Editor’s note: The Fourth Wall is knocking down barriers between entertainment industry talent and the audience. This recurring feature 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 second season of Fox’s hit comedy, The Last Man on Earth.
This part of the walkthrough looks at episodes 15 and 16 from Last Man on Earth’s second season.
Note: This interview has been edited for brevity.
The Last Man on Earth Season 2 Episode 15: “The Fourth Finger”
“With little else to do, Tandy starts a prank war within the group. Meanwhile Todd establishes his dominance.”
Written by: Erik Durbin; Directed by: Jason Woliner
DEN OF GEEK: We get back to Tandy losing his beard in this episode. It was also recently announced that Forte will be playing Douglas Kenney in David Wain’s National Lampoon biopic. Did this have anything to do with the decision to lose it? Or was it Forte just wanting to mix things up?
ERIK DURBIN: Will came up with the idea to shave half his head very early on in season 2. And the decision was based solely on how dumb he would look — there were no other personal or professional considerations.
Were both Will and Mel gung ho for this gag, or…
ERIK DURBIN: They were both gung ho. There was a lot of anticipatory laughing.
ANDY BOBROW: I think at one point Kristen floated the idea of her doing it too. I’m not sure how serious she was. We should have pushed it.
I also saw that a bunch of crew members donned the same haircut out of solidarity. That’s really kind of incredible. You’ve got these guys drinking the cricket Kool-Aid pretty hard!
ERIK DURBIN: One of those crew members, Bert Smith, had been growing dreadlocks for about 20 years. Forte was the only one who shaved the eyebrow, chest, pubes and leg, though.
The pranks that you depict are all fantastic, but were there any others considered that you wanted to pull of?
ERIK DURBIN: We talked about Tandy falling into a pit when he walked into Mike’s house — instead of running into the big water bottles. We would have needed an elevated set for Will to fall off of and a pit for him to fall into and that was not in the budget.
All of this sibling feuding stuff between Tandy and Mike feels really natural. It’s nice to see them get to be real with each other too, as the episode shifts in tone towards the end.
ERIK DURBIN: We talked about postponing their reconciliation until the next episode, but ultimately it felt natural to wrap it up there.
ANDY BOBROW: Yeah, I remember we were a bit nervous about what the game would be with these two characters if they’re not fighting. It seemed natural that they would behave like warring siblings, pranking each other and competing and resenting each other. I think we were kind of worried that if they don’t fight, who are they? Brothers who get along are not so great for comedy. But it’s one of those things – when you’re writing a story about a prank war, you kind of have to resolve it somehow. So we bit the bullet and had them make up. Later when Will pitched Falling Slowly as the symbol of their new relationship, it was obvious they would be just as funny liking each other as they were pranking each other.
Who’s voicing Tandy and Mike’s mother in that snippet? I saw Patti Forte’s name in the credits, and I know how personal Will likes to make this show…
ERIK DURBIN: Yes, that’s Will’s mom. She also played Tandy and Mike’s mom in the pilot episode of the show. It was a flashback and she didn’t have any lines. This time she has lines but you can’t see her. You only get to experience Patti Forte using one of the five senses at a time.
Todd’s behavior is a little troubling here. In a situation like this he really shouldn’t be having favorites, like he tells Melissa. What’s your thought process on how he’s doing with this arrangement? You want to see him succeed but he’s clearly messing it up.
ERIK DURBIN: It’s definitely tricky to shift the paradigm of how sexual relationships are structured in the modern world, but if anyone can pull it off it’s probably Todd. I say that because Todd’s intentions are pure and good-hearted. For the most part, anyway.
ANDY BOBROW: We went through a weird process. Here we had decided to do the bold thing and have these characters in a three-way relationship. And we were very proud of ourselves. And then we kind of hit a wall trying to figure out how to exploit it. What’s our funny angle on it? We wrote some scenes about the scheduling. Just the women negotiating over who gets him when. And those felt a bit expected. And so we thought okay, maybe Todd’s exhaustion is the angle. But we realized we had basically already told that in the fertility test episode. And then it was, “Okay, what if the women are getting all their needs met and they’re happy, but Todd is feeling like a piece of meat.” And that was kind of promising, but felt just a little trite.
I remember a moment when we were kind of laughing at ourselves, like, “Well we all licked our chops at the prospect of this fun three-way, and now here we are, and where the hell is the fun? We’re not finding it.” Will broke the spell when he pitched Todd over-sharing. Just taking the concept of openness way too far. It was a great bit and of course Mel was great doing it.
The Last Man on Earth Season 2 Episode 16: “Falling Slowly”
“Todd has a lot to think about when Tandy and Carol ask a major favor of him. Meanwhile, Gail’s wine consumption has become an issue.”
Written by: David Noel & John Solomon; Directed by: David Noel
DEN OF GEEK: So why “Falling Slowly”? A lot of Once Heads in the writers room? Was anything else on the table?
I know you keep wishing we had lots of alts to share, but once again, this was one that Will pitched as-is. I think this was a bit that he and Jason had done for fun when they were working at SNL. The timing would have been right. I think that movie came out when they were there together. And they do love to sing. So no, there were no other alts. Will said, “Jason and I want to sing Falling Slowly,” and we were like, “Cool, so can we go home?”
I was very excited to see that Tandy’s new look seems to be sticking through the end of the season rather than being a one-off thing. You guys have somehow managed to top the beard.
Once again, all Will. Someone was asking me about Will, asking did he really walk around like that in public for months? They were saying it was so brave of him. And I told them for a guy like Will, his bread-and-butter is being the guy who will commit 100% to a joke. That’s his core identity. And the scary thing for him would be to do it with a fake beard or a bald wig. I think that would have been much harder for him because it would have eaten away at his soul.
All of the relationships on this show have gotten pretty incestuous at this point with the plot of someone other than Tandy impregnating Carol only blurring the lines even further. You had said that the topic of pregnancy itself drew a real division line in the writers’ room. How did this topic agree with the room?
By the time we got to this story, all of our internal pregnancy concerns had really been resolved. Because we had gone much further in the Tandy/Carol story and they had become a real couple, with a marriage based on things other than just procreation. And also, we had shown that Melissa’s not into making babies and we had gotten different points of view into the show. The kind of story no one wanted to tell anymore was one where Tandy is talking a chick into sex by using procreation as an excuse, or a story where the women are all baby robots. So this one wasn’t that. It was Carol, who has always felt a higher purpose, acting on her calling.
Melissa and Gail are kind of put through the wringer here with what they’ve had to put up with Todd. You guys had discussions about pushing Tandy too far in the first season, were there concerns about Todd’s behavior here as well?
I see the danger. Would it be a cop-out if I said we just didn’t want to get into it? I mean, certainly Gail and Melissa could have been more put off by Todd here, but then you’ve got a story where the women are disapproving, which might be a bit of a cliché. You know, the old image of ladies kind of standing there with their hands on their hips, shaking their fingers at their husbands. I mean, I’m not saying we had this whole post-feminist TED Talk in the writers’ room, but I think most of us kind of instinctively shied away from playing up their disapproval at this point in the relationship. Gail and Melissa have made up their minds about Todd, and I guess I’m just assuming that if they are getting their needs met, they’ll let him do stupid shit.
Gail has a line in this episode, “I don’t know that I like living here anymore,” that’s played for a laugh but it’s a pretty heavy beat. She especially is really being asked to put up with a lot on top of everything else that’s gone on with her.
Ha. Yes, we actually talked about having Gail and Erica bug out last year, but that’s a little too real for me. I mean a lot of comedy depends upon someone sticking around in a situation where a normal person would leave. And in this scene, even though Gail has been through a lot, she’s not going anywhere.
So a drone shows up at the end of this one! Let’s talk about that.
Let’s do! We had an idea last year that an airplane just passes by overhead, but we never pulled the trigger on it. We’ve always been tempted by this sort of thing. Knowing there’s someone alive, but you can’t tell if they’re friendly or not. I mean, we are cautious about doing Walking Dead kind of stories, but this was a nice mysterious thing we knew we could have fun with. Also, Emily Spivey started adlibbing Gail attempting to describe a drone and we couldn’t stop laughing.
The military and/or government feel like a natural extension of this sort of story, too. Was this a dimension that you guys were eager to dig into?
Like I said, we’re nervous about doing mystery stuff or sci-fi stuff because we’re not Walking Dead. We’re committed to telling our version of the end of the world, which is petty, flawed people being petty and flawed. And all the drama is human-sized. Also, we’re pretty nervous about the LOST problem, which is if you introduce a bigger mystery, the clock starts ticking on how long before you really have to solve it. Shows get stuck in quicksand trying to sustain a big mystery like that.
Do you like when your show extends its boundaries and pushes the larger story forward in some way? Or are you happy focusing on the core that you’ve already built?
I think we’ve settled into our pace, which is nice and slow. We linger in small moments and petty desires. So I think the big things we do are always going to be in service of those little human stories. Even Mike splashing down from space quickly turned into a story about a lonely guy on a boat who wanted a tennis partner. So I guess I’m saying we get as excited as anyone about drones and government conspiracies, but we’ll probably always bring it back to the dummies on the ground hiding bacon. Do not hold me to this, though. We’ll turn on a dime and introduce Martians if it’s funny.
Our walkthrough on the second half of Last Man on Earth’s second season concludes on Monday. Read the previous entries here.