The Last Man On Earth on Girl Power, Fleshing Out Jasper, and Fred Armisen’s New Role

Last Man on Earth writers and producers talk to us about episodes 7 through 9, including Kristen Schaal's directorial debut.

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 fourth season of Fox’s The Last Man on Earth.

This part of the walkthrough looks at episodes seven through nine from The Last Man on Earth’s fourth season. Previous entries can be found here.

Last Man on Earth Season 4 Episode 7 – “Gender Friender”

“Tandy goes to great lengths to convince everyone he’s a feminist. Meanwhile, Carol gets jealous of the time that Gail spends with Erica and Dawn, and Todd tries to be a father figure to Jasper.”

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Written by Rich Blomquist; Directed by Kristen Schaal

DEN OF GEEK: Kristen Schaal directs this episode from her husband Rich’s script! Talk a little on that experience. Was Kristen interested in directing episodes during previous seasons? Why did this one feel right? Is she eager to direct again?

RICH BLOMQUIST: Kristen was interested in directing and spent much of last season shadowing directors, stealing their secrets and learning the trade. Kristen is a feminist and spent years as the Senior Women’s Correspondent on The Daily Show, segments that she and Rich wrote together.  So doing an episode with feminist themes was a natural fit.  Kristen would love to direct another episode, so hopefully we’ll get a fifth season!

We get a little more of the Rubix Cube of Doom in this one. Did it feel appropriate to slowly tease and call back to this throughout the episodes?

Carol would argue that it’s a Puzzle Rhombus of Doom. Others say it’s technically “Dr. Rubik’s Cube Monster.” But no matter the name, you’re going to want to keep your eye on it.

There’s a lot about gender dynamics in this one and the episode brings up the interesting perspective that there are now more women in this world than men. Why did that feel like an interesting area to explore?

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There’s a strong argument to be made that the world would be a nicer, better place with women in charge. That’s why historically men have stopped them from making it. But when someone like Tandy (or Trump) becomes the de facto leader, suddenly the idea a matriarchy gains a whole new appeal.

There’s suddenly a lot going on with babies on the show. They’re practically the focus for everyone’s storylines. This makes sense, but were you at all concerned about babies becoming too prevalent in the show?

There has been some concern that introducing so many infants will turn Last Man on Earth into ‘Apocalypse Babies’ — which is especially troubling because AMC is launching a Walking Dead spin-off by the same name. But our biggest concern has been the babies’ utter lack of professionalism. Falling asleep in the middle of scenes, hunger tantrums, drooling on props… the crew hasn’t seen anything like it since working with Kiefer Sutherland. Unless the babies quit their on-set antics and learn the concept of object permanence, look for their characters to be written out.

Jasper and Todd feels like a really great pairing that the show hasn’t gotten to dig into yet. Were you happy to shine a little more light on Jasper and develop him into more of a character?

Before our gang found Jasper, he was living on his own. His backstory is still a bit of a mystery. Let’s face it: Jasper is a riddle, wrapped in a question, covered in a He-Man torso. Having Todd and Jasper open up and get to know each other was a great opportunity for the audience to learn about these characters as well.

Jasper and Todd’s bonding also reveals some interesting backstory about Todd, like how he mostly had to raise himself when he was a child. Was this something that you always knew about him?

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Todd has always been a sensitive guy. So it makes sense that he has some kind of pain or heartbreak in his past. Sometimes you just need to throw a ball around before you can start throwing intimate personal details as well.

Carol gets the topic of marriage on both Gail and Erica’s minds. Why did this feel like the right time to examine this area? Are there deeper abandonment issues that Erica has from her past that are informing her thoughts here?

Carol is so happy being married to Tandy. She just wants the same happiness for everyone else.  Plus, the boxes of Angel Food Cake mix were about to expire. What better time for a wedding?

Woah, Tandy actually plays the guitar in this one! He doesn’t just hit the side. Has he actually been practicing and getting better here?

He practiced specifically for the wedding. Unfortunately, we had to cut out several hours of Tandy practicing guitar. Look for it in the director’s cut!

Last Man on Earth Season 4 Episode 8 – “Not Appropirate for Miners”

“Todd asks Tandy for parenting advice when he notices that Jasper is acting more reckless than usual. Meanwhile, Carol and Erica realize that Jasper may be the only potential suitor for their babies and begin vying for his attention.”

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Written by Arielle Diaz & Megan Ganz; Directed by Jared Hess

DEN OF GEEK: There’s been so much focus on just successfully having babies and surviving that it’s interesting to see the series begin to look at the next stages in re-population. How has it been heading into that new direction and figuring out what comes next?

MEGAN GANZ AND ARIELLE DIAZ: I think what’s so great about writing for this show is that we’re constantly discovering for ourselves where the story could go. We didn’t set out to have three baby girls, but once that’s where we landed, the frustrations and complications that came along with those numbers became clear. It was a cruel thing to do to Carol, whose primary goal is to repopulate the world. It was easy to have her spin out over the unfavorable boy/girl ratio. The big challenge in this episode was getting someone as sane as Erica swept up in Carol’s madness.  

Does this re-population direction seem to be the engine for the rest of the season, or are there still plenty of other new wrinkles afoot?

Ooh, boy, just you wait. We’ve got more wrinkles than an elderly Shar Pei!

It’s crossed my mind that Jasper is one of the few compatible people to breed with all of these babies that get born. Why did you want to highlight that detail here and have everyone going crazy around him?

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It heightens the stakes for our gang because they have to come to terms with the consequences of their decisions to have babies in this new world. Yes, it’s good for the fate of the human race — but how is it for the actual kids? In this new world, they don’t really have childhoods anymore, so what will our gang do (or not do) to protect what’s left of their children’s innocence? It was a crazy premise for an episode, and it took a long time to ground it as much as possible. We’re really happy with how it turned out. It’s got the right amount of crazy, and the right amount of heart as well.  

Jasper’s misbehaving is a lot of fun here. Are there any examples of disobedience or explosions that didn’t make it into the episode?

There was some talk about showing Jasper actually driving the car. But in the end, we decided it was funnier to have the mystery and a big reveal. The explosive giraffe almost didn’t make it into the episode because the stuffed giraffe was going to cost several thousand dollars. Ultimately a cost effective giraffe was found and we blew it up.  In the script it said that, “the giraffe’s head flies off its body.”  It didn’t fly off, but it definitely separated from the body in a satisfying way (on the first take).   

It’s been a while since we’ve gotten some more of Carol’s bedazzling. Should we expect to see Gail wearing that updated dress at any point?

That would be great! But unfortunately, the dress you see in the episode is much smaller than the one Gail wore, because our costume team needed to bedazzle it quickly so they wanted less fabric to cover. They told us they were doing it that way, and we promised we wouldn’t have Gail wear it in a future episode.  The dress turned out really great, though, so maybe we’ll have to break our promise and make one that fits.

That Tandy “cookies” monologue is a piece of art. Talk a little on that explosive speech. Was that pretty much what was on the page?

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We wish we could take credit for that. There was definitely a monologue written on the page, but most of what made it into the episode is improvised by Will. He went all out on every take, and each one was like a little snowflake of rage and insanity. Plus, he hit the Pegasus with the beer bottle every single time! It was incredible to witness. Not to mention that it was the last scene we shot on a Friday, and we had been on set for sixteen hours. Even during his breaks, Will was busy writing episodes nine and ten with the writers, or editing previous episodes. He must have been exhausted by the time we shot the “cookies” scene. But as soon as we started, the mood was electric. The crew could barely contain their laughter until the director called cut. And Mel didn’t break once. After the last take—which I think is the one we used almost in its entirety—Jared [Hess] yelled out, “Will Forte, everyone!” And we all applauded him. It was great. Somebody give that guy a TV show!

Important business here: What game is Jasper playing in that Game Boy?

I truly don’t think Keith has any idea what that thing is. He’s like, “Is this an old phone?” I don’t think he’d ever seen one before the props department handed it to him.

Last Man on Earth Season 4 Episode 9 – “Karl”

“Tandy and Todd stumble upon a new survivor, Karl, who has been trapped in a high-security prison in Mexico ever since the virus hit.”

Written by Kassia Miller; Directed by Jason Woliner

Fred Armisen! Let’s break this down a little bit. Was Armisen someone that Will had wanted on the show for a while? Why did now seem like a good time to bring someone new into the fray?

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We came up with the idea of the stranded prisoner pretty early on in breaking the season. When we were thinking about casting, Fred was a pretty obvious choice. We knew that he would be so great at hitting the note of playing a menacing serial killer that you still don’t hate. We were all thrilled that he was available to do it. In terms of timing, we knew that Episodes 9 and 10 would air together in January before a significant break, so we wanted to introduce something special and exciting for those episodes.

What about Leighton Meester? Was she a suggestion from the network, or did that come about in another way, too?

We were lucky to get Leighton, too. This wasn’t necessarily going to be a famous person role, but when we found out that Leighton was available, we jumped at the chance. She was a perfect disgusted date, don’t you think?

You guys add Martin Short to your huge collection of A-list deaths! Congratulations? Were there any other alternates in consideration here for this gag?

No way. Martin Short was a 100% perfect choice for this little cameo. There were so many great takes between him and Fred with some amazing improv. It couldn’t all make it into the show, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. But everyone was so excited about having Martin Short involved, that very short (LOL) scene had quite the audience when we were shooting.  

This episode certainly features a lot that’s pre-virus. After doing episodes like Kristen Wiig’s backstory or the flashback to the cartel, has it become less intimidating to do episodes of this nature? Is it something that you could see the show indulging in more now?

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We’ll have to see! We love doing these stand-alone episodes to expand the world and play with fun new characters. But they’re kind of like hot sauce. You don’t want to use too much or else you’ll ruin the flavor of the whole dish.

Did you consider jumping into all of this Karl material without a flashback episode to set him up? Could you have had him on the show for a few episodes and then gotten into his past?

I think we did talk about that, but we ultimately liked the idea of giving the audience all of the juicy info about Karl before our group met him. I guess my high school English teacher would call that dramatic irony? In any event, it felt like the most fun for us to set him up first before we served him up to the gang.

Karl as a murderer is so damn good and it’s great to throw a psycho killer into the mix. How did this come about? Did you want a murderer on the show, or was it more about letting Armisen play someone that’s so interesting and dangerous?

We wanted a murderer! Pretty early into the season we were brainstorming types of people that might still be around, and a dangerous prisoner in Mexico was an exciting prospect. We liked the idea of our group freeing this guy and inviting him into their lives. And as I said, Fred was a gift that came from above after the character was created.

This episode allows you guys to show the virus hitting from another angle and you get to reveal a little more information about it. Was that an appealing part of this? Do you guys discuss just how much you want to reveal about it and when is the right time?

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For us it was less about revealing more information about the virus, and more about exploring different pockets of people who were affected by it. Seeing how the virus affected people in an isolated environment like prison seemed particularly interesting — with people dropping like flies and only bits of information trickling in from the outside world. 

This episode is a beautiful little study on the concept of change and second changes. Why did this feel like the right sort of story for this point in the season?

Thank you! We really love this episode. We wanted to craft a character that was so terrible in so many ways, but that still had the desire to change. And who knows, maybe he did? We’ll have to wait and see!

Our walkthrough of Last Man On Earth’s fourth season will continue every three weeks. Our walkthroughs of the show’s previous seasons can be found here