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 17 and 18 from Last Man on Earth’s second season.
Note: This interview has been edited for brevity.
The Last Man on Earth Season 2 Episode 17: “Smart and Stupid”
“Todd feels left out, as Tandy warms to having his big brother back on Earth. Meanwhile, Mike learns more about Erica than the group has ever uncovered about her.”
Written by: Emily Spivey; Directed by: Payman Benz
DEN OF GEEK: This episode gets into some glorious Erica backstory. Was this something you wanted to flesh out for a while now?
EMILY SPIVEY: Yes! Absolutely. We always wanted to spring a rich backstory for Erica when the time was right. And when we finally got the chance we had a blast imagining her pre-virus journey.
ANDY BOBROW: This was an issue going back to the day Gail and Erica joined the story. Phil asks about themselves, and in early drafts, we had written much longer versions of their backstories. But those kinds of scenes are trouble, especially in a 21-minute show. People talking about their pasts for more than one sentence can be a real slow-down. You mostly care about what’s happening now, not what happened before. So we just gave them the shortest version of what you might actually say when meeting a stranger, which is very little. Especially in this new world. Typically when someone asks you about yourself, you say what you do for work. And that’s not relevant anymore, unless you’re a Navy Seal or a doctor.
When you have as few characters as you do and people’s histories are kind of secrets, you can get away with Erica being something like a bank robbing con artist. She’s literally the most interesting person alive. It’s easily the most fun that she’s ever been.
EMILY SPIVEY: Thanks!
ANDY BOBROW: In many ways, this scene was us making fun of ourselves for keeping Erica thin for so long. But it’s also our comment on the new reality. For most people, your backstory contains information about how you function in this huge machine. Where you’ve placed yourself in the world. It’s like, “what if Erica has the coolest, richest backstory, involving these huge institutions like banks and the legal system and international diplomacy, and yet it seriously doesn’t matter anymore?”
Was the pairing of Mike and Erica something that was planned out or more so just feeding off of the chemistry that Jason Sudeikis and Cleopatra Coleman share?
EMILY SPIVEY: We liked the idea of Erica and Mike falling for each other right before he becomes ill. We thought it was a poignant post-apocalyptic love story.
Why decide to have Carol get pregnant in the end, especially with another baby happening and spending all that time on Tandy’s infertility. It almost plays like a trial Tandy has to go through with Mike and once he’s done he’s rewarded with the pregnancy.
EMILY SPIVEY: Exactly.
ANDY BOBROW: Yes, especially if you believe that God is a character on this show. Or if you don’t want to call it God, just call it The Big Irony. It doles out rewards and punishments, sometimes logically, sometimes not. But I mean, whether it’s Tandy’s reward or not, it’s just plain cool to see the look on his face.
The journey that Todd has been on is definitely a transformative one. It feels like he’s about to snap at any minute now. The idea of one of these few people being really damaged and displaying real issues is fascinating in this sort of situation.
ANDY BOBROW: It just started happening naturally. We had Gail drinking and shagging that doll, and we had Melissa eating sequins, and of course Tandy talking to balls. And even though we were just looking for funny stuff, there was an emotional truth to it. When we saw someone come unhinged on camera, we could see that it just made sense in this world. So yeah, it’s Todd’s turn to go down the rabbit hole here.
Similarly, Gail’s baggage gets unpacked this episode a little with her trying to sober up. It’s a nice moment for the character since drinking has defined a lot of her personality. Do you look for these larger character beats as you close out a season?
EMILY SPIVEY: 100 percent. We are trying to get closure on issues for both the viewer’s sake and our sake. We had been talking about dealing with Gail’s drinking head on for a while. And then it dove tailed nicely into Gail seeing the drone and no one believing her.
Mike leaving, whether he’s dying or just self-exiling himself is just devastating. I get it for contractual reasons, and you come up with the most valid reason for him to have to leave, which is a huge deal. Was this trajectory for Mike always the plan since Sudeikis was on board? Did you try to work out a deal where he sticks around? Did you think about what that version of the show would have looked like?
ANDY BOBROW: The contract side and the creative side really went hand-in-hand. We knew we couldn’t make a multi-year deal with Jason, but I don’t want anyone thinking we lost Mike strictly because of that. From the start of the season, we all felt it would be a great arc if Mike came back down and spent time there, fucked with Tandy, maybe fell in love and then left for some reason. We did talk about other ways to remove him from the story without the virus. We talked about him leaving to go look for survivors, or flying to Australia with Erica like he mentioned. At one point, we talked about Mike taking everyone away in an airplane, leaving Tandy alone. But ultimately the decision to get him sick was a creative one, not a business one. It’s just so incredibly powerful and it illuminated everyone’s heart in the best way possible.
I absolutely love the moments where they talk about the virus returning, and you get to see them freak out immediately. Just shut down any feelings for Mike and get fucking serious. Now, I don’t want to promise anything, but he does not die on camera. Just saying. (Don’t read anything into this. We have not had any discussions about Season 3 yet. We’re all enjoying a hard-earned hiatus.)
The Last Man on Earth Season 2 Episode 18: “30 Years of Science Down the Tubes”
“Tandy and Mike grow closer than ever and the whole Malibu group gets a big friggin’ surprise.”
Written by: Edward Voccola & Maxwell R. Kessler; Directed by: John Solomon
DEN OF GEEK: Edward Voccola & Maxwell R. Kessler are credited with this episode, who are two new names to pop up in the writing staff. This is another situation where you’ve taken some assistants, or in this case writers PAs, and given them an opportunity. It’s really great.
MAXWELL KESSLER: Pfff. I didn’t cry when we were offered the script. No way.
ED VOCCOLA: It was the absolute coolest text to get, but our other jobs didn’t stop, so I’m surprised Max found the time to (not) cry. Block out times to cry like the rest of us, dude. When watching animated movies.
ANDY BOBROW: This is a deliberate strategy on my part. I am purposely creating a generation of young writers who will owe me a job when I’m old and irrelevant, which will be in about two years.
The DeLorean as Tandy’s vehicle is a perfect background detail. You guys can take something as simple as a car and turn it into this amazing visual gag that’s so purely you.
ANDY BOBROW: We have a steady drumbeat here of people saying “But what’s the wish fulfillment thing? We need more wish fulfillment.” It was such a big part of the pilot – the car bowling and the artwork and all the shit you can only do in an empty world. Viewers loved it and certainly the network and studio jumped on that right away. So we are always looking for DeLoreans.
Couldn’t be happier that Yorbalinda and Bezequeel come up again and that one of these names could actually be used for Tandy and Carol’s child.
ANDY BOBROW: What, you thought Carol Pilbasian would walk away from that like it’s some kind of joke? This is Carol Fucking Pilbasian.
That’s pretty fast for Gail’s sobriety, huh? She’s given cause to drink, and an addict’s first inclination would be to go back to the bottle in this situation, but why the thought of pre-empting this sort of development for her?
MAXWELL KESSLER: Gail’s not the type of person who would selfishly put herself before others – which is to say, if her drinking was causing obvious and egregious harm to others, she would make an effort to stop. We saw that in previous episodes, where she stopped for much less severe reasons, like when seeing the drone.
However, as soon as she finds out that she wasn’t hallucinating due to her drinking, she arrives back at ‘well, why the hell shouldn’t I be drinking?’ once more. And honestly – we don’t surround her with reasons sobriety would seem appealing. Her lovers keep dying, Todd can only be around part time, Tandy drives everyone crazy, Carol’s weird, and there’s so little to do… she’s got to pass the time somehow.
You could really do some interesting things creatively if in the chaos of what happens next season if Melissa is stuck in the stocks during this invasion. Especially since she’s their only shot.
MAXWELL KESSLER: Well, sure. If she didn’t use her “powers” to magically get out of the stocks, that’d be great. But we just can’t go back on the characteristics we’ve established for our characters.
ED VOCCOLA: Putting her in the stocks for this moment was a long discussion. We went through some really fun versions of who will be where when these new people show up with guns. Some were flip jokey, others required drawing maps on a white board, but ultimately it was all in service of getting Season 3 off to a good start.
That’s a really powerful ending that you guys pull off. When you first introduced Pat O’Brien in “Pitch Black” was it always the intention to have him play a larger role and come back at the end of the season in this way?
MAXWELL KESSLER: Truth is we’ve set out intending to do a lot of things. Some of them worked out, and some of them didn’t. Usually something doesn’t work out because it’s boring. And then occasionally, something we didn’t give much attention to ends up being totally fascinating. Or funny.
I don’t remember what we originally intended with Pat, but I do remember us watching cuts of 211 and really liking how it turned out (he was also great hanging out on set). So we either patted ourselves on the back for having such amazing foresight, or we collectively thought, Well, that’s interesting… and decided to dig deeper into Pat’s story. Which is how we do a great deal of story breaking on this show.
Either way, Mark Boone Jr. — killer beard, am I right?
Most importantly, does the return of Pat also mean the return of Phil the worm?
ED VOCCOLA: We have no reason to believe that Pat would be a bad worm owner, and the worm is proof of him meeting Mike. So, there’s a good chance he’ll make another appearance.
Was there anything in this season of the show that you were hoping to get to but couldn’t?
ED VOCCOLA: There were things that we were excited about as a room that may be getting pushed to next season. So I won’t name any specifics. But Gordon joining the cast and dying right away was a version of a season one idea that ended up becoming Will Ferrell’s cameo in season two. So I hope to see some stuff carry over and be used in season three.
What are you most looking forward to about next season, and how the makeup of the show has changed once again?
MAXWELL KESSLER: I’m really excited to get paychecks again. I’m really hoping the show’s new dynamic won’t affect that.
Also, as I mentioned, getting to spend time with Mark Boone Jr.’s beard is very exciting.
And I suppose watching how our small collection of idiots in Malibu responds to an actual threat of violence (i.e., non-Tandy related threats) is, you know, cool or whatever.
ED VOCCOLA: Thinking up more stuff you can’t do on any other show. I get excited about that, and I think people watching get excited when we do more stuff like that.
The full walkthrough of Last Man on Earth’s second season is readable here.
Last Man on Earth will return in the Fall on FOX with its third season.