Last Man on Earth Writers’ Room Walkthrough Part 2

Our episode-by-episode interview series of Last Man on Earth season 2 continues...

Editor’s note: The Fourth Wall looks to knock down barriers between entertainment industry talent and the audience. This platform for creators, actors, and industry insiders brings 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 the third and fourth episodes from Last Man on Earth’s second season. Click here for the previous installment.

The Last Man on Earth Season 2 Episode 3 – “Dead Man Walking”

Written by Erik Durbin ; Directed by John Solomon 

After Carol accidentally kills Gordan, a new addition to the Tuscon Crew, she and Tandy try to find a way to ease themselves back into the group; Carol fakes Tandy’s death.” 

Ad – content continues below

DEN OF GEEK: We learn that it’s 2023 in this episode. Was that debated around at all? Did you consider making it substantially earlier or later at any point?

ANDY BOBROW, Executive Producer: Gordon’s tombstone was a tiny gaffe on our part, but not completely unexplainable. In the pilot, when Phil tries to kill himself, he writes on the rock “Novemberish, 2021,” so that kind of locked us into a timeline. Season one takes place over a couple months, getting us into early 2022. We intended to imply that Tandy and Carol drove around for 6 months or so. I think it was even stated in a script at one point, but probably didn’t air. So by that logic, Gordon’s death would still be in 2022. Kind of kicking myself for that. But we could just say that Tandy and Carol were on the road for a year.

I love that when we actually hear things about Gordon, he sounds like a fairly terrible person. Are there certain rose-colored glasses being worn here just because somebody died and there are only so many people left?

Yeah, the real purpose of Gail’s speech was just to make life unfair for Tandy. To show that these people can save a spot in their hearts for a mean drunk with BO, but they still think Tandy’s the worst. We wrote some jokes into the “Secret Santa” episode where they find a box of holiday decorations in Gordon’s cellar, and at the bottom of the box there’s also a Nazi uniform. And Gail says, “He was a collector, not a fan. I think.” We’ve also talked about Gordon having a secret room filled with creep shots of Todd. But I think it’s safe to say that’s just for us.

This episode is all about death and it’s clear that even from the start of this season that the topic was going to be a large theme this year. After bringing everyone back together and what was gone through last year, did it make sense to turn to that angle now?

Maybe, maybe not. I think we’re attracted to it because it’s something other sitcoms don’t get to do. And also, we want to stay real true to the feeling of loss and alienation in this show. And there’s a danger that, if you have these funny people doing funny things together, the audience starts to forget what they’ve been through. Up until this season, all the death was just referenced in dialogue. None of it was on camera. So an on-camera death is a way to reset everyone’s clock and say this shit is affecting these people.

Ad – content continues below

I mean, that said, Gordo’s death and funeral were about as funny as death can be. Carol’s eulogy was spectacularly awkward. And it was written so much longer. And it was glorious. I wish we could make 26-minute episodes. So Gordo was played more for laughs.

Carol’s the least confrontational, intimidating person, so to have her come back and then immediately be on people’s radar is a nice new repositioning for her as well.

Yeah, that part really excited a lot of us, the idea that it could even happen to Carol. I mean, we didn’t set out to make that point specifically, but we all naturally gravitated to stories that seemed to be making that point – it could happen to anyone. And I really love it as an existential observation. Any human being who wants something has the potential to alienate another human being in pursuit of it. We’re all Tandy.

Tandy and Carol nearly leave the group and go back to Tucson in this episode. Could a show that’s these two separate groups existing on their own still work, or is this all about cohabitation?

When we had them separated in the first episode, there was some discussion of keeping them apart much longer and structuring episodes where we jump back and forth between Tandy and Carol on the road and the rest of the group back in Tucson. We thought about telling the story of how things work back in Tucson without Tandy – that maybe they initially loved it and then, in the absence of a common enemy, they started turning on each other. And I think that certainly could have worked. But I’m glad we didn’t do it that way. 

I said this a lot this season, but Tandy’s “gunpoint apology” scene is maybe Forte’s best work in the show up to this point. Can you talk about this emotional set piece at all? Was Will going off script at all, or was that all pretty close to what was on the page?

Ad – content continues below

It was very carefully scripted by Will. I’m sure we shot it as written because he’s a perfectionist. But at the same time, that’s a real strong comedic premise. That’s like a bullet. You tell any funny person the first two lines of that bit and they can riff on it. So yes, Will played with it on camera. He could have gone for hours. The rest of the cast had a hard time keeping it together.

One of my favorite things about the beginning of this season is that Tandy is trying to earn everyone’s forgiveness brings forth a really genuine, moving performance from Forte. After seeing how good he is at this empathetic, did you begin writing to it more? Tandy pretty much goes through a gauntlet of an atonement tour for the next few episodes.

Part of it was logic. We thought it should rightfully take a more than one episode for everyone to come around on Tandy. Like, in some other show, the transgression and the forgiveness both happen in 22 minutes, and that’s part of the pattern that everyone expects, but it’s also a pattern that people make fun of, and see as unrealistic. So Will really wanted Tandy to be in the dog house for longer than an episode, just to step things out and break that pattern. 

But another part of it is just the comedy angle. Tandy seeking forgiveness was a new note we could play and I think we just didn’t want to leave any aspect of it unexplored. If the stocks were the only punishment, we wouldn’t have had the fun of the shock collar. And if everyone loved him after the shock collar, we wouldn’t have had the chips.

The episode ends with the introduction of the stockades. These become pretty prominent through the season—even getting their frequent use addressed, at that—was this always the way you were planning to punish Tandy? You weren’t going to chain him to a giant rock or anything?

No fucking way. The stocks were the first and only thing that came up. It’s hard to explain why, but basically we were looking for “How does Tandy enter, after all this build-up?” And Will gets this spark and he starts acting out this gun scene, and we’re all loving this moment because we know it’s the perfect bit and there’s no doubt it’s going in the show. And what happens is the thing that happens when a room full of people are all “in” on a bit. Like not only does everyone know it’s good, but everyone knows the beginning, middle and end of it.

Ad – content continues below

That gun bit was fully formed the minute it came into existence. And by that I mean, everyone knew it had to end the way we’ve seen similar bits end in sketches and cartoons and funny things since the beginning of funny things. It had to end with a hard cut to a guy in stocks. I don’t even know where that image comes from, but it’s in our collective sub-conscious. If feels like it’s from the Three Stooges. Or Warner Brothers cartoons. Yosemite Sam maybe. Wherever it came from, it’s the universal sign for “dumbass done fucked up.”

The only discussion, and I mean the only discussion, was us looking at each other, after laughing a lot, and saying, “Wait, are we really doing stocks? It can’t be anything else, can it? I mean, why the fuck do these people have stocks?” And then, yeah, we pitched on some possible explanations and then we threw them out because once again, bo-ring. 

The Last Man on Earth Season 2 Episode 4 – “C to the T”

Written by Emily Spivey ; Directed by Oz Rodriguez and Matt Villines

 “Phil is welcomed back into the group, but he must face consequences for how he acted in Tuscon.“

This episode more than any other feels like a showcase of Forte’s physical comedy ability. Did this sort of just fall together this way, or was the episode intentionally engineered as a physical piece for Will?

It just fell together that way. I mean, the first assignment was now that he’s in the stocks, how does he get out, and how does he redeem himself? I think the main flow of logic was just realizing, okay, at some point, they have to let him out of the stocks, but would they just forgive him? Probably not. And would he screw something else up? Probably would. Will wanted the main comic engine of the story to be the way Tandy keeps offering up his own punishments and then screwing them up and then punishing himself harder to compensate.  

Ad – content continues below

The way Will thinks, he really can’t like an idea until he can picture how he’s going to play it, and how he’ll make it funny as an actor. He thinks in set pieces. So I don’t remember exactly how it came up, but we were talking in the area of punishments, and someone said shock collar.

That episode was ridiculous fun. Not terribly fun to shoot, though. It was ridiculously hot that week, and we had a ton of outdoor scenes. So when you watch Will doing all that physical stuff outdoors, keep in mind it was 100 degrees the whole time.

It feels like Phil is beginning to snap here and become fairly unhinged. His gun stuff with Phil is pretty intense. Was this an intentional move? Did you guys discuss his sanity slipping a little, or does Phil just have a blind spot towards Tandy? 

It was intense, and there was a little discussion about it, because we worried a little that maybe it was kind of abrupt. We worried if we had really earned that emotion from Phil 2. But then we realized we had established a hot streak in Phil 2, when he drags Tandy out to the desert. And when that happened, it felt good and right to us. We liked having a character who is looking at Tandy from that military/survivalist perspective, like “this guy is a dangerous liability and someone needs to have the guts to put him in his place.” So we just embraced the reality that this character is old-school male, and a bit of a cowboy, and is pissed off at Tandy for more than a couple good reasons. 

The topic of expiration dates come up here and how nearly all the preservatives have expired. These “real” moments when the severity of their situation is sinking in are my favorite. This is just the start of these things, but clearly that was another element that you guys wanted to add to the show this season?

We keep dipping our toes in it because it interests us a lot. But we also need to have this show keep playing in the realm it plays in – which is small human emotional shit, petty behavior – and we don’t want the show to become so mired in survivalist stuff that we can’t do our bread and butter relationship stories. In this case, we knew we had this cricket story coming up, so we felt like, “Oh shit, we haven’t reminded people that food could be an issue. Better get on that.” Let’s face it, we embrace the apocalypse stuff when it suits us and we ignore it when it doesn’t. But that said, when we do embrace it, we try to be consistent or at least plausible.

Ad – content continues below

Just like I lost my mind over the pathos of the “gunpoint apology” of the previous episode, the cheese scene here had me laughing the hardest I have watching this show. Will just completely commits here to looking his absolute grossest. Was it always cheese? Is there like a five-minute cut of the scene hiding out there?

That scene is actually hard for me to watch. But Will’s commitment is sublime. It was always cheese, since we established that Todd can make cheese, and we figure that’s one of the most valuable foods they’ve got (until the next episode…). I wasn’t on set for the shooting, but Emily Spivey tells me they did a ton of takes of Will chewing and re-chewing this disgusting cheese. They went through all the cheese that props brought that day, which was probably five mozzarella balls. Of course, we sent that footage directly to the Smithsonian because it is of such cultural significance. I believe they’re storing it next to the Alan Lomax folk recordings. 

The whole fire scene is beautiful in so many different ways. It’s a triumph of everything Forte’s capable of, while also being this twisted Lassie riff, and he’s silent through the whole thing! 

We were looking for some formula where he either saves them by accident, or saves them inadvertently, or hurts himself trying to pretend he saved them, or some variation of that. And then once we had the shock collar idea, and then the bark collar add-on, we pretty quickly settled on fire as the redemption catalyst. It just made sense because what we needed was an emergency that would require Tandy to exit his shock zone to solve it. So fire it was. 

Now, want a huge scoop? I have mixed feelings about revealing this to you, because it might make people sad that we didn’t end up doing it. But the story, as written, ended with a reveal that Carol had purposely set the fire to help redeem Tandy. We shot it and we cut it for time. We actually did the same thing in episode 102, when Tandy feels sympathy for Carol when he sees her limping, and then he fixes her garden. We revealed at the end of the episode that her limp was fake. The old “Keyser Soze” ending. We cut that for time too. So there is a history of Carol Pilbasian being manipulative that only us writers know about. 

We get a hint at the beginning of Todd’s bacon secret here too, although to tease such a thing feels a little gratuitous. Did you want to end with a cliffhanger? Was the reveal ever held off more so people might have really starting guessing what his secret could be?

Ad – content continues below

Yeah, you exposed a slight flaw. I agree the Todd mystery beat just didn’t play as well as we thought it would. We had the bacon story already worked out, probably as an outline, or at least as a series of cards on a board. So we knew the next episode was bacon, and we thought it would be right to tease it here. We had written more tease material earlier in the episode, but we cut that stuff for time. But short answer, we meant to tease Todd’s mystery more throughout the episode because we knew bacon was next up.

Our walkthrough on Last Man on Earth’s second season will continue tomorrow. Click here for the previous entries