Last Man on Earth Writers’ Room Walkthrough Part 4
We continue to look inside the Last Man on Earth writers' room with season 2 episodes 7 and 8.
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 our walkthrough with executive producer Andy Bobrow looks at the seventh and eighth episodes from Last Man on Earth’s second season. Click here for the previous installments.
The Last Man on Earth Season 2 Episode 7 – “Baby Steps”
Written by Matt Marshall ; Directed by John Solomon
“When Erica claims she’s pregnant to Phil 2 right before he is about to leave Malibu, he has to choose between his unborn child or a higher chance of survival by himself.”
Was it always Erica that was going to be pregnant? Did you guys contemplate at all over having Melissa or Gail end up with the pregnancy?
First of all, shout out to Matt Marshall, who was our writer’s assistant in season one, and then became a really great addition to our writing staff. It feels good when you can help someone get their big break, and Matt has been awesome.
As for the pregnancy, yes we had lots of discussion about it, going all the way back to early season one. Some inside baseball here, but originally Carol was going to get pregnant in season one in the episode where Melissa says she’s horny. I think that’s 104. Melissa says, “I’m horny,” (by the way, lots of discussion about that specific word – the women in the room said no woman would ever use it, but we steamrolled them and I regret it, and now as penance I’m voting for Hillary). So Melissa says she’s horny, and Phil runs back to tell Carol he wants a divorce and Carol says she’s pregnant, which would have been a very big moment.
And we wrote that script, and we wrote several scripts following that one where Carol was pregnant. And it just didn’t sit well with a lot of people. It affects how you feel about Tandy, if he’s acting out and his wife is pregnant. But Will, and many of us, were still really attached to that pregnancy moment because it would have been so powerful – Phil wants a divorce but his wife is pregnant, that’s powerful stuff. Liz spearheaded the change. She actually took 3 or 4 scripts home one night and just re-jiggered them to remove the pregnancy. She just wanted to see if there was a way to remove that and still have the impact of it. What she proved was that it’s deeper to have Phil change his mind because of emotions rather than circumstances. He sees the wreath she made and he melts. He’s a better man because of that moment.
Anyway, getting back to your question, we talked about maybe Melissa being the one, which would give us that cruel irony that we generally love in this show. But ultimately Erica felt like the best choice because it directly affected Phil 2.
This episode takes some real strides to humanize Phil. Was there a lot of discussion over this? Did you consider keeping him the villain for longer? Where did the writers’ room fall on whether he deserves redemption or not? He really crosses the line with Tandy in this one…
It wasn’t a matter of trying to humanize Phil, but it was a matter of trying to find something heroic for Tandy to do. Will had an image of Tandy standing up for Phil, despite the fact that Phil had punched him. But with the drunk stuff and that whole fourth act, that wasn’t in the early versions of the script. So Tandy’s journey was way less clear. It was Tandy sticking up for Phil, arguing against the group the whole time, and it kept feeling kind of unshaped. It didn’t go anywhere and it didn’t explain itself well enough.
But this script went through lots of rewriting. And it was a case of us fumbling around to make sense of why Tandy is standing up for Phil. It seems obvious in hindsight that the key to everything was showing the audience Phil’s vulnerability, and showing it to Tandy, and having Tandy struggle against the urge to be good. The whole ending with Phil getting drunk and Tandy saving him, that came in very late in the process, and it was in service of making Tandy good.
The Last Man on Earth Season 2 Episode 8 – “No Bull”
-Written by Liz Cackowski ; Directed by Payman Benz
“Phil 2 finds himself on Tandy’s level when he causes problems with the group.”
As nice as it is to have these cows be a part of the show, are they just the absolute worst to film with?
No no, absolutely not. They come with this guy named Scott, a total cowboy who wears a hat and everything. We’re like, “Hey, Scott, can Will slap her on the butt? Will she freak out?” And Scott will be like, super quiet, man of very few words. He’ll just look at us and say with an assured understated drawl, “She’ll be alright.” And a sense of cowboy calm comes over all of us, and the world gets simple, and everything that’s hard in this crazy concrete jungle just melts into a single sweet soulful harmonica note ringing out across the endless starlit prairie.
Incidentally, our cow is named Cat, and she is the most beautiful magnificent cow you’ve ever seen and she is in the Chick-Fil-A commercials.
Tandy talks about learning to never give up on family in this episode, which feels like it’s hinting at some sort of falling out or forgiveness between him and Mike in the past. Do you know where you’re going with all of this stuff, or are you just kind of planting seeds that you know you’ll be able to address later on?
Oh we know. This is one of the rare occasions when we know.
On the topic of family, this episode really sets the tone for the following two episodes about this group of misfits realizing that they’re a family. Did it feel important to cement that in at this point?
I love that you’re seeing the best possible interpretation of this move. I mean, yes it was important, but the family references were mostly a form of duct tape, to tie the earth story to the space story. We got caught by our own cleverness with that space stuff. We only had Jason for two days very early in production, but we wanted to keep his story alive for several episodes. So we wrote these mini space stories and shot them all at once, just assuming we could marry them to episodes as we went along. But we found it hard to make the space stories feel like they belonged in those episodes, like thematically. So the family stuff in this one was mainly a way to make it feel like we knew what we were doing.
Along the same lines, this episode spends a lot of time on Tandy and Phil repairing their volatile relationship. Why was that particularly important to you guys?
It was important to Will, which made it important to us. Will likes to explore male relationships – the way men size each other up and compete, and the way they can barely express feelings to each other. And I’m sure a squadron of therapists could explain why he likes that theme, but the short answer, in my opinion, is that it’s really funny when Tandy is losing a dick-measuring contest. And what we get out of all this Tandy/Phil stuff is a set-up for a tearjerker. In some ways, Phil was to Tandy this year as Melissa was to him in the early part of last year. They’re both mountains for Tandy to climb. So we wanted Tandy to get up to the top of that mountain before losing it.
Phil brings up Canada as his destination point here. After shifting from Tucson to Malibu, Canada would certainly be an eclectic place for the group to relocate.
We like the idea of changing the look every season, but it’s expensive to make all new sets. Not sure if we’ll do it or not next year.
Where is Melissa’s head at in this episode? We’ve seen a lot of Todd’s behavior and been privy to him opening up and explaining his actions. The same hasn’t been true with her. Is there more going on here, or is she really just fed up with Todd and over him at this point?
That may be a very delicate way of saying you’re not buying Melissa, and I’ll take the criticism. We’ve not done the best job of fleshing out Melissa.
She’s just not dishing in the way that Todd is. She’s also harder to read by design.
I mean, the flipside is that January plays her very subtly and we do like that. It feels right that Melissa is somewhat of a mystery. In this episode, what we intended was basically that Melissa wants what she wants and doesn’t want to pay much of a price for it. She likes Todd but she doesn’t like opening up to people, and she’s really turned off by neediness. She likes Todd when he’s fun and she’s turned off when he wants something deeper. It’s a bit of a role reversal here. Todd is the needy chick and Melissa’s the dude who doesn’t want drama. I think we could have made that clearer with one additional scene of them alone together. But that’s hindsight. And we’re all really proud of some Melissa stuff coming up. Stay tuned. Melissa’s head will be opened.
The Todd and Gail romance is such a sweet, wounded bubble that I really hope doesn’t burst. Did you guys kind of just stumble upon this pairing naturally, like the two of them did? Or was everything from Gordon’s death an intentional move to slowly push these two together?
Stumbled into it, just like them. It just came out of a simple blue sky session of “We need some relationship shit to go down. What can go down here?” When you think about it, our show is a close cousin to MTV’s Real World, so sometimes we just say, “What would happen if this were a reality show?” And the moment someone said, “Todd and Gail kiss,” everyone was like, “Yup. Done.” We have some awesome stuff coming up in that story.
So much of the first season of the show was revolving around relationships and sexual tension, and that largely take a backseat this year. This final collection of episodes certainly puts all of that back on the table. Was it nice to get back into that material now that everyone has been through a little more and changed accordingly?
Yes definitely. Not to make this about me, but I learned a lot about how to do sexual tension stories from Dan Harmon at Community. Mostly I learned that a little goes a long way, that when actors with chemistry are standing next to each other, the sexual tension does not have to be scripted because it will be inferred anyway, and I learned that kisses work really well when they’re surprises, not anticipated.
I feel the score of the series doesn’t get singled out enough, but the work being done when Phil walks in with the bull is just so, so perfect. Can you talk about the music in the series at all?
Ooh, really good question and I’m the worst person to ask. Phil and Chris had worked with Mark Mothersbaugh on their movies, so they got him to do music for our pilot. I don’t think Mark would have done a TV show if not for them. I haven’t met him, but I’m such a fan, and we feel so lucky to have him. Anyway, Mark really set the tone for the show in the pilot with that western style reminiscent of Ennio Morricone. That sound really set the tone. And Mark comes in with his team each week and Will walks them through the episode and they work out what’s needed.
We also reuse a lot of stuff, which is pretty standard for a TV show. There’s a “Sad Tandy” theme, and a “Tandy Has A Plan” theme, and my favorite is the music you hear when love is happening. But in general Will likes to be very sparing with the music. It’s a pet peeve for many of us, when sitcoms overuse music. Like they don’t trust the audience to know what to feel. And of course we use pop songs a lot, and that reflects Will’s taste mostly. Big Kinks fan, Will.
Our walkthrough on Last Man on Earth’s second season will continue tomorrow. The previous entries can be found here.