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 third season of FOX’S, Last Man on Earth.
This part of the walkthrough looks at episodes one and two of Last Man on Earth season 3.
Fox’s Last Man on Earth has found a way to reinvent the sitcom wheel and it’s a continual delight to watch this story unfurl. Even in the series’ arguably more derivative moments like a prank war, the show still has people falling off cliffs and getting half of their body hair removed in unbelievable sight gags. The previous season took its audience on a real roller coaster, both in terms of plotting but also emotional drama, with the year ending on quite a cliffhanger.
We once again checked in with the series’ writers’ room to get to the bottom of season 3 and talk about the decisions that did and didn’t happen throughout the year.
Episode 1 – General Breast Theme With Cobras
“The safety of Tandy and the group is in jeopardy as armed intruders storm the Malibu beach near their home, and no one can agree on what to do. While Melissa takes drastic action, Tandy gets a new lesson in fashion.”
Written by John Solomon and Dave Noel; Directed by John Solomon
DEN OF GEEK: Were there any other actors in consideration for Darryl other than Jon Hamm? He’s really the perfect choice for that role, but what was the story there?
ANDY BOBROW: I’ll start with the same disclaimer I gave when you asked about Will Ferrell last year: We were so lucky to get Jon, I don’t want to imply that we wanted anyone else more. But with celebrity cameos you have to cast a wide net. Some of the names I can remember were Barbra Streisand, Matthew McConaughey, Jenifer Aniston, Jack Nicholson, Melissa McCarthy, Tom Hanks, and Meryl Streep.
Jon Hamm was actually a name we batted around early in the process and dismissed it because we worried it would be too cutesy or too self-referential. Boy were we wrong. A few weeks after we dismissed it, and we had hit a few dead-ends, we reconsidered it and it started to feel like the coolest thing we could do. January texted him and got an immediate yes. We were so lucky to have him.
One fun fact: We wrote a line for January where she’s defending her actions and she says, “They were coming in here like mad men.” We shot that but cut it for time. Would have been gilding it a little too much anyway.
Did you have any other trajectories planned for this premiere or attempt to go down alternative routes before abandoning the idea?
We had made our bed with the finale last season. We had Pat and two people in hazmats coming up the beach. So we always knew that this episode would be continuous action from there. But we had no idea who the other two hazmat people would be or what the story would be. Most of us were assuming we’d do a battle. Melissa in a Ghillie suit, and Tandy and Todd running and getting tanks, and everything climaxing in a firefight. But the more thought about it, we decided the big fight would be not quite our thing. Will wanted to open on this big scary scene, but then settle into the kind of story that’s more in our wheelhouse.
One plan we had was that the two other hazmat people would get killed or scared off, and that Pat would remain in the show as a weird neighbor. He’d live on his boat and stop by for sugar once in a while. Just a weirdo conspiracy theorist who had a crush on Gail who would show up from time to time to disrupt stories. But we weren’t quite sure we could commit to having Pat as a regular. He’s such an intense character, we wouldn’t want to neuter him by making him a familiar sight. So we decided to exit the character in a way that would allow us to bring him back at some point if we had the story to support it.
I really like where we ended up with this one. John, Dave and Will hunkered down and re-worked this story a lot until they had it the way they wanted it. I love Tandy falling for Pat and being so wrong about it. It’s a perfect Last Man story.
With how past premieres have gone, I half expected this episode to follow Pat, Louis, and Darryl on their trip up to Malibu before they meet everyone…
We definitely considered it. But we felt the cliffhanger was in immediate need of addressing. We had way too many conversations about the logic of that boat appearing in the Pacific when we last saw it in the Atlantic. We wrote plenty of lines about the Panama Canal and global warming. Maybe the whole isthmus of Panama was flooded over. Or maybe Pat put the boat on a trailer and hauled it across land. We decided they came across the Northwest Passage. Pat says that in a line somewhere, but it may have got cut.
There are some huge Melissa developments in this episode. Is watching her trauma unfold going to be a larger part of this season? Are emotional consequences inevitable with these people?
Stay tuned. We are having a lot of fun with Melissa this season, and January is really fun to watch. I know we started off very sparse with these supporting characters, and we’ve taken our time deepening them, but I really like the result. The tool we have, more than other comedies, is death. I mean, yes, death and loss and pain and tragedy are important to any comedic character, but in a typical sitcom, you only get to play death in “very special” episodes. Our whole premise is a “very special” episode. So yeah, death, tragedy, loss, those are the things we use to expose our characters.
Was this always a situation where you wanted the gang on the road by the end of the episode? Did you consider Pat learning about Mike in episode two or three?
We considered it for a minute, but we were probably leaning against it when we had the option taken away by Mark Boone’s schedule. We couldn’t have him for 302, so that was that.
Talk about Lewis a little bit and the casting process there. Did you know what you wanted for that character?
We had some vague notions. We liked Lewis being kind of mousy, kind of the opposite of Phil 2 and Mike. We thought maybe it’s a guy who looks up to Tandy, like how Tandy looked up to Phil 2. But our immediate need for Lewis was we needed a guy who could play fear of Pat, like intense PTSD from being around Pat. And when we saw Kenny Choi, he was perfect at that.
As for other aspects of his character, we’ve had very good luck letting that stuff evolve naturally. So the Lewis who evolves moving forward is someone we’ve created based on who Kenny is and how we see him. When I see him on the screen, I see the Professor from Gilligan’s Island. Of course Todd’s our Skipper and Tandy’s Gilligan. Melissa is Ginger and Erica is Maryann. If you squint, Gail is Mr. Howell and Carol is Lovee. Not quite though. Gilligan’s Island comparisons are never an exact science. Although we are breaking a Harlem Globetrotters episode as we speak.
I truly thought you had run out of ways to mess with Will Forte’s face and hair but those eyebrows are an inspired idea.
It just popped into Will’s head one day and it’s awesome. We didn’t think we were doing a running gag with his appearance, but now we definitely are.
There’s a real energy that drives this episode, especially in its ending. Was there a lot of talk on what sort of show you wanted to make this year in its third season?
Yes definitely. We’re trying to adhere to the ground rule that whatever we do in season three, it shouldn’t be anything that we could have done in the first two seasons. I’m not sure if we’ve hit that target all the time, but it’s been our general goal.
Is there anything from last season that you wanted to try to avoid this year, or not fall into again?
Not really, but there are stories that come up where we realize “that’s season one Tandy.” Like where he’s being inconsiderate of Carol. We avoid that stuff now. We have talked a lot about his impending fatherhood though. The episode where he found out Carol was pregnant, that was really moving to watch, so we’ve talked a lot about making sure we continue from there. Impending fatherhood is a factor for Tandy this season.
As far as the other aspects of the show, the only thing we talked about adjusting was the look. We have this awesome Malibu location and this open breezy modern house, and I think we made the mistake of assuming that the show would feel vast and spacious because of our big house and the big ocean. But as season 2 started winding down, we all started to notice that it wasn’t feeling as vast as we thought it would. What we realized is when we’re in the house or on the beach, there aren’t enough reminders that the whole world is empty. The beach and the ocean after the apocalypse don’t look any different than the beach and ocean do today. You need empty highways and crumbling buildings to really establish the end of the world. So the biggest change we’re making this year is we are venturing into the big empty world a lot more.
Episode 2 – The Wild Guess Express
“Todd is feeling awful over recent actions, so Tandy tells a few white lies to cheer him up.”
Written by Andy Bobrow; Directed by Peter Atencio
DEN OF GEEK: What was the sort of idea behind breaking this second episode?
ANDY BOBROW: A lot of this was driven by stuff I don’t want to spoil. The second episode sets up some great Melissa stuff and some very specific stuff we’ll see in episode 3. I guess a better answer would be that we have some specific things we want to accomplish with the season, but once the story starts, we often just follow the characters and go “what would they do next?” I’m finding that with a serialized show, the “what’s next” of it all starts taking precedence over the “how should people change?” of it all. I have no idea if that’s how drama people do it. We’re probably doing it all wrong.
Was there ever a second episode that was headed in a different trajectory for the season regarding Pat and his death?
No, to be honest, this was a situation where we had a very strong idea for episode 3 and 4, so we had to make sure episode 2 put us in the right position to do the next ones. The celebrity house idea was a good idea, and it also solved a production problem for us that I can’t talk about without spoiling something. Basically, we needed to be off our stage for this week, in order to accomplish some things you’ll see soon. So we were talking about what we can do on location somewhere. And then we had the idea for a celebrity house and that seemed perfect.
Was Cher always the owner of the house that they end up invading? Why is she the right personality for this sort of thing?
We actually considered Barbra Streisand as well. Mary Steenburgen knows her and she knows that Barbra and James Brolin are fans of the show. Our lawyers told us that we could refer to a celebrity without permission as long as we didn’t show any pictures. But we knew that if Barbra saw this and we hadn’t asked for permission, it would come off as weird and dishonorable, given that Mary is an acquaintance of hers.
So we asked for permission and Barbra was very sweet. She made sure to let us know that she loves the show, but that she just wasn’t comfortable with the idea. She’s very private about her home (Google “Barbra Streisand Effect”), and I guess that extends to fictional depictions of her home too. Having said that, I want to make sure I tell you that Cher was not a compromise by any stretch. She was an equally great choice. I hope she saw it and enjoyed it.
Were there more Cher-isms that inevitably got cut out?
Quite a few. Maybe we’ll put them out as deleted scenes. But there was a subplot where Lewis goes around asking people if they really trust Tandy. First he goes to Carol and she delivers this awesome soliloquy about the movie Mermaids. She draws the parallel between Cher’s character and Tandy – two people flying by the seat of their pants and making mistakes but with love as their guide. And then Lewis goes to ask Gail and Erica, and they’re talking casually about what a tool Tandy is, all while they’re trying on Cher’s wigs and headdresses and shit. It was funny stuff, but ultimately it wasn’t necessary for the story and we needed the time for other great stuff.
Todd is very transparent about his grief and pain over murder, but Melissa is much more of a locked box of repression. Did you intentionally want to show two different coping mechanisms for this big act?
Yes definitely. Between the first two episodes, there was some material that got cut along those lines, where we spelled that out more explicitly. But we made cuts and now it works more as an unstated reality. In 301, we had Todd going to Melissa after she killed Pat, and checking in with her, surprised that she’s unaffected. And in this one we had Gail trying to help Todd, who is just beside himself, and we had Melissa walking in and being completely oblivious to it. So yeah, at the script stage, we had really shined a light on this dichotomy, but the way it works now, it’s more subtle. It’s going to become bigger as the season moves forward. It’s a nice thread.
Talk a little bit about the dynamic of having Lewis around so far. I love that due to him being an outsider he kind of undercuts the typical Last Man structure by forcing Tandy to get real with everyone.
It is kind of different, right? Melissa was our judgmental character in season one, but as time wore on, she just naturally became part of the weirdness, part of the family. I think with Lewis, like I said, it has a lot to do with who Kenny is. I mean, we didn’t give him much to work with. Just the first script because that’s all we had figured out at that point.
But Kenny came in with this intelligent look, this studied manner. He’s kind of quiet and serious in person, so you could assume it’s his natural self coming through, but it’s also a matter of him doing his homework on the character, taking very little and building something very real. All he really knew was that his character is an academic, and he’s giving us a very strong take on that idea.
We weren’t that sure how Lewis was going to interact with Tandy, but it became very natural, when you see them next to each other, you can infer a lot just from the picture of them side by side. We’ve seen Tandy react to true Alpha males – Phil 2, and Mike. So we’ve seen Tandy measure his dick with guys. But Lewis is different. He’s not a physical threat to Tandy, and he’s never going to punch him. He’s just demonstrably smarter and doesn’t have anything to prove. It’s playing pretty well. I’m glad you like it.
There have already been some great production elements to this season, but I just love that these twisted faux death threats are just a part of their home now.
When we were breaking the story, for a long time we were kind of stuck on the problem of how to extend it. If everyone knows that Pat is dead, they’ll just want to go home. And if everyone thinks he’s alive, they’ll get the hell out of Malibu in a hurry.
So as soon as Tandy told Todd that Pat was alive, we had ourselves a problem. Todd would want to tell everyone immediately. Why doesn’t he? How can we delay it, and how can the delay be funny? The death threats were a real relief when we came up with them, and Will added all that stuff about the incense and the jeans. It just gave us that Last Man thing we really needed.
That ending is classic Last Man. Talk on that a little bit and how Todd gets redemption from his murder status just when he finally accepts it.
I’m thrilled you’re seeing that, and I’ll confess, this was not a layer that we designed from the start. Maybe smarter storytellers would sit down and say, “how can I tell a story where Todd gets redemption just when he finally accepts that he won’t get it?” But us, we go, “We need another twist. Would it be too much to have Pat be missing after all this? Ah fuck it, let’s just go for it.” Then a couple hours later, “You know what? This works out pretty cool because it’s almost like Todd gets to grow, even though he ultimately didn’t need to.”
Our walkthrough on Last Man on Earth season 3 will continue every two weeks!