SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details of tonight’s Last Man On Earth Season 1 finale.
Except in very deft hands, the end of the world and comedy don’t really go together. Let’s be honest: With a few exceptions, the jokes just don’t have much staying power as the harsh realities sink in. Luckily for Fox, the nimble Christopher Miller and Phil Lord have proved they have exactly the skills to pull off melding the two divergent genres with the Will Forte series The Last Man On Earth – which wrapped up its first season tonight with an out-of-this-world twist. And yes, that is really saying something for a 2020-set show that has seen a virus wipe out almost all of humanity.
Based on an idea by The Lego Movie directors and developed by the Saturday Night Live alum, LMOE debuted to critical praise and strong ratings on March 1 and got that all-important renewal for a second season last month. With tonight’s finale, the series starring Forte, Kristen Schaal, Mel Rodriguez, Mary Steenburgen, Cleopatra Coleman, Boris Kodjoe and Mad Men’s January Jones literally took off in a new direction. The LMOE finale also offered another glimpse of Jason Sudeikis with the premise of more. Although spotted in the pilot, the ex-SNL cast member made a return to network TV on Sunday as an astronaut named Miller, who is trying to get ahold of a Houston that isn’t there anymore.
Lord and Miller are not only executive producers on LMOE with the Nebraska actor and Seth Cohen but helmed the first two episodes too. The very busy duo, whose amalgamated names make up Forte’s everyman Phil Miller, chatted about the finale, where Season 2 might go and how to make the near extinction of mankind a laughing matter.
DEADLINE: So you waited until the very end to reveal another Miller has survived the end of the world, it seems. What is going on with Jason Sudeikis floating around very much alive in the International Space Station?
CHRISTOPHER MILLER: Well, in the pilot, so for people who are really eagle-eyed, when Phil Miller moved into his new house, he put up a photo of his family, and you could see his mom and dad and brother, Jason Sudeikis. But it was only on screen for about two seconds, though. Only the most eagle-eyed viewers caught it.
DEADLINE: But he never appeared again, and after you got over halfway through the season, it seemed like that photo was an SNL in-joke.
MILLER: It was always part of the plan to sort of pay off that character, and this is the way that Will had in his head from the very beginning. At one point, it was in the script, in the middle of the season, but really felt like more of a twist for the very, very end, and it was really fun to be able to do it.
— Last Man On Earth (@LastManFOX) May 4, 2015
DEADLINE: Will we be seeing more of Jason in Season 2?
MILLER: You’re going to have to watch to find out.
DEADLINE: Most shows would have had that reveal of Jason as the big finale moment, but in Last Man, there was a double ending in the finale, when Kristen’s Carol recuses Will’s Phil from exile and probable death in the desert and they drive off together as a couple again. Is that it for January’s Melissa and Mary’s Gail and all the rest and the other Phil? Are we moving on to new non-Tucson location and new characters for the show?
MILLER: I will say that it’s not the last that you see of those other characters, but I think the plan for the next season is to open up the show a little bit more and take a little bit more advantage of the concept. So it’s obviously very early still, so we don’t want to say too much, lest it change or spoil anything. But I will say there will be a bunch of new dynamics in the new season. And it’s going to be awesome.
DEADLINE: Changing things up sounds like more of the same for LMOE, in a good way. One of the things that struck me about the show when it debuted and impressed me as the first season progressed was how hard it must be to maintain the premise. Being that this started out as an idea for a feature before Will got involved, how much of a challenge was that?
PHIL LORD: The only way we would make the show is to make it feel like it was breaking new ground all the time. And the only way the show seemed interesting was if you don’t know exactly where it’s going. So I think for us, even though there was a certain amount of resistance to that, it was the only way to do it.
DEADLINE: With the huge success of The Walking Dead and a number of postapocalyptic series and movies in recent years, including the upcoming Mad Max: Fury Road, it’s stunning that LMOE is the first network comedic slant on the genre. Why do you think no one tried to do it before?
MILLER: I think it’s surprising because we’ve been talking about it for years, about how every time you see a postapocalyptic movie or show, it’s filled with the most able, competent survivalists. We would always talk about how if we were survivors of the apocalypse, we would not know how to do anything. I rely on Internet to tell me how to do everything. So it was always a funny idea to us, to see the funny side of the apocalypse. I guess people haven’t really done it that much because it immediately, on its face, doesn’t sound hilarious. “Everybody’s dead” is not a great, funny way to start a TV show, but that’s part of what was so fun about doing this one.
DEADLINE: What was it like working with Will on this and having so much of the weight of the show on his shoulders, such as developing the concept, producing the show, writing the pilot and leading the whole thing onscreen?
LORD: We were a little bit nervous going in because he’s been our friend for so long, and we worked together in smaller ways, but nothing as intense and in-depth as this. But it was great; he’s such a sweet person in real life and such an obsessive and gifted performer. Actually, the whole cast are all really nice people and all supremely talented, and everyone was working towards a common goal of making a really special television show.
The fact that you can have somebody like Kristen Schaal, and she can shine so brightly, and become the hero and sometimes the one person you’re rooting for on the show is great. Or that you can have a crazy big-name guest star like January Jones, and she turns out to be a wonderful addition to the texture of the show was great. And then technically with Mark Mothersbaugh’s music, Christian Sprenger, our DP, his photography, just the way sometimes things just gel can be amazing and that’s what happened on this show. We felt like the means of production and the acting and the writing all came together as one. It was really one of the best shooting experiences that we ever had. I just haven’t had that kind of instant chemistry to such a degree as it was on this.
DEADLINE: Are you guys going to be as deeply involved in Season 2 as you were in Season 1? I mean, it’s not like you don’t have a few other things going on.
LORD: It depends on whether we wind up directing any of the early episodes or not. Our contribution, honestly, on the show, apart from helping launch it, was really to direct those first couple episodes and try to establish a kind of a feel and a tone. Then Will and the writing staff really ran with it, and it’s their show. So hopefully it all goes smoothly. The dream is that we’ll just be supporting their vision.
DEADLINE: Was part of that support in Season 1 all those songs by the Kinks on the show’s soundtrack from “Apeman” in the pilot and onward? Beyond “You Really Got Me,” Ray Davies is not a voice you hear on network TV very often, if at all.
LORD: A lot of those Kinks songs are recorded, released in mono. We wanted a monaural sound, so that it felt timeless. It was something that Will loved, and we loved, and just had the right tonality, and it feels analog.
But you know what a funny thing is? We worked really hard to try to find out what this show sounded like, and it was one of the big question marks. As directors, we weren’t really sure, and Forte wasn’t really sure. We basically tried a bunch of stuff to see what would stick, and for whatever reason, anything that sounded contemporary seemed wrong.
DEADLINE: Looking back, did the first season go as expected?
MILLER: Well, there were some twists, but I’m just really proud of the show. The fact that we were able to get something as weird but also universal on network television. Also to get Will’s voice and Will’s sensibility onto network television and have it not be a massive failure. It’s a dream come true.