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 episode 11 from Last Man on Earth’s third season. You can find previous installments here.
The Last Man on Earth Season 3 Episode 11 – “The Spirit of St. Lewis”
“After being locked up for her own safety, Melissa plays hurtful mind games with the group. Meanwhile, Todd and the group explore medications that might help her, and Lewis goes on a new solo adventure.”
Written by Liz Cackowski & John Solomon; Directed by John Solomon
DEN OF GEEK: A good chunk of this episode is concerned about trying to diagnose Melissa, while also hinting at the larger medical scares that lie ahead. Was the intention here to really figure out what’s going on with Melissa, or reinforce those other upcoming dangers?
ERIK DURBIN, Executive Producer: Yeah, it’s easy to forget about the two pregnant women when they don’t have baby bumps to remind everyone that they’re pregnant. This was a good opportunity to talk about health care in a world without doctors.
ANDY BOBROW, Executive Producer: I guess it started with Melissa, but it dovetails so well with the pregnancies, that part was a no-brainer. You know, we really wanted to push this Melissa thing to scary places. At the beginning of the season, we talked about Melissa and January, specifically about how great January was when she was biting those jewels off that boot last year. We wanted way more of “Unhinged Melissa” because it was so fun to watch. At the same time, we know comedies use “crazy” in a really irresponsible way. What happens when you’re laughing at a typical sitcom-crazy character is you’re willfully ignoring the reality of a heartbreaking illness. What would happen if someone went up to Reverend Jim from Taxi and said “We’re seriously concerned for you. You are losing touch with reality. It’s not cute, it’s scaring us.”
And this being the show that pulls rugs, we just thought let’s have Melissa be funny crazy and then let’s keep going with it. Have her become scary crazy, and then heartbreakingly crazy. And then we were really in our wheelhouse, because all our humor and pathos more or less come from one basic schtick: a dummy with a problem that requires a smart person. Tandy with that bag of pills is funny when you watch it and sad when you think about it.
Goddamn! You guys are stone cold brutal with Lewis! Talk on that a little. Was his stay always meant to be a limited one? Was the plane stuff set up purely to take him out later?
ANDY BOBROW: This one was hard for all of us. When we mapped out the season, the thought was to bring on a new character for a half season and then lose him somehow at the mid-season break. So that was always the plan, and our initial thought was Lewis would come in, have an arc, get into everyone’s lives, and then get stuck in an elevator and possibly die there. That’s how we pitched the role to Kenny Choi. As soon as he got there, we changed our minds, which had nothing to do with Kenny, but we realized it would be way more impactful if the elevator thing happened to Gail. So we went to Kenny and said, “okay, well, you’re not dying in an elevator, but we’re not sure what the plan is for Lewis yet,” and he was very cool about it and he was up for anything. We came up with the plane thing a while ago and it felt like a great thing for Lewis to do. Lewis the professor.
So it wasn’t initially set up to be his downfall, but then when it came time to get rid or Lewis, it made sense to use the plane. Here’s what we learned: When you’re just meeting an actor, it’s very easy to say, “Hey, welcome aboard, we’re gonna have some fun and then we’re gonna kill ya.” But it’s much harder to think that way once you’ve shot a few episodes. We loved Kenny from the start, and we were just starting to hit our stride with the character, so we had lots of discussion about changing course and keeping him in the group. But ultimately death won because death always wins and death is our currency. RIP Lewis. We were not ready.
There’s a lot in flux with the show’s cast at the moment, between Lewis now being gone, Gail’s status being ambiguous, and Pamela out there looking to find these guys. Why this reconfiguration?
ERIK DURBIN: Will likes to say “nobody’s safe” – including himself.
ANDY BOBROW: It was not a grand plan to reconfigure the cast or anything like that. It’s more just a function of us following stories where they take us, and really wanting to spread the storylines around so every cast member gets to have big moments. Right now, the reason there are so many balls in the air is because we know it would be really bad storytelling to resolve them all at once. Each of those stories needs to be able to resolve on its own terms. We’re always attracted to the idea of things getting worse at the moment when other sitcoms would normally make things better.
Are all of these deaths building to something? Is someone else about to snap from all of this? Tandy getting pushed to the point of reaching out to God felt significant.
ANDY BOBROW: I love the God stuff. It’s always a great moment when you realize Tandy is so desperate he’ll talk to God. The tension is certainly building, and we like it.
I assume that we’ll be seeing more of the Post Virus Post?
ANDY BOBROW: Oh yeah. That cat’s out of the baggie.
So is Wiig’s Pamela going to end up seeing that rainbow design and find everyone now?
ANDY BOBROW: Possibly?
Our walkthrough on Last Man on Earth’s third season continues every two weeks!