[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the midseason finale of Fox’s Last Man on Earth, “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”]
Last Man on Earth has taken a dark turn this season, but Will Forte believes that the stark reality is precisely what makes the show so fun to watch.
Instead of dealing with mental instability, isolation and starting a family in the end of the world with professionals, this group is attempting it as “dimwits who have no idea what they’re doing,” the show’s creator and star tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Season three of Fox’s comedy has had a noticeably more serious tone, with each member of the group starting to cope with the apocalypse in very different ways. The midseason finale ends with a cliffhanger, leaving one member of the group facing an uncertain fate, a sign of the show’s direction to a more “destructive” and scary reality.
The season began with interlopers barging into their peaceful beachside home, and after Melissa (January Jones) fatally shot one of them — who just so happened to be played by Mad Men’s Jon Hamm — she had to cope with killing a man, beginning to worry her housemates, especially Todd (Mel Rodriguez), with odd behavior. The midseason finale saw Melissa reunited with the group after leaving a goodbye note, wandering off and showing up again with little memory of being gone and with mental instability that further worried the group at large.
The end of the world hit other members of the group in strange ways as well this season. Erica (Cleopatra Coleman) and Carol (Kristen Schaal) are pregnant, and Carol attacked the act of starting her family with gusto. Carol, deciding she needed a grandmother for her unborn child, begged Gail (Mary Steenburgen) to adopt her to make that happen. Gail resisted, and in a few short sentences viewers found out a lot about the wine-drinking mother figure of the group, when she broke down and finally told Carol that she wasn’t ready to be a mother again, as she had a son and lost him. Forte says he “teared up every time I watched” the scene, calling it “one of my favorite moments in our entire series.”
Eventually, Gail gave in and signed the adoption papers, but soon needed some alone time from her newly adopted family of Carol and Tandy (Will Forte). Finding a nice, quiet elevator, Gail climbed in, relaxed and promptly got stuck. After an attempt to get the group’s attention by shooting off her gun, one of the bullets ricocheted and hit her in the leg, leaving Gail stuck with a life-threatening injury.
So where do each of them go from here? Forte says he and his fellow writers have a plan for the apocalypse, but part of the fun lies in keeping that plan loose.
In general, according to Forte, there is an overall structure, but it’s creatively fluid. “It’s kind of a mix of organic absurdity,” Forte says. “We try to make everything as plausible as possible but we don’t let plausibility get in the way if we have something we like enough.”
Will Forte spoke with THR about what happened with Gail and Melissa this season, as well as the uncertain future for the rest of the group.
This season has dealt with slightly darker subject matter, with all of the characters starting to deal with the end of the world in their own ways. What is it about this season that is affecting the group?
I think that we’ve shown a bit more of the world breaking down a little bit, that’s been our intention at least, so it’s just a different world now. It’s been a lot of wish fulfillment so far. Most of it has been dealing with lack of people, and now we’re throwing in a little bit more of the destruction of the infrastructure and how they deal with that, and that’s been a fun little wrinkle.
We just try to figure it out in situations that would potentially happen, things that would be really tough to deal with in this type of world. If somebody’s having some issues with mental instability, in the present world there are all kinds of doctors that tell you what to do and even if it’s something that can’t be fixed you sort of know what you’re dealing with, and maybe there’s medication that can help. But in this group its just a bunch of dimwits who have no idea what they’re doing and have no idea how to make these decisions. We’re also just getting to know the characters a bit better, and we are filling out their backstories, and some of the things are just things we’ve had in our minds about them all along, just pieces of information that we’ve never had a chance to bring out.
What about Gail’s backstory? We learn a lot about her in a very short scene this season. What made you want to handle it that way?
It just kind of naturally came out. That’s what I really love about that part of that story is that we drop a very major emotional bomb like that and don’t really hit it again, and you just are informed a little bit as to why she is the way she is. And I don’t know, that was one of my favorite moments in our entire series. Mary was, what an amazing actress she is, and that just, that was a real – I don’t know, I teared up every time I watched that in the editing room. I watched that 50 times or something and it got me every single time.
What made you want to bring Gail to this point – where she seeks isolation to get away from everyone, and then it backfires on her?
We had an elevator in the new building and we were always thinking about, “Oh, we should play it as a joke that somebody gets caught in the elevator,” and it was just going to be a little tiny joke or maybe a part of a B story, and then I thought “Oh my God, what a scary situation that would be.” In the real world, you get caught in the elevator, you call the little box and you may wait a bit but you’re most likely getting out soon. But here, it’s a totally different situation. In our scenario, nobody would suspect it, and because of the way the story has gone, she was threatening to leave, then Carol was starting to bug her, and we just thought that it would be interesting if she would leave and everybody isn’t looking for her because they justify why she left. It would be interesting to see how dark we could go … and it’s pretty dark.
How about Melissa – when did you get the idea to take her down this dark path?
It seemed like as we were batting around ideas for this, we knew that the people were going to come in hazmat suits and pretty early on we wanted to stunt-cast one of the people. So we thought it would be fun to get somebody pretty cool if we say, “Hey, you show up for an hour, take off this helmet, then you can take off.’ So we knew that we wanted one of these people to die right away and then the other person to stick around, and then before we knew it was going to be Jon Hamm, we had decided it should be Melissa involved, and it just somehow turned into this fun Mad Men reunion. But then we just kind of started thinking how would that affect Melissa? And it just grew into the story we have for her now, and it’s been fun watching her week after week.
It’s interesting, these people who have no history or information or experience with dealing with anything like that being forced into that situation. Even this pregnancy stuff, what a scary thought — there have been so many conversations we’ve had about things like, “Would people even have babies in this new world? What happens if you get a a small problem like a toothache? That’s the worst pain in the world, think about a baby! It’s a freakin’ baby!”
Overall, what is the future for Last Man on Earth? Do you have a vision for how the series ends or how each character ends up?
I have no idea. I didn’t think we’d ever go past one season. (Laughs.) It’s kind of a mix of organic absurdity. We try to make everything as plausible as possible, but we don’t let plausibility get in the way if we have something we like enough. A lot of times we will have ideas that we think are fruitful areas in the beginning of the season and just kind of see how they go. With Jason Sudeikis, we had an idea of how we wanted to end the season, so we just connected the dots in between. We always have rough ideas of things we could do, but I would have no idea how the show would end.
Going into the second half of this season, then, how much have you planned out, and how much do you fill in along the way?
We never really plan too far in the future. I wish we did — I wish we had more plans, but in a way I kind of like not having a plan. It lets us meander to weirder places, so there’s definitely a positive side and a negative side. There are some characters where we know in advance what we want to do with them, but not too far in advance. We certainly have built-in stuff going forward with Carol and Erica both being pregnant. We work toward them giving birth, but sometimes we go week by week and sometimes things come up so then we work backwards and figure out how to get the character there and that’s hopefully when we can figure things out like that. It’s nice to make it seem like there’s a point to the stuff that we’re doing.