Our recurring series The Fourth Wall is a platform for creators, actors, and industry insiders to bring the readers behind the scenes of the production process. In our latest installment, we dive into the first three episodes from The Last Man on Earth’s fourth season.
Ever since its pilot, The Last Man on Earth has been a television show that plays by its own rules and doesn’t follow any preconceived roadmap for storytelling. The show earnestly chronicles the journey of Phil “Tandy” Miller as he attempts to survive and make contact after a life-threatening virus decimates the world’s population.
Over the course of the show’s previous three seasons, Tandy has transformed from a selfish cad into a bumbling Quixotic figure of hope. Along the way there have been cows, prank wars, detours to outer space and the middle of the ocean, see-it-to-believe-it grooming styles, and a whole lot of death and bad puns.
Last Man on Earth’s new season looks like it might be their most experimental to date, with the crew setting sail for Mexico and on the run from nuclear fallout. And that’s only the beginning of their problems. Now, with the show’s fourth season unleashing fresh chaos on everyone, we touched base with the series’ executive producers and showrunners, Erik Durbin and Tim McAuliffe. The two take us on a tour through the show’s new season as well as break down the latest post-apocalyptic dangers that threaten Tandy and company this year.
The Last Man on Earth Season 4 Episode 1 – “M.U.B.A.R.”
“Pamela finds her place within the group as they all set sail for Mexico, avoiding the apocalyptic nuclear fallout in the United States. Their course derails a bit when they realize that none of them knows how to actually navigate a yacht”
Written by John Solomon and Rich Blomquist; Directed by John Solomon
DEN OF GEEK: Let’s talk the end of last season a little bit. Besides the premise of starting things on the water and running away from nuclear fallout, how much did you guys have figured out?
ERIK DURBIN: We didn’t have anything figured out. Towards the end of the season, most of our creative energy goes into planning the wrap party. But you’ll be happy to know it was a raucous success with an impressive selection of chips and dips.
Is there anything from the previous year that you guys learned from and wanted to put into practice or course-correct this year around?
We definitely wanted to have a better plan for the second half of the season before we started shooting this year. That’s not to say we mapped every little thing out—it’s always nice to have the flexibility to explore things you get excited about as the season goes on—but we did lock in more tentpole moments early in the writing process.
How much had been worked out with Kristen Wiig and her character Pamela? Obviously you knew you’d have her for at least the premiere, but did you try to extend her stay any longer on the show, or did you know that it wouldn’t be possible to hang onto her?
Because of her busy schedule, Kristen Wiig was only available for three episodes. We knew if we got her to come back this season, we wanted her to be insanely into Tandy.
That Rear Admiral Roy Billups death is just too perfect and somehow a running joke that hasn’t overstayed its welcome yet. Your claim to fame at this point is killing off A-listers and bad puns. Talk a little on breaking this story beat and Jack Black’s involvement.
That story beat was a result of the writers trying to think of the dumbest possible thing that could happen the moment after we meet Pamela at the end of season 3.
Jack Black totally did the show as a favor to his friend Will Forte, but he also made all of us believe he was truly a fan of the show. He backed it up by referencing some specific moments in various episodes. We ultimately believed that he was indeed a fan, while acknowledging that he is a gifted actor who could just be in character as someone who likes our show. Either way we were so glad he played that part.
It’s nice to see a new dynamic between Tandy and Carol develop as a result of her jealousy towards Tandy and Pamela. Was that fun to explore?
Yes, it was nice to have Tandy be innocent in a love triangle situation. And it’s always fun when Carol isn’t her normal sweet self. Seeing her jealous/vindictive side is interesting and scary and funny.
Damn, you guys really up your game with that cliffhanger. Both in terms of separating the characters, but also this whole inhabited island angle, too. Was it exciting to get to mix things up more than usual with this premiere?
It was definitely exciting to have Kristen Wiig for a full episode. Doing an episode on the water was challenging both story-wise and shooting-wise, but we’re very glad you liked how it turned out!
The Last Man on Earth Season 4 Episode 2 – “Stocko Syndrome”
“Tandy devises an escape plan to get away from Pamela and back to Carol and the others. Meanwhile, the rest of the gang encounters a castaway, Glenn, who has been stranded on an island for years”
Written by Megan Ganz and Tim McAuliffe; Directed by David Noel
Let’s talk about Chris Elliot because I’ve loved him back since Get A Life, I think Eagleheart is one of the greatest shows of all time, and nobody seems to use him to his potential. How did he come into things?
TIM MCAULIFFE: Chris is one of the funniest guys I’ve ever seen. When we were casting, we knew we needed someone who could play both the comedy of being an eccentric man trapped on a desert island for five years and the drama that comes along with finding out his family has died. He was the perfect choice.
On a personal note, I remember watching him eat dog food on Late Night with David Letterman in the late 80’s. The bit involved him trying to determine whether a ‘new & improved’ dog food was in fact better. They wheeled out two dogs with two different bowls of dog food next to them. Just when it looked like he was going to let the dogs out to try the food, he took a huge spoon and ate both himself. He did with such a straight face, such a genuine sincerity. It was so strikingly funny. I’ve been a big fan ever since.
With the appearance of Glenn it certainly raises the question of just how many other people are still out there. Is this something that you guys talk about at all and have a somewhat concrete idea of? Do you think you’ll hit your limit for introducing new people at some point?
There are exactly 23 other people out there. All of them resemble extremely A-list actors with limited schedules who will be killed shortly after meeting our cast.
Why did this desert island approach feel like the right introduction for Glenn? Did you guys discuss any different backstories at all for the character?
We were very excited about the idea of someone completely being in the dark about the virus. It’s kind of fun to see someone with the optimism of a pre-virus human transitioning to the sadness of a post virus survivor. It’s what we’ve seen a lot of our characters encounter, and to me it’s always interesting.
Glenn definitely opens up this optimism vs. pessimism theme that’s present through the show. Do you think it’s important to show both sides of that mindset during this time that they’re in?
Yes sir. We started the series with Tandy almost succumbing to the pessimism that understandably comes from seeing everyone you know die. But then once a new person was injected into his life, he saw the light. The connection between two humans – even though they were initially polar opposites – delivered the optimism he needed to keep himself alive. And I think that’s a big reason why our group stays together. Human contact – no matter how annoying – is more valuable than solitude. — Sorry, that wasn’t very funny. But, it certainly was deep and, I must say, really smart.
Pamela’s eventual exit looms closer. Did you guys consider doing anything different with that character or going about her story in a different way in this episode?
I think we knew we wanted to show Pamela’s struggle to break free of the person she was pre-virus. In the bunker it seemed like she had a real awakening. But, once she was with people again, she seemed to revert back to her old self-involved, extremely vain ways. At the end of this episode, we see her once again struggle to change, which I think really humanizes her.
I love that you use that Herman Cain song by Tim Heidecker to close out the episode. I certainly never expected to hear that on network television. Was there any debate over that decision?
I’m actually not sure. Will is friends with Tim and had the record on his computer. He dropped it in and showed the room and immediately everyone was on board. And now none of us can get the song out of our heads. On a personal note, I’m a huge fan of Tim’s. From Tim & Eric to Decker to his faux-amateur stand-up to his music, he’s just so friggin’ talented.
The Last Man on Earth Season 4 Episode 3 – “Skeleton Crew”
“Pamela tries desperately to redeem herself with everyone, as the gang finally reaches Mexico. Meanwhile, Todd is disappointed that Zihuatanejo is not the paradise of which he’d dreamed.”
Written by Kassia Miller; Directed by John Solomon
It’s interesting to see Pamela very much operating how Tandy was during the show’s infancy. Did you intentionally want to invite those comparisons?
KASSIA MILLER: We were definitely interested in further exploring what happens to someone when they have been alone for a long time, and how they react when they are around people again. Pamela does exhibit her own kind of self-centeredness, which is really self-preservation (with a healthy dose of her pre-virus world view still mixed in there). While we didn’t set out to make her feel like early Tandy, we wanted to see the worst of her and then see the group come back around to her. Plus it was very fun to imagine how this highbrow person would grovel. And you’re right – like Tandy, she gets it wrong a lot of the time, but her heart is in the right place.
This relationship between Pamela and Glenn is really sweet, especially since it’s with these two characters that are relative newcomers. Talk a little on building this love story between them. It’s essentially their episode.
It is their episode! We loved the idea that someone would be able to see Pamela for what she is – a traumatized person who hasn’t necessarily digested her trauma in the healthiest ways. And Glenn seemed like a good person to do that, since he was outside of her transgressions in Episode 402 and isn’t totally sucked into the group’s version of punishment. Glenn and Pamela were able to bond over the fact that they’d experienced the same isolation for so long and had made questionable romantic choices because of it. Which of course led to new romantic choices. But ultimately they are drawn together by shared loss and the desire to never be alone again.
I love that more logistics of this apocalypse situation are explored, like how Zihuatanejo is still riddled with corpses. Is it nice to get to explore some of that territory again in this new area?
Definitely. Talking about how the rest of the world experienced the virus is a fun area to explore. And showing that the whole world was affected in the same way breathes new life into the horror of the virus. We also liked the idea of taking the one place that Todd and Melissa have been holding up as paradise and pulling the rug out from under them.
Todd goes through a lot in this episode, too. After the revelation that Shawshank’s ending was actually filmed in St. Croix, will the gang still be staying in Zihuatanejo?
I can’t make any promises about the locations for the rest of the season. But I don’t think Todd will be going to St. Croix anytime soon.
These first three episodes feel like an introduction of sorts to this season, with things finally now being set up. How did you guys decide to approach the beginning of this year?
We knew we had these amazing guest stars with us for a few episodes, and we knew pretty early on that we wanted Pamela and Glenn to be each other’s salvation. It felt right that they would complement each other and prove to be a perfect pair. Plus these new characters gave our gang an additional focus other than just finding a new place to live, which felt interesting.
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.