with his former SNL companion.

Karl’s presence is quite dominant, but these episodes also begin to develop Todd’s season-long quest to become a father. The disappearance of Jaspar doesn’t help out the forlorn individual, especially when it turns out that a member of the group has been keeping Jaspar’s whereabouts intentionally hidden from Todd. Add to that the start of an interesting development with a surrogate situation and the long-waiting payoff of a literal ticking time bomb element to the season and these episodes cover a whole lot of ground. We touch base with the writers of each episode and the series’ co-showrunners, Erik Durbin and Tim McAuliffe, to get the goods on these installments.

The Last Man on Earth Season 4 Episode 10 – “Paint Misbehavin’”

“Tandy and Todd introduce newcomer Karl to the rest of the gang. Meanwhile, the group searches for Jasper, who has gone missing.” Written by Matt Marshall; Directed by Payman Benz

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DEN OF GEEK: First of all, that introduction where Tandy empties all of those blanks on Karl as a prank is just magic. What’s the story behind that set piece?

MATT MARSHALL: Initially the cold open was continuous from when Tandy and Todd first meet Karl at the prison, but we thought it’d be best to skip the intros and get Karl to the house. I think Will had that idea of introducing Karl to the group by doing that horrible prank. It worked pretty great.

When someone new joins these characters, Tandy is usually suspicious or jealous of them. Why did you want him to be the one who’s skeptical of Karl?

MATT MARSHALL: It’s always fun to see Tandy — who’s clearly the dumbest of the group — think he’s smarter than everyone else and knows what’s going on before they do. And this time, his intuition was actually correct.

Talk a little on Karl’s struggle here as he fights his urges to eat everyone. Do you think that he actually wants to change, or that he’s just waiting for the right moment to strike?

MATT MARSHALL: Karl genuinely thinks he has changed. He’s been mostly alone in prison for six years so when he meets the group, it’s like a recovering alcoholic going to work at BevMo. The temptation is everywhere.

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I know that Karl is only meant to be a guest character, but do you ever think about adding another permanent addition to the cast, or do you prefer to have several people pop up over the course of the season rather than one set person?

MATT MARSHALL: It’s always fun to have guest stars, but to the writers, the beating heart of the show is our series regulars. And writing stories about the ever-changing dynamic of this group full of dummies facing life or death crises is always so interesting to us that we don’t feel the need to add in another cast member just yet.

How difficult was it to not have Tandy and his guitar join in with Karl on the piano? 

MATT MARSHALL: Fred is so funny and such a talented musician. Will wanted to step back and let Fred have his moment. And Fred did such an amazing job purposely playing the piano so poorly. I think we did five or six takes of that scene and it was so damn funny every time.

Melissa seems to really be the only voice of reason when it comes to Jasper. Their bond and the understanding between the two of them is really sweet.

MATT MARSHALL: Jasper likes Melissa because she’s always the most truthful with him. She seems to be the only one who doesn’t want anything from Jasper or care what he thinks of her. The rest of the group treats Jasper like a child, which he is, but he was on his own for a few years before he met the group, and only Melissa seems to recognize that he’s grown up faster and is more mature than the others give him credit for. 

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That whole Band-Aid feast and Tandy’s rationale behind it is like the grossest that the show has been since Tandy’s cheese feast in season two. How was the filming of this scene? Was there any pushback from the network there?

MATT MARSHALL: Co-showrunner Tim McAuliffe pitched that scene and it was so funny and gross. I think everyone will agree that no one commits to a scene more than Will Forte. And Will was more than game to really chow down on those Band-Aids. I don’t think we got any real pushback on that scene. The disgusting stuff is this show’s bread and butter—in this case, Band-Aid and mustard.

Is Karl in any danger of becoming infected with the virus because he’s eating dead bodies that are likely infected?

MATT MARSHALL: We did briefly discuss that possibility, but decided not to make it a story point. Going back to the addiction angle, eating dead bodies is just a gateway drug to craving actual live bodies.

It seems like the original title for this episode was “Nizzle Pizzy in a Dizzle Stizzy.” Why the last-minute change to the less ridiculous “Paint Misbehavin’”?

MATT MARSHALL: “Paint Misbehavin’” is easier to spell and takes up less room on the DVR description.

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The Last Man on Earth Season 4 Episode 11 – “Hamilton/Berg”

“After the graveyard incident, Tandy and Todd try to convince the rest of the gang that something is majorly wrong with Karl and something needs to be done. Meanwhile, Jasper is still missing.” Written by Kira Kalush; Directed by David Noel.

From the start here you guys knew that you only had Fred Armisen for a limited number of episodes. Was the plan always to kill him in the end, or did you guys consider other exits for him?

KIRA KALUSH: Before Fred was signed on, we had this plan for a prisoner to find the gang, be torn about whether to kill them or not, eventually find the Rubik’s Cube and then blow up. However, once we got Fred, we all deeply regretted this plan because he was such a hilarious, natural addition to the group.

Melissa is the first one to bring up murder as an option with Karl. Talk a little on that and what that says about her?

KIRA KALUSH: Melissa is known to be brutally honest. She cuts through the bullshit and the sugarcoating and she says what she feels. Nobody wants to be a murderer, not even her. She killed a guy (Jon Hamm) and it almost ruined her — but from her perspective, this is a different world. As long as Karl’s out there, he’s always going to be a threat and they’ll never be safe. That leaves only one option.

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Karl’s highly agreeable attitude through all of this is a fun touch. Was there a version of this where he was more difficult or was he always compliant here?

KIRA KALUSH: There are always a million iterations of every episode, but I think there was always the feeling that we wanted to stay away from that dark, lurking, stereotypical villain. What made Karl interesting was that he genuinely liked the group and he wanted to change — but when it came down to it, he knew he couldn’t.

We learn in this episode that Jasper’s actually been under Melissa’s care this whole time. The two of them have such an interesting relationship. Elaborate a little on that and the dynamic between the two of them.

KIRA KALUSH: This all traces back to episode 8, where Jasper runs away. Being a kid is hard enough in regular life, but when everyone you know is dead and all the adults around you don’t have any real parenting skills, it’s a lot harder. Melissa is the only one who looks at him and respects that he doesn’t need them — he lived alone for years before they found him. Despite that, she knows that the best thing for all of them is to stay in contact even if it means keeping Todd and the others in the dark about his whereabouts.

Why the decision to make Carol the one that draws the short straw, even if she doesn’t have to go through with it?

KIRA KALUSH: This scene was one that we wanted to play as realistic as possible. We wanted the audience to be nervous. We wanted them to feel the weight it carried. In this situation, how would you decide who kills someone? During the “what do we do with Karl” discussion, Carol was staunchly against killing him — which says to us, this is the most interesting person to pull the short straw.  

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Tandy shows reluctance when he finally has to execute Karl. Do you think that he ultimately would have been able to go through with it?

KIRA KALUSH: Ultimately, this is a question only Will can answer. However, from my perspective, I’m not so sure Tandy would be able to do it. Even though Karl wanted to kill and eat his family and friends, Tandy felt sympathy for him. He could see a piece of himself in Karl. I believe the Rubik’s Cube is a weird, messed up blessing for Tandy — it gave him an out. 

I could also see a world where he’d turn and shoot, but let’s be real, Tandy would never be able to hit Karl from ten paces back.

The Rubik’s Cube of Death taking out Karl when he’s already about to be executed is a great gag. Was this always how this played out, or was there a version where the Cube goes off in a normal situation and kills him?

KIRA KALUSH: We had so many ideas for this. Our main concern was that once you see Karl with the Rubik’s Cube, the audience would immediately know it will be his demise. We opted to just embrace the moment and let the audience live in anticipation, waiting to see what kills him first — Tandy or the bomb (obviously, blowing someone up is way more fun).

Did you guys originally introduce the Rubik’s Cube knowing that it would be what takes out Karl? Or was it just another element that you had in play that you then linked to Karl’s exit?

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KIRA KALUSH: It all kind of came out at the same time. We had plans for a prisoner to come in for a small arc, and as we were discovering episode 5, the idea of a bomb came up. And you know, it’s Chekhov’s bomb — if we’re going to introduce it, we need to have a plan for it to go off. Rather than having it go off in that same episode, we thought it would be so much more interesting to keep that bomb in play for day to day life. It’s a fun threat that only the audience knows about.

The Last Man on Earth Season 4 Episode 12 – “Señor Clean”

“Tandy tries being a helpful, responsible adult in order to finally win Gail’s praise. Meanwhile, Todd is furious with Melissa for keeping him away from Jasper.” Written by Maxwell R. Kessler; Directed by Maggie Carey.

You guys take an interesting angle here where Tandy doesn’t know that he didn’t kill Karl and that their lives were in danger the entire time. Did you guys consider letting everyone know about the explosive in the end?

MAXWELL KESSLER: We sure did. We actually spent a couple weeks trying to figure out how the group would respond to the explosion. But every time we talked about them knowing about the bomb, it raised a lot of really obnoxious questions (where did they think the explosive came from? Wouldn’t the group worry extra because of the babies, etc). The thing that made the most sense was for none of the characters to really know what happened, but for them all to be totally okay with the result.  

You guys get to turn to yet another funeral here. You’re pros at them by now. Do these feel stake to you at all, or is it exciting to still find new angles to approach them from? Did you consider not doing one for Karl due to the circumstances?

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MAXWELL KESSLER: Tandy likes throwing funerals. That’s just how it is. If it gets stale or annoying or tedious, that’s all part of the fun. The funeral speeches are great to pitch on with Forte. Once he finds a joke he likes, he’ll start to work on it in the room—fully in character. He’ll mess around, we’ll all start laughing, other writers will hop in, and Bob’s your uncle.

Break down Todd and Melissa’s fight and what you hoped to achieve with it. I’m totally Team Melissa in this battle.

MAXWELL KESSLER: Yeah. I mean, we know she’s right. She’s knows she’s right. Todd probably knows she’s right too. But it hurts being lied to, especially by those closest to you. So Todd’s not really thinking with his head fully screwed on.

The purpose of building to their fight didn’t actually have much to do with the lie. Underneath it all, we’re really just underlining that how no matter what Todd promises or how hard he tries to let it not bother him, he really wants to have a kid. And we didn’t want Melissa to have to budge—it’s not really in her character to waver from her beliefs, and on top of that it’s a crazy thing having a kid in this world! It’s nuts. We did want to find a resolution that kept them together, though. We wanted them to find a compromise that showed how much they wanted to stay together, despite their different points of view. Luckily in this new world, there are new rules and new norms that allow for more creative baby-making scenarios.

It’s a rather significant moment when Gail of all people points out Tandy’s progress and the gang’s appreciation of him. In your opinion, has Tandy changed and matured, or is he the same?

MAXWELL KESSLER: He’s a more mature version of the same ole dipshit. Kinda like how McDonalds offers salads now.

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It’s also just really sweet to see Tandy and Gail getting along for once. Is that a fun dynamic to explore when you can?

MAXWELL KESSLER: Yeah, it was great fun because it’s a challenge. How do you make Gail—who has never liked Tandy—come around on him? She doesn’t have to. Doesn’t need to. The group doesn’t need them to. So how do they become all buddy-buddy? Turns out, they both like to play with poo balloons.

The episode’s ending revolves around the idea of another baby joining the mix. Why Erica as the surrogate and what’s the rationale for more babies when there are already three around!

MAXWELL KESSLER: We considered that the virus could have had some sort of wild mutation where Todd got pregnant, but we felt doing that somehow made the Schwarzenegger/DeVito classic, Junior, less special. So that was out. But we got to a point with the Todd/Melissa storyline where a baby was going to happen, and we felt it was super important to have a woman in this new world absolutely refuse to get pregnant. That even with the world as it is, someone could still be like, Nah. Carol’s got her hands full, Gail’s not avail, so if it’s gonna’ happen, they gotta’ ask Erica.

Set the record straight: Is blue raspberry actually a real flavor?

MAXWELL KESSLER: Well I don’t know where Melissa “looked it up,” but my neighbor back in Idaho had raspberry bushes, and they grew in red (as expected), yellow, and blue. Kinda more purple than blue—but still. Then again, they tasted the same as red raspberries…  Okay, maybe she’s technically right, but I still think her research methods are dubious, at best.

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Our walkthrough of Last Man On Earth’s fourth season will continue every three weeks. Our walkthroughs of the show’s previous seasons can be found here.