Last Man on Earth Writers’ Room Walkthrough Part 6
Our series on Last Man on Earth Writers' Room continues with the beginning of the second half of season two.
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 11 and 12 from Last Man on Earth’s season 2.
In a television landscape that’s become so eclectic, Fox’s The Last Man on Earth still manages to rise above the rest. Through the course of its two seasons, the series has become impossible to define, reinvigorating the sitcom archetype. The series, masterminded by its star, Will Forte, looks at a group of misfit survivors trying to get by in a broken, empty world. The show has found even more ways to display innovation with the topics of family, polygamy, and mortality.
With the show’s second season wrapping up this Sunday, Den of Geek once again touched base with Andy Bobrow, executive producer and writer for the series. Bobrow brings along with him the insight of the various writers behind each episode, offering an even more unprecedented tour of the second half of the show’s season. Here’s a look at how such an unusual sitcom comes together.
Note: This interview has been edited for brevity.
Last Man on Earth Season 2 Episode 11: “Pitch Black”
“Mike Miller’s (guest star Jason Sudeikis) space capsule careens through the sky toward Earth, finally putting him on the same planet as his big brother, Phil/Tandy (Will Forte). Mike thinks he is the last man on earth, but who knows what or whom he might encounter.”
Written by David Noel & John Solomon; Directed by John Solomon
DEN OF GEEK: This is such a big return with a huge decision to kick it off. Did you guys circle a lot of ideas before deciding that Mike should land in the ocean?
ANDY BOBROW: Yeah we weighed all the options – land, sea, desert, jungle. We talked about doing a joke where he crashes on land and gets up and walks a bit and sees these wooden signs written in Swahili. And he’s like “Oh crap, Africa?” And then he walks a bit further and finds out he’s in Disney World. All we really knew was that if he landed anywhere near the gang, it would be too much of a coincidence. We knew he had to have his own journey on Earth before finding the others. Ocean seemed like a good start.
The first thought was that he splashes down and floats in a life raft and then miraculously finds a cruise ship, and he screws around there like Phil would have done. Drinking all the booze and basically having a pleasure cruise by himself. That was cost prohibitive. And John and Dave came up with that really cool bit where he crashes right into the boat. That was a great solution. The kind of coincidence you buy because it’s hardly good news. One thing we would have liked, if we had a bit more money, was to show him on the boat as it starts sinking. But this was a hideously expensive episode even without that stuff. We shot in Long Beach, which doubled for Miami. And Jason was really on the ocean. It was easier to shoot him on the ocean than put him in a tank. We had to erase some land and some signs of civilization in the background. And the cruise ship was CG. But Pat’s boat was a boat, not a set.
This episode works as such a nice companion piece to the pilot and “Is Anybody Out There?” You’re building a great reputation for yourselves that whenever you return from a break you’re going to have some boundary-pushing episode. There was never a point where you thought about following “Christmas” up with another Malibu Crew episode and leaving the Mike cliffhanger a mystery for a little longer?
Oh there was. We had two cliffhangers to deal with: Does Mike live and did Phil die. So we laid out two episodes, one to deal with each cliffhanger. And we could have simply flopped the air order. That’s how we sold it to the network. They were a little nervous about coming back from the winter break and showing an episode without any of our cast. We just said, “If you’re worried about it, you could start with the funeral episode.” They ultimately went for the big one and we really appreciated it. That was the right one to go with.
You spoke about only having Sudeikis for two days for all of the space material. How did this material work? You obviously had him for another set of episodes for the season’s second half.
Yeah, we had him for two days in August to do all the space scenes, and then it was a little tricky. He had two weeks open in December, and then we lost him for a couple weeks when he was doing press for a movie, I think, and then we had him back for the rest of the run. So we ended up shooting a few things out of order. It worked out fine for the story because we knew once we had him escape from Pat, we could jump back to Malibu and everyone would know Mike is out there, looking for them, so in that way his story was kind of on autopilot off-screen.
Pat Brown is such an interesting character. Was that sort of nihilistic survivor always the plan for Mike’s companion, or did you flirt with other archetypes to pair him against?
From the start, we had a vague shape in mind for the story, which was Mike meets someone who seems like a good guy, but then he becomes a huge problem and Mike has to escape. The placeholder for this, when we were putting index cards up on a board, was the guy tries to eat Mike. I may have been the only person who actually considered that seriously. But as far as Pat’s personality, the only thing we had from the start was that he would become dangerous. It seemed that paranoia about the government was a fine motivation for that, and so the character grew from that. And Mark Boone was so perfect.
This is probably the most virus-heavy episode, but it still keeps things subtle and restrained. What were your thoughts on this? Did you think you spent too much time on it? Not enough?
Will had wanted to do the sea of body bags for a while. I think he brought it up in season one, and we definitely considered it for 201. Just to have a silent scene where Tandy and Carol are driving and they go right through a CDC tent village full of body bags. Since the pilot, we kept seeing people online saying, “where are the bodies????” We knew some people just had to see them. This was our way of saying, “Here. A buncha bodies, happy? Can we get back to the show now?”
I’m embarrassed to admit, I kind of took it personally when people would say, “Where are the signs of chaos? There would be bodies everywhere and crashed cars and stuff.” As if we had missed the first rule of apocalypse stories. I felt a mission to show people that there are other versions of that story. Pat lays it out quite simply: Most people died in their homes and others were taken to makeshift triage centers. So I think we spent the right amount of time on it. We just wanted to give a plausible explanation, frame the story our way, and move on.
I really like that this episode can still just take some time to soak in the beauty of normalcy. The scene of Mike and Pat playing tennis in hazmats suits is such a simple, surreal image.
That scene was not in the first draft, and it came to us from Phil Lord. He got our “Executive Producer of the Week” award, which includes a shout-out in the employee newsletter and the good parking spot.
Last Man on Earth Season 2 Episode 12: “Valhalla”
“The Malibu gang seeks closure after Phil 2’s makeshift surgery, while Todd and Melissa maneuver through the aftermath of her surprise proposal.”
Written by: Erica Rivinoja; Directed by Payman Benz
DEN OF GEEK: That “Tubthumping” eulogy is a perfect mix of extremes. That’s a supremely awful song, but were there any other options in the mix?
ERICA RIVINOJA: I don’t remember!
ANDY BOBROW: I got this one, because I was at the keyboard when it happened. I just stuck it into the outline, assuming it would get changed at some point, and then it ended up staying all the way through. This was actually the second time that trick worked for me. The other time was with “Informer” by Snow in episode 202. So I’m two-for-two in sticking dumb songs into outlines and no one challenging me.
This marks a lot of funerals for these guys at this point. How is this one different and what have they learned from this process? How is it different for you guys, writing a scene like this a second time around?
ERICA RIVINOJA: This one is really driven by Tandy, and as most things driven by Tandy, it is not what the person would have wanted. We wanted everyone to be genuinely sad about Phil. With Gordon’s death, Carol didn’t know him, so there was a lot of humor in that. So to be sure to make the funeral super funny, and not just heartbreaking, we decided to have Tandy really make it all about him. Will was very excited to have a Viking Funeral. We did some pretty exhaustive research on Viking Funerals.
Seeing that the Gordon dummy is still in the picture, was a Gail/Todd/Gordon threesome ever tabled at one point?
ERICA RIVINOJA: A threesome with Will Ferrell’s corpse or a threesome with the CPR dummy? Yes, they were both tabled. Threesomes are tabled at pretty much every opportunity we get.
This episode has everyone spiraling pretty badly in different ways, with Tandy’s emulation of Phil being pretty unhealthy and symptomatic. Was it kind of the point to have everyone reeling and going through something together here?
ERICA RIVINOJA: Yes. We wanted to see everyone having a rough time as a group. The pregnant widow (Erica) seems to be the one who is keeping it together, and that’s pretty messed up.
ANDY BOBROW: Since this was the first death of a character we had actually seen in the show, we wanted to make sure it had a believable effect on our characters. When
Gordon died, we could play it lighter, since the audience never knew him. But Phil was really family, so it gave us a chance to get into that real stuff. Of course they’ve all seen a ton of death, so their reactions to it are kind of twisted at this point. No one wants the big funeral but Tandy. No one wants that memorial song. Everyone else just wants to quietly compartmentalize it like they’ve done so many times before.
I think the development that Phil did have a middle name is not only pretty brilliant, but very in character that he would have kept that to himself. Was this a more recent development, or did you always know that he was lying?
ERICA RIVINOJA: I started on season two, so I don’t know for sure. But I remember we came up with the middle names in the room. I originally pitched that his middle name was Marion. But Stacy makes me laugh even harder… it’s so 80s.
ANDY BOBROW: I vaguely remember talking about revealing this at some point last year. I think the idea of finding out Phil lied was in the air for a while. It’s a natural place to go, since it messes with Tandy. I think we had it in the back pocket for a while, but we hadn’t got to it. So this was a good time to pull it out.
Tandy’s “Shoulda, Soulda, Woulda” song (where he plays no guitar at all), was that all just Will riffing on something, or was it scripted?
ERICA RIVINOJA: The lyrics were scripted (believe it or not). Will improvised the clapping above the hands, which was super brilliant. The most wonderful idea, though, was when Kira Kalush thought up the idea that he should never actually play the guitar (even after tuning it for about five minutes — Andy’s idea).
It’s a small moment, but I love that the “TV” that Todd and Melissa watch is nondescript Motocross tapes. I doubt you’ve finalized this, but what are some of the other pieces of viewing garbage that they’re stuck with?
ERICA RIVINOJA: They’re basically stuck with all of the things that people DVRed or videotaped, which is usually a bunch of crap. Old sports events and crappy reality shows like Cake Boss are the things they’re stuck with. If you knew you’d only have what was on your DVR for the rest of your life, I think you’d be more careful.
This episode really draws some intentional parallels between Phil’s death and Mike Miller’s assumed corpsification. Tandy’s been pretty quiet about his brother. Did this seem like the right opportunity to bring things back to him, especially since we know a reunion is en route?
ERICA RIVINOJA: Yes. That was the goal. Tandy’s entire relationship with Phil is a nice reflection of Tandy’s issues with his brother.
ANDY BOBROW: I hope it didn’t come off as ham-fisted. But that was definitely a case of “can we draw the clearest line between what’s happening here and what’s going to happen soon?”
A big question kept coming up in early drafts of this story, which was, “Why is Tandy taking this so hard?” I think for Will, the idea was always that Tandy looked up to Phil, and Tandy wanted to be like Phil. Which is pretty clear from the scene where he puts on Phil’s clothes. But still that’s a pretty thinky explanation. To build a story on “Tandy craves approval from alpha males,” that’s a pretty tricky premise. Whereas, “Tandy misses his brother” is easier, and it rang equally true to us all. Anyway, short answer, yes, having Carol draw the line to Mike Miller felt like a nice clear explanation, as well as a nice set-up for things to come.
Our walkthrough on the second half of Last Man on Earth’s second season continues all week.
Our walkthrough on the first half of Last Man on Earth’s second season can be read here.