How 'Last Man on Earth' Pulled 0ff That Midseason Surprise

The Last Man on Earth S02E11 Still - H 2016
Kevin Estrada/FOX

The Last Man on Earth S02E11 Still - H 2016

When Last Man on Earth returned Sunday night, it did so without any of its main characters.

The Fox comedy instead followed Jason Sudeikis' astronaut character as he fell from his spaceship to earth and set out on a quest to find his brother, Phil (Will Forte). Forte, the show's creator, writer and star, admits the decision to not feature any recurring characters in the episode was a risky one. "But we like taking those risks and seeing if we can do it," he tells The Hollywood Reporter.

It also helped to have the support of executive producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller. ”Every once in a while we'll get a call saying, 'Do you think you can talk Will out of shaving half of his body or starting the season out with an episode in which he doesn't appear?' " says Lord. "And then we go, 'It's honestly unlikely that we'll be able to talk him out of any of that stuff and why would you want to anyway?' "

The episode, Forte says, is part of a concerted effort to get to know each individual character more. “We thought that this was a chance to get to explore that and to really get to know Jason’s character. In the first season, every couple of episodes we would introduce a new character and I think people got used to that. But we want to surprise people and keep them guessing,” says the creator and star of the comedy. “So if we could do it over again with the knowledge we now have, we would have spent maybe a little more time in between introducing new characters.”

Speaking of new characters, awards season charmer Jacob Tremblay makes his debut in the comedy as a young Will Forte who taunts Sudeikis' character, Mike. Lord and Miller, who worked with Brie Larsen on 21 Jump Street, met the nine-year-old at a screening of Room. Miller calls the casting a "no brainer" and jokes it's the young actor's second best performance of the year. "They were initially going to dub his parts over with Will's voice, and then when I saw it with Jacob's, I was like, 'Oh, you can't get rid of this — it's perfect,' " says Miller.

Though Lord and Miller remain involved with the show’s creative decisions, the producing pair insist that Forte is really the driving force behind the series. “It's straight from his brain and we're the bumpers in bowling that try to make sure the ball is staying in the lane. It's easy for us and stressful for Will because he has to wear a lot of hats,” says Miller, with Lord echoing: “Our job is to block and tackle and defend Will so that he can put the weirdest possible thing on the air.”

All three producers agree that the challenge at this point in the series’ run is keeping the storylines fresh. “It’s finding ways to shake up each segment of episodes so you don't feel like you're repeating the same episode more than once,” says Lord. “You don’t want to do anything that you’ve done before. The goal is to be pushing forward into new territory and it’s always hard to figure that out,” agrees Forte. “As a writing staff, we definitely have really gotten to a point where we are all on the same wave length, but if we were to get a season three, I think that would help make the writing process easier.”