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 14 and 15 from Last Man on Earth’s third season. Previous installments of this walkthrough can be found here.
The Last Man on Earth Episode 14 – “Point Person Knows Best”
“Tandy tries to take charge of a new situation that has unfolded in the group, and Carol is suspicious of Todd’s behavior.”
Written by Jeff Vanderkruik; Directed by Maggie Carrey
DEN OF GEEK: So some very big things go down in this episode, namely the introduction of “Jasper.” That’s a pretty huge decision to make and one that must have been brewing for a while now. What was the process on this?
ANDY BOBROW: The first discussion we had about a kid was back in season one. We actually broke a whole story and wrote a full outline. It was going to be the episode after Tandy found Gail and Erica, and everyone hated him for hitting on them. The story was that Tandy goes off on his own to Vegas because no one wants him around. He gets to a casino and fires up the slots and video poker machines with a generator. We had a bit where he actually starts talking to the video poker dealer, who is just a pre-taped hot lady who has canned responses. Anyway, wandering around the casino, he finds this kid who has been living in Vegas alone. He smokes and drives and does what he wants. A feral kid in a casino. And he doesn’t talk, but he messes with Tandy and keeps throwing shit at him. But Tandy sees him as a way back into the group. A prize to be bargained with. So finally Tandy traps him and takes him home, hoping it will prove what a decent kind parental responsible man he is.
So we had that story and we decided to kill it for the very reason you mentioned. Once you have a kid, it does change things, and there’s no going back. Plus it kind of makes the romantic or sexual storylines a lot creepier. We had romance stuff we knew was coming, with Phil 2 and stuff like that, so we said no to Jasper that time around. Now, two years later, it felt like a much better time to bring him in.
JEFF VANDERKRUIK: I wasn’t around during season one, so the whole story and idea of a child was new to me. It seemed fun to have Tandy, a child in an adults body, go to such measure to connect with a child, and then give it some heart when his lack of success makes him questions his aptitude as a soon-to-be-father.
Throwing a child into the mix also feels like the sort of suggestion that the network could give you guys as a means of mixing things up. Three seasons in, have they still been pretty hands off, or have they become more involved now that the show is more a part of the network?
ANDY BOBROW: Fox and 20th TV have been incredibly supportive from the start, but I’d have to say the more tense creative discussions are well behind us. Early on, we had a lot more discussions about the direction. You could call them fights, but not really because it never got angry. This is a show that didn’t have any model or precursor, and no one could say, “this is like Friends but with a virus,” or “this is like X plus Y.” So the discussions we used to have were about confidence. Will this work? How will it work? We’d feel so much better about this if it worked more like this other thing. And now, three years in, they are much less skeptical.
Dave Madden, the president of the network, got on the phone with us at the beginning of the year and said, basically, “You guys haven’t let us down, so keep doing your thing.” He didn’t say exactly that, so don’t quote me on it. But the gist of it was really great and comforting I think. Basically, Fox knows, like all good producers, that a piece of entertainment touches people when it has a singular vision. In our case, the vision comes from a bizarre genius whose biggest asset is his ability to surprise people. And that man is Jeff Vanderkruik. Sorry, no, that’s Forte.
If nothing else, having Will bounce off of this laconic child is a pretty great new dynamic to get to watch.
JEFF VANDERKRUIK: It was fun seeing how things that are sort of emblems of the show (Gary the volleyball, the margarita pool) were adapted and presented for a child. Tandy gets excited about each thing, only to find out that Jasper is preoccupied with smoking.
Adding kids to shows has been done in so many ways, that I wouldn’t be surprised if you never have Jasper talk. I guess it’s inevitable, but I could see you guys going with such a bold move. Were there discussions about how to make this feel “different”?
ANDY BOBROW: I know there is a danger that a show will fall into the “precocious smart-talkin’ kid” trope. The name “Cousin Oliver” came up in the room (that’s an old reference, look it up Millennials). And no one wants to fall into that trap. Maybe subconsciously that’s one reason why we’re not having him talk. Keith Williams is really talented, and he’s doing a ton without saying anything, so it’s definitely a relationship, whether he talks or not. And I don’t want to spoil any of our upcoming plans for Jasper, but I want to assure everyone, we’re not making him a joke device. We’re playing Jasper real. He’s a kid who’s been through a lot. He’s damaged like the rest of them.
Melissa looks really rough this week. I know that her being medicated is meant to get her to a better place, but she is consenting to this, right?
ANDY BOBROW: Oh God, that’s a scary question. Let’s say she really does want to get better, how about that?
JEFF VANDERKRUIK: Seeing “tar-y stools” buried in a list of very real symptoms was a real gift.
Is Jasper choosing Erica meant to act as a nice sort of trial run for her eventual shift into motherhood (even if we never end up getting to that birth)?
ANDY BOBROW: They look so cute together, don’t they?
JEFF VANDERKRUIK: We also tried to set that up earlier – Erica is the one who presents him with the pizza in the beginning, he takes his mask off for her, she is the one who most consistently voices her concerns about Tandy being Jasper’s “point person.” And yes, they’re super cute together.
You guys are goddamn masochists by the way. Lewis, then three episodes later, Gary. Was he originally supposed to shoot himself in an elevator this season, too?
ANDY BOBROW: No, originally Gary was supposed to get appendicitis and die that way.
JEFF VANDERKRUIK: You can find that ending in the special features. It’s long and slow and sad. I loved it.
The Last Man on Earth Episode 15 – “Name 20 Picnics…Now!”
“The gang throws a huge celebration canvassing every major holiday, but Tandy and Todd’s bro-mance hits a rough patch that threatens to end the fun.”
Written by Matt Marshall; Directed by David Noel
Now this episode is just a lot of fun. We’ve talked about holidays on this show in the past, with this feeling like a nice extension to episodes like “Secret Santa.” Were holidays something you wanted to return to here?
MATT MARSHALL: Everyone loved the “Secret Santa” episode. It gave Carol a chance to be in her element. So when this idea came up, of course you’d expect Carol to just go way over the top with the idea of an all-holiday party for Jasper.
ANDY BOBROW: Yeah, “Secret Santa” was a double-edged sword, in that it proved how fun a holiday episode can be, but on the flip side, we knew if we just did “Carol’s Halloween” or something, it would be too derivative. The idea of doing all holidays together seemed different enough, and it passed the test of “things we can justify that would be harder for other shows to justify.” I know that’s a very bad name for a test. I know that now.
What’s the one production detail in that holiday explosion that nobody is going to notice?
MATT MARSHALL: Our production design crew just kicked ass on that. They incorporated more things than we could ever imagine. There was a cigar store Indian statue holding a painting of Christopher Columbus that I found funny and dark at the same time. Not sure if many people picked up on that.
ANDY BOBROW: There’s a great little joke stuck in the Christmas section. Each character has their own stocking. The one for Phil 2 has his name crossed out and Jasper written in. Like they just went “fuck it, it’s a perfectly good stocking.” I love that idea. Our only instruction was “Carol does all holidays in one.” And all the sight gags and jokes in there were dreamt up by Erin Boyd and Zachary Kramer, our set dec department, who are amazing.
This time around, we gave them as much warning as we could. We told them way in advance: “Remember Christmas? We’re doing an all-holidays holiday. Just go out and get shit because it’s coming.” They are amazing.
The introduction of Jasper allows you to return to old ideas in a new context. He’s a nice filter to experience things through.
ANDY BOBROW: That was our hope. Like we discussed before, there’s a fear that when you put a cute kid into the show, it’s a potential shark jump. Hopefully our fans will see that we’re not using Jasper to make wisecracks. It’s incredibly poignant that he lost his family at such a young age.
I appreciated that this episode actually gets into Carol’s psychology and that she might not actually be pregnant. This is something that’s definitely been hinted at this season and her sort of spiraling out accordingly…
MATT MARSHALL: Being pregnant is scary enough. Being pregnant in a world with no doctors or nurses is even scarier. And without proper medical knowledge and technology, it seemed like a natural worry for Carol to have. And it’s another reminder that despite all the fun things about this new world, it can get really scary too.
ANDY BOBROW: Yes, and it’s frankly also our way of hanging a light on the fact that the pregnancies haven’t really started to show yet. We’re in a weird position because in the timeline of our show, they’re still in the first trimester, but to the audience, they’ve been pregnant forever. This was a good way to address it.
Todd and Tandy are both bringing up decent points in this episode, but ultimately going too far with them. Do you side with either of them in particular during their rift?
MATT MARSHALL: They’re both right and both wrong to a certain extent. It was one of those things where the audience gets to decide whose side they’re on. They’ve been such good pals and have had each other’s backs through a lot this season. Felt like a good opportunity to have them get into a fight. And a drunk Todd is just good television. Mel is so great in this episode.
ANDY BOBROW: I’ll echo that, man. Playing drunk is a really hard thing. I only know that because I’ve seen some incredibly gifted actors choke on the drunk thing. It’s just incredibly hard to get to a believable level and stay in it. Mel Rodriguez, I honestly have not seen anyone do it better or funnier.
Why did it seem right that Jasper and Melissa would end up healing each other?
ANDY BOBROW: There were a couple times this year when I saw what January was doing and I saw a little boy in her performance. Like, when she was being lost and vulnerable, wearing that Shawshank getup, and the way she talks to Todd when she’s shooting the office chairs, I swear January was channeling her own son in those scenes. He’s around five I think. So Melissa and Jasper giggling in that car, they’re the same age.
I was going to joke that that shooting star was actually more Mike Miller space debris plummeting to earth, and look at that…Was that Tandy’s house that blew up? Was the implication that everyone would have died if they hadn’t kept moving?
MATT MARSHALL: It crashed into an outlet mall. It’s one of those Last Man On Earth type things where something appears magical but when you take a closer look and pull back the curtain, it’s just a reminder that in this new world, something dangerous could be right around the corner.
Our walkthrough on Last Man on Earth’s third season continues every two weeks!