Last Man on Earth: How Jason Sudeikis Made His Return

The Last Man On Earth writers talk about the triumphant return of Jason Sudeikis’ Mike Miller.

The Last Man on Earth has literally been to Armageddon and back, but sometimes the hardest problems are the ones that are the most human. The last few episodes were an honest look at depression through Todd, who believes that he will never get to be a father. On top of that, Carol also becomes pregnant, which means there are now a number of babies on the way. This isn’t necessarily a problem, but it is rather interesting to think back to when delivering one baby was near impossible. Now they can handle twins, breech births, or whatever Mother Nature throws at them. These characters really have grown in some incredible ways.

It’s the perfect time for a certain familiar face to pop back up in the series. Jason Sudeikis’ Mike Miller was one of the best things about Last Man on Earth’s strong second season. Mike re-enters the picture in a very big way, but in spite of this exciting reunion, he’s also going to have to adapt to the many changes that have taken place in his absence. We dig into these changes and how these installments came together as we touch base with the writers of each episode and the series’ co-showrunners, Erik Durbin and Tim McAuliffe.

The Last Man on Earth Season 4 Episode 13 – “Release the Hounds”

“Todd sinks into a deep depression, leaving the rest of the gang to console him. Meanwhile, Tandy and Carol can’t keep their hands off each other.”

Written by Megan Ganz; Directed by Steve Day

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DEN OF GEEK: Did you put a lot of consideration into Erica’s answer in response to being Todd and Melissa’s surrogate?  Did you consider going the other direction here and having her ultimately not be on board?

MEGAN GANZ: Yes, we talked a lot about Erika’s decision. It didn’t seem reasonable that she would have a baby for Todd just to make him happy, so we wanted to track the story of how Erica gets on board. The time jump helped us, because you get to see her go from “absolutely not” to months later, when Dawn’s a little more grown up and Erica starts yearning for another baby. It felt more organic.

This episode goes to some interesting places because just when it seems like another baby isn’t happening, Carol gets pregnant! How did this decision come about? Was it more about having another baby around, or more about what Todd’s going through?

MEGAN GANZ: Partially, the reason Carol got pregnant is because Kristen Schaal was pregnant IRL. But also it gave us a funny and awkward situation for Tandy and Carol to be in, trying to hide her obvious pregnancy from the baby-less Todd. And I personally love Tandy and Carol lovemaking scenes. How could you not get pregnant when you’re knocking boots like that?

On that note, Todd’s really had a tough time this season and things don’t get any easier for him here. Talk a little on what he’s going through and the significance of the toy train?

MEGAN GANZ: Yes, Todd is really going through something this season. He lost Jasper, Melissa won’t budge on having a baby, and now his last option on earth has said no. And sometimes when you can’t handle the real world, it’s easier to lose yourself in a world you can control. I think that’s what we were going for with the trains. Todd locks onto that outlet and then takes it to this crazy level. The train set you see was built by our production designer Bryan and it was epic! And it really worked.

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That time lapse is some pretty chilling stuff. Todd’s never looked so broken. How much time has approximately passed there? Six months?

MEGAN GANZ: Yeah, about six months. Can you believe Gail hasn’t had red wine in that long?

Tandy and Carol have a rather light storyline here that revolves around them being intimate. Did it feel important to have them connect again now that the Karl chaos is over?

MEGAN GANZ: I think coming face-to-face with death is always the best aphrodisiac. Life is short! You should spend more of it with the person you love. Preferably naked.

It’s always nice to get a return to their bizarre dirty talk, too. Was it satisfying to finally get to pen one of those scenes?

MEGAN GANZ: I can’t take credit for those lines, but boy did I have fun watching Will and Kristen perform them. The crew could barely contain ourselves. And the belly-button waggling? I was standing mere feet away from it. You could feel the carnal heat radiating off those actors. We had to turn up the A/C. I’m not joking. They almost melted the light fixtures.

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There’s some great use of tension in this episode where Tandy and Carol are so in heat, while Todd and everyone else is stuck in this depression. Was the goal of this episode to sort of explore that awkward space?

MEGAN GANZ: The two stories dovetail nicely. But part of it was that the writers looked up how soon you could have sex after giving birth, and it said four to six weeks, and we thought, “Carol would be ready in three.”

The Last Man on Earth Season 4 Episode 14 – “Special Delivery”

“While Todd butts heads with Erica, Melissa is determined to form a strong female friendship with her. Meanwhile, Carol grows suspicious that a new stranger could be living nearby.”

Written by Emma Rathbone; Directed by Jason Woliner

Talk on how this latest development with Erica and Todd brings her closer to Melissa. It’s been a while since they’ve really gotten some one-on-one time together.

EMMA RATHBONE: We thought it would be interesting to see Melissa try to express gratitude from the bottom of her heart, even though she’s not the most naturally affectionate person. It was a chance to explore her friendship with Erica, and her mangled way of trying to take it to the next level. These characters know each other pretty well at this point, but new developments can still bring out different sides of people, and that’s what we were trying to capture.

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After some of the heavier material with Todd in the past episode, did it seem important to return to some lighter territory here with Todd needing to “produce” and Melissa’s paranoia?

EMMA RATHBONE: This episode was less big picture, and more about finding the fun in the nuts and bolts of the process, and how even when you have a victory (Erica agreeing to have a baby with Todd), life is still life and there are still obstacles and you’re never completely out of the woods.

This episode also raises the inevitable question of how involved Erica should be in the decisions surrounding Todd and Melissa’s child since she’s the one who carries it. Elaborate a little on that conflict?

EMMA RATHBONE: It’s meant to be Erica and Todd’s child. Melissa adamantly doesn’t want a kid, so the question is, what is this family going to look like? Out of necessity our characters are creating their own types of specific bonds in order to have the lives they want, i.e., Todd having a baby with Erica but staying with Melissa who doesn’t really want to be involved beyond just being happy for Todd. So, the way this all plays out could touch on lots of questions about families and the attachments we form.

After the recent edition of Karl, I thought another new person might be too much and had a sneaking suspicion that this stranger could be Mike. That reveal at the end is absolutely perfect. How long had Mike’s return been in the mix and was it considered for any earlier in the season?

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EMMA RATHBONE: We thought it would be good to have him come back when so much has happened with the group—the twins and Erica being with Gail to mention a few things… it’s a lot for him to have to react to. 

How did nightmare fuel Clancy come together because everything about this new addition to the crew is bonkers and great.

EMMA RATHBONE: Clancy was all Will Forte. I actually at first thought he was too disturbing, and in real life the effect is even more… enhanced. We brought it to the room, and some people loved it and some were more on the fence. Will wanted to go with it, and now I think Clancy is delightful and have lots of affection for him, but I can’t tell if that’s just because I’m used to him.

The Last Man on Earth Season 4 Episode 15 – “Designated Survivors”

“Tandy wakes up to a shocking discovery that is positive for everyone in the group, but it throws Todd into a spiral. Meanwhile, Todd and Erica share an emotional roller coaster.”

Written by Edward Voccola; Directed by Payman Benz

I think a lot of people consider Mike to mark a real golden period for the series. Was there any concern over bringing that character back, if it may not be worth it, or how to make it stand apart this time around?

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EDWARD VOCCOLA: I’d group myself in with those people. I loved the first run we did with Mike. Max Kessler and I wrote the finale of season two where Tandy leaves him in Tucson, and that felt really satisfying at the time. It’s something where I can totally see people being in one camp or the other: Team Mike’s Dead or Team Mike’s Alive. But in terms of his return, nobody waved a pennant too hard for either team when the idea was brought up of his coming back. Nobody put a foot down and was like, “he’s dead, and that’s that!”

When it came up, the room started pitching ideas as to what his return might entail, and with Will on board, it was decided that Mike would return around episode 14 or 15.  We kept that in mind as the season came together, and as the season unfolds to its finale, I think he’s utilized in an interesting way. Hopefully people who were Team Mike’s Dead will be glad he’s not by the end.

How excited and/or devastated was Will Forte to have to shave half of his face and head again?

EDWARD VOCCOLA: Having Tandy’s half-shaved head be the reveal that Mike is back was Will’s idea. So definitely more excited than devastated. If you were to ask the writers whether they were excited or devastated by its return, the answer they’d give would probably depend on which side of him they sat on in the room.

There’s a very pointed line in the last episode about how Todd is the only one that can give Erica a baby and now suddenly Mike is back. Why the decision to put Mike and Todd immediately at odds? 

EDWARD VOCCOLA: Mike was going to be returning around this time in the season, and having a baby with Erica was just kind of where Todd found himself at that point in the story. It was pretty much an inevitable conflict when those two roads crossed, and that drove the decision more than any plan get a Mike vs. Todd thing going right away.

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On a similar note, Erica and Gail have built together a nice relationship, but Erica and Mike also have history. Was bringing Mike back exciting for the prospect of how it might tug at Erica’s heart?

EDWARD VOCCOLA: At first it was, and there were previous drafts of 415 that made a bit more of that. Ultimately, we all felt like Erica and Gail are in love, and that’s not going to change because some person Erica kissed one time (through a medical bubble) came back.  Pranks aside, Mike can usually be trusted to act like an adult when it comes to interpersonal stuff.

Was there any discussion on whether you’d like to do another flashback episode to highlight Mike’s exploits during this time period, or does it not really seem necessary?

EDWARD VOCCOLA: Sure there was. We all love the stand-alone flashback episodes. But they’re pricey to do, and in this case it didn’t really seem necessary – at least right now.

That little bit of misdirection that Mike gives about a hatch, human experimentation, government files, and “designated survivors” is fascinating, even if it is a lie. Did you consider actually making any of this stuff the truth and using it as some sort of outline for a fifth season?

EDWARD VOCCOLA: That story was a lot longer than what ended up in the final cut, and I want every part of it to be true. But it’s not. Or is it???? For real, I can’t tell you.

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We get the glorious return of Tandy’s ball friends here! Might they turn into friends for Tandy’s children now? 

EDWARD VOCCOLA: Yes! Or maybe Jasper will kill the balls off one by one! Or neither of those things! Or both!

That shot towards the end with Mike all isolated in his trailer is really reminiscent of his time alone up in space. Is Mike’s loneliness going to be a large part of what’s to come for his character?

EDWARD VOCCOLA: YES and YES!! Payman [Benz] and I thought it would be cool to mimic the shots of Mike looking out into space when he was in the space station. Thanks for noticing! Loneliness is definitely something he’s dealing with, even now when he’s among people again.

I love that people getting shot out of shock and surprise is turning into a running joke now…

EDWARD VOCCOLA: If the only running joke we were allowed to use was people getting shot out of shock and surprise, I could live with that.

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Was there any question of not reprising “Falling Slowly” in this reunion?


Our walkthrough of Last Man On Earth’s fourth season will conclude after its season finale. Our walkthroughs of the show’s previous seasons can be found here