The ending of the fourth season of The Last Man on Earth looked like it was going to be a happy one. Tandy showed tremendous and earned growth, encouraging his brother Mike to go out in search of a family of his own and convincing the group to “make like a tree and put some roots down” in the surprisingly pleasant piece of land in the middle of nowhere in Mexico. But then, while Tandy is unpacking, Todd, then Gail, then Carol is like, “You’re going to want to see this.” He goes outside and sees they are completely surrounded by people in gas masks. “Farts!” The end. Not just of the episode, or season, but as would soon be revealed, the series.
Though a massive cliff-hanger tonally might’ve been a fitting ending to the very silly, fairly existentialist Fox sitcom, as I wrote after the show’s cancellation, you still wanted to know who the hell these people were and what they wanted from our friends.
Will Forte is finally ready to answer these questions and more — like what his idea for the final scene of the show would’ve been. And he does on this week’s episode of Good One, Vulture Comedy’s podcast about jokes and the people who write them. Listen to the episode and read a short excerpt of the discussion below. Tune in to Good One every Monday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.
The people — I’ve read you say the idea was brought up years before, in some capacity. What was the idea that was brought up, and why after four seasons was it time to do it?
The people coming out was always [an idea we had]. We never knew exactly what it was going to be. When it was pitched earlier it would be, “Oh was it the government that Pat had brought up. Was that it?” At a certain point, you just felt like — to avoid stagnancy, to avoid all the characters — [you had to introduce the people]. ’Cause it seemed like Gail and Erica were in a good place. Everyone was in a good place. It felt like, Oh let’s fuck it up, and figure it out as we go. I was really reluctant to bring in the people, and then somebody had an idea that I loved that made me okay with it. This would have been the beginning of season five, if we had it.
In an interview right after the episode you said you didn’t want to say who they were because you didn’t want to spoil season five. So now, the show has been canceled …
The show was canceled, it’s fine.
What was the idea for them?
Oh, I’m happy to say it. Because we can still do it if … Nobody’s going to want to do it. We don’t know how we’re going to end the show. Like, we would’ve tackled that in the same way that we do everything: had it, put it together in the room, and we would have figured that out. And there’s so many smart people in that room, we would have found something that would have been fitting for the audience. But the way that we would have handled these people — basically they had been in this bunker and they went down when the virus had first started. They had some kind of medical expert or scientist who knew, “At this certain point, the virus will be dormant. You’ll be safe to get back out.” Then they see a bunch of stragglers — us. And we represent a real threat to them, because they’d thought everything was dead, so they quarantine us.
And we eventually communicate with them a little bit. They get comfortable with us. They’re very nice people. They look scary but they end up being nice people. They’re probably a couple famous people in there hopefully, or at least one. Somebody, I don’t know. Somebody’s acting. Somebody’s the main person. And eventually we’d all get comfortable with each other, and they would kind of let one person out. They wouldn’t be scared anymore.
But then we are immune to the virus but we’re carriers. And so we would infect them and they’d die like wildfire. And then we’re back to just us. And maybe one famous person we could talk into staying around. So that would have been it. That arc would have lasted four or five episodes. At the very end we were hearing, “Oh they’re going to bring you back for ten episodes so you can finish up.” Because to be honest, I told you about the schedule being just so insane and I was thinking, Oh, ten episodes sounds great. It sounds like a doable amount that I won’t go crazy with. So we would have tried to figure out how we would have rushed to the ending.
You have had some time since the show ended. In retrospect, did the show achieve what it set out to do, and what did it set out to do? Did it express how you were feeling about loneliness, death, and society?
I am very proud of the show and I love it with all my heart. Certainly there are things where you are striving to do something and make this deeper message that sometimes you don’t hit the way that you want to. But I do feel like we created a cast of characters that loved each other as people off camera, and I think that came across on camera. I am just really proud of the show. The thing I am really proud of is the fact that we were just able to bounce through so many different tones. That moment where Mary Steenburgen reveals to Kristen Schaal that she used to have a kid and the kid died is an incredible acting moment. To be able to have the show go to places like that, I am really proud that our writers were able to create a show where you can mess around so much and then at the same time do millions of fart jokes.
And do you like the final word being farts?
I don’t know if I like it, but it does seem appropriate.