Editor’s note: The Fourth Wall is a recurring feature that 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 removed the curtain on the writers’ room for the third season of Fox’s Last Man on Earth.
This part of the walkthrough looks at episodes seven through nine from Last Man on Earth’s third season. Previous installments of this walkthrough can be found here.
The Last Man on Earth Season 3 Episode 7 – “Mama’s Hideaway”
“Carol is hell-bent on capturing the perfect family photo and will stop at nothing to get it. Meanwhile, Melissa has a surprising mission of her own, Lewis looks into a new hobby, and Gail finds herself stuck in a scary situation.”
Written by Kira Kalush; Directed by Payman Benz
DEN OF GEEK: Let’s talk those family photo outfits…
KIRA KALUSH: There was a lot of back and forth about these family photo outfits. They were always going to be overalls but initially, at least in my mind, they were way crazier—like bedazzled-ombre crazy. Will made the rational decision to tone it down a little bit so as to not distract from the actual joke we’re telling: Carol is forcing a woman who was just peer pressured into adopting her to take a family photo. As much as I want to see Tandy is a sparkly jumpsuit, it was the right call. So yes, this is the conservative version.
Family has always been such a huge part of the show, but it’s an overwhelming theme this season. Why did now feel like the right time to really start highlighting that idea?
KIRA KALUSH: We end season two with Carol and Tandy finding out they’re going to be parents. So now with two babies on the way, we’re starting to see this makeshift family literally expand. What I love about the adoption storyline is that we’ve gradually seen this group act like a family, but now we get to see them officially become one.
ANDY BOBROW: I’m glad we didn’t do it earlier than this, actually. Any ensemble show is about a family or an ersatz family. I’ve seen lots of shows make the mistake of calling themselves a family before the audience really believes it. Our show is unique because we spent the whole first season introducing characters. And last year, rather than have them act like a family, we spent the time to make Tandy earn his spot, and we spent the time to navigate the weirdness of Todd/Gail/Melissa. For me, they really got solidified as a family when Phil died.
There’s a lot going on in this episode. Did any of these plots—like the photo one, for instance—happen to be longer originally? Were plots getting pushed together in this one?
KIRA KALUSH: This episode is definitely a doozey. What makes it both wonderful and difficult is that it’s setting up storylines that lead us to the midseason finale and even into the second half of the season. Every story is important so it was tough to whittle everything down. We actually had a whole arc for Lewis and Erica that ended up getting cut.
ANDY BOBROW: It was about Lewis and Erica bonding over the flight simulator. She gets caught up in the idea of one day going back to Australia. I’ll admit, this show isn’t well suited for C stories. We typically take our sweet time watching Tandy scheme and overthink everything. In this one, we wanted to do the double disappearance story, which took a fair amount of plotting, and then we also wanted to start Lewis on this flight thing, which is very important for upcoming stories. The Erica piece of that was good color, but not as crucial, unfortunately.
Lewis trying to teach himself how to fly is some significant stuff. It’s nice to see someone actually using this time to better themselves in some way.
KIRA KALUSH: Thank God for sensible Lewis! He’s the only one who is smart enough to do something useful and has the drive to do it. Although, if I were stuck in a house with Tandy I’d probably try to find a way to get away from him too.
The disappearance of either Gail or Melissa on their own would make for a big cliffhanger. Why double down on this and have them both up in the air?
KIRA KALUSH: Well, I think it’s safe to say this is a show that likes to double down on almost everything. (Example: Melissa proposes to Todd/Phil 2 gets sick, Mike has the virus/some scary dudes show up, or just look at Tandy’s facial hair at any point in the show.) Beyond that, as I mentioned before, we’re putting a lot of pieces into play in preparation for some exciting and dramatic episodes.
ANDY BOBROW: Kira’s lying. The reason we doubled down was because we’re friggin’ idiots. Seriously, I think the only rational way to do those two stories would have been one at a time. Do a Gail elevator arc, and then do a Melissa missing arc. We were like, “What would a smart person do? Let’s do the opposite.”
The Last Man on Earth Season 3 Episode 8 “Whitney Houston, We Have a Problem”
“The group sets off to find Melissa when they find a note she left saying ‘Goodbye’. In the meantime, Gail has her own adventure.”
Written by Tim McAuliffe & David Noel; Directed by David Noel
It’s surely just a coincidence, but I’m loving the now-running joke of the sound of gunfire being foiled by unfortunate timing.
ANDY BOBROW: Not a coincidence! We do a lot of things by accident but that is not one of them.
This nonsense going on with Tandy’s dinosaur suit is so ridiculous. What’s the story there?
ANDY BOBROW: We had seen it on YouTube. A Japanese show had a hidden camera gag where a dinosaur was walking through an office building scaring the crap out of people. We were looking for some wish-fulfillment stuff, something physical for Tandy to do. In an episode where the main activity needed to be a lengthy search, we needed Tandy to search in a weird way. We showed the YouTube to Will and he was way into it. There was a brief discussion with our producer as to whether we should buy the dinosaur or rent it. Our default response is always: “Well, we’re probably gonna want to destroy it at some point.” So we own this thing now.
There’s a very interesting structure to this episode where ostensibly nothing happens. You’ve done a few episodes at this point about trying to find someone. Why did this one seem to be more about not getting anything done?
ANDY BOBROW: I suppose you could say we’re attracted to the futility of their existence. That’s certainly part of it. But there’s also just the sort of mathematical storytelling reason, which is that we really liked the idea of building the fourth act around the mislead. They think they’re on the trail of Melissa, but the audience knows they’re on the trail of Gail, and that gives us this bit ending. It’s possible some people will say it was too slow until that point. The Todd/Carol story is the main thing driving the first three acts, and that was necessarily a story about two people arguing about how to do something. So it’s tricky to tell stories like that, and hopefully it wasn’t a negative for people.
There’s a really beautiful Todd and Carol story at the core of this episode. They’re not a pair that usually get to share a storyline. Was it nice to get to play the two against each other here?
ANDY BOBROW: Yes, absolutely. The last two people who would ever have harsh words for anyone. But Mel and Kristen are both so good at playing fights in a lovable way. It’s really fun to watch them build it and especially to watch Mel blow up. I think we’re always a little worried about taking a nice character and making them angry. It has to be earned, and you worry it will stick out in a bad way. I think in Todd’s case, his anger was completely appropriate. I was watching that episode with some friends and there was a feeling of, “Yeah, Todd, preach!”
The Last Man on Earth Season 3 Episode 9 – “If You’re Happy and You Know It”
“Carol is bummed about Gail’s absence, so Tandy tries to cheer her up with the honeymoon vacation they never had. Meanwhile, Lewis finds new success with his pursuits in aviation and Melissa is contained.”
Written by Erik Durbin & Will Forte; Directed by Jason Woliner
This is the first episode that Will Forte has his name on writing since the pilot. Was it a conscious effort that he wanted to be responsible for this one, or just how writers room duties came together in the end?
ERIK DURBIN: Will came up with the elevator storyline soon after we decided the group would go to a building with power. It made sense that he write the episode that capped it off. He wanted to do it.
The honeymoon storyline very much feels up Forte’s angle.
ERIK DURBIN: The honeymoon story came about as an effort to give the episode something a little less trapped-in-a-box-y.
ANDY BOBROW: Yeah, that entered the story after the first outline I think. We had been focusing on the dramatic storylines, the Gail and Melissa stuff, and we were all very excited about the power of those. But we knew we would need something to balance it out. When we pitched the dramatic stories to Fox, those guys have been great about letting the show have its dark moments. But when they heard the drama stuff, they were like “but what’s gonna be funny in this episode?” We were like, “What? A ton of shit! Duh! Of course, we would you even ask that?” But we hadn’t figured that out yet ourselves. Our first version of the honeymoon story was Tandy building other countries on their empty floors and taking Carol all around. It felt a little familiar, maybe because we had already done Tandy building a house on a floor.
When you got Gail in that elevator, did you know what the conclusion would be there?
ERIK DURBIN: Yes, that was always the plan.
ANDY BOBROW: Some things, Will gets an image in his head and it does not waiver. That final moment was in his head and I don’t think we ever considered anything else. We were scared of it, that’s for sure. But as writers, you rarely get a chance to do stuff that scares you, so we kind of had to go for it.
It’s a really impossible situation and you guys have been really great about not cheating your way out of things. Was that an important factor here, too?
ERIK DURBIN: Yeah, there’s always the desire to be honest about how heavy their situation is. Tandy acts like a complete buffoon, but it’s a way of coping with the harsh realities of their world. It’s important not to cut corners on that stuff.
I would have bought that Roomba solution. You set the device up in earlier episodes and I could believe it reaching someone eventually, for what it’s worth.
ERIK DURBIN: I’m glad you bought it! Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to say the word “Roomba,” but that gave Gail a chance to get creative with her descriptions of the thing.
Was there was any actual danger of Melissa jumping off the roof, or was she just collecting her thoughts up there?
ERIK DURBIN: Who knows, really, but I don’t think there was danger of her jumping. I think she was just doing some absentminded climbing (as she’s been wont to do) and didn’t really consider the potential consequences.
ANDY BOBROW: We had her up in a tree at Cher’s house, and then we kind of decided she liked high places. She got up on those hay bales in the road trip episode, and then the roof. So it’s a little Easter egg. The crazier she gets, the higher she gets.
It’s pretty poignant for Tandy and Carol to be having a funeral for Fish Gail as the real one gives up on being found. Especially when Fish Gail finds a second life.
ERIK DURBIN: Glad you liked that. We had wanted them to eat Gail the fish then bury the fish skeleton, but it felt too dark at the table read.
Last season of the show had a “Fall Finale” as well. At this point in the series, do you think about this sort of thing while in the writing stage? Did you block this season out as two halves or have a specific cliffhanger in mind for this moment? Or do those touches come later?
ERIK DURBIN: Yeah, we think of the season in two halves.
ANDY BOBROW: When we started to write last season, Fox had told us their air plan, that we would be off the air for a couple months after Christmas. So we took advantage of that by doing the fall finale. We knew people would view the Christmas episode as a finale of sorts no matter what. And for marketing, it made sense to do a big cliff-hanger, to hopefully get people talking about the show during the two months we were off. The famous example was “Who shot JR?” which kept the whole country talking about Dallas for an entire summer. We didn’t get national buzz with any of our cliffhangers, but that’s only because there is a Russian conspiracy to keep our ratings low. That’s really the only way to understand any of this.
Similarly, when starting out the season, how much of this climax had you figured out?
ERIK DURBIN: None.
ANDY BOBROW: Zip. Nada. I mean, we knew we wanted a climax. Does that count as having a climax? (If so, I’ve had several today, boom). But to clarify, when we started writing the season, we had nothing. But I think by the time we started shooting the season, we had a few possibilities. It was probably around the time we were shooting episode 303 when we decided on episode 309.
Our walkthrough on Last Man on Earth’s third season will continue when the season resumes!