The spring premiere of The Last Man on Earth was a pet-ticularly inspired and unusual episode. Fur real. Instead of resuming the story of our post-apocalyptic survivors by resolving the fall finale’s “Is Gail dead or did she not shoot herself because it kinda seemed like she did?” cliffhanger — and instead of showing us Phil (Will Forte) and his friends working their way up or down the California coast — the Fox comedy uncorked a wild and weird episode that introduced a new character who was trying to find a fellow survivor or two on this crazy, virus-decimated planet. (See: A year ago, when the season 2 spring premiere turned out to be a standalone episode with Jason Sudeikis’ Mike, in which we followed Phil’s astronaut brother after he plummeted back on Earth.)
This time, we flashed back to the earliest days of the virus and got to know Pamela (Kristen Wiig), someone who might possibly make Carol (Kristen Schaal) look straitlaced, and someone who went from pun-ticulating socialite to trashbag-wearing, cat-food-eating mess of widow over the course of 30 minutes. It all began with Pamela enjoying the good life, raising funds for dogs in wheelchairs, and trying to match wits with Catherine, a rival lady of high society played by… Laura Dern. (Uh-oh, high-profile cameo alert!) Soon, the virus starts to take down everyone, and Pamela watches news break about the death of President Mike Pence (interesting, considering that it’s 2019 and Donald Trump should still be in his first term), and then all of the replacement POTUSes. (R.I.P. President Paul Ryan, President Jeff Sessions, President Betsy DeVos — pretty much everyone in Donald Trump’s cabinet).
Pamela and Catherine are left to scavenge for food — Catherine, a cat lover, is forced to shame-eat dog food in a decimated grocery store. After losing her husband to the virus, Pamela goes to Catherine’s house, only to find her lifeless body in bed. (Props to Dern for actually making it half an episode; big-star cameos usually mean instant death on this show. See: Will Ferrell, scared to death in season 2; Jon Hamm, shot to death earlier this season). Taking the key to her bunker, Pamela holes up for what turns into years of drinking wine, trying unsuccessfully to teach her dog Jeremy to say the word “Milk,” and resorting to eating cat food after Jeremy ditches this crazy woman for parts unknown when she opens the bunker door as a bluff.
Also worthy of mention: Pamela has been flying a drone that she can watch from her bunker monitor, and after countless days/weeks/months/years of nothing, she spots our survivors in Malibu. (Mystery solved: So, it wasn’t Pat who was flying the drone!) After Melissa (January Jones) shoots down the drone, Pamela decides to leave her bonkers bunker to go forth into the world, perhaps to reunite with Jeremy but definitely setting a course to find Phil and company. Before she does, maybe we should find Phil — or at least the man who plays him, Last Man creator Will Forte — and break down this standout standalone episode.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You mentioned that Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, and pretty much the rest of Trump’s cabinet died, each after serving as president. There is no mention of Donald Trump. But we say that we’re in 2019, and Mike Pence is president. That would mean that Trump either (a) died in office, which is why Pence was serving in that capacity or (b) he was impeached. Which one was it? And why was that not specifically addressed?
[Laughs.] That’s kind of a Choose Your Own Adventure. We had a little fun with that. We just kind of dropped that in there. You know, it’s funny because we actually had come up with that joke before the election. It basically just happened that that was the way the election went, so I think all these people are like, “Oh! They’re getting [political]!” Really, that section was mainly to show how serious the virus was, and how seriously there was no vaccine. Because if there’s anybody who’s going to have a vaccine, it is the [highest] echelon of the government, so we thought that that was an interesting way to tell the story. How scary would that be if that started occurring around you to the people in charge? How scary that would be going through life — and how hopeless you would feel.
So, what you’re saying is that President Jill Stein would have met an untimely demise, too.
Yes. In our show, basically, there are seven people alive. There was no malice intended. We’ve shown that Cher is dead, and I’m a big fan of Cher.
So do you imagine that Trump died in office, or was he impeached?
As I said, it’s a Choose Your Own Adventure. Maybe he, you know… I don’t know. [Laughs.] Whenever I hear that joke, my brain always goes to a certain place, but I don’t want to spoil it for the viewers because I want them to feel whatever they want to feel… What was your opinion? What do you think happened?
I think he was impeached. Because otherwise, I think you would have showed viewers that he died, and all the successions.
That’s a reasonable take. [Laughs.]
Did you do a less mysterious version where you had it as impeached or killed, and the network said, “Maybe you should leave it vague”? Or was it always going to be that way?
No, we always wanted to keep that vague. I know there are some people who enjoyed the joke and some people who [didn’t]. Your enjoyment of that joke falls on partisan lines, you know? Although I think there could be some people who enjoyed it who are Republicans and some people who wouldn’t enjoy it who are Democrats. But again, it was really a joke that we thought of before the election was even decided. Once the election happened, then that part of it fell into place.
It feels like a bold joke, like “Oh my god, they’re killing the President(s)!,” but logically we know that almost every single person on the planet was killed in your show.
This whole show is about a virus that killed off the entire planet, so this is just logically what happens to every single person on the planet, and we thought, “What a way to tell the gravity of the situation by seeing all of the line of succession.” And I will say for a certain segment of the population, there is an added horror of thinking of Betsy DeVos as the President of the United States.
How many presidents do you imagine that we went through before it was just like, “Eh screw it. Let’s let chaos reign”? Do you just give up after Besty DeVos is president?
In my head, once the virus got to a certain point, things just got very, very chaotic, so just bedlam ensued. It’s a very-man-for-himself situation. But I bet they went a little deeper than that.
You have a penchant for introducing very famous people in an episode and killing them off quickly. Laura Dern lasted the longest, making it for part of an episode. How did you come to cast her? And what was her reaction when you asked her to play a woman who resorts to eating dog food?
I love Laura Dern. She’s wonderful. And I got to know her when I did Nebraska with her dad. She came out to visit and hung around for the last couple weeks of shooting, so we all got pretty tight in that situation since we were out in Nebraska, away from home, and we would all just hang around with each other. Bruce kind of became a father figure, and as a result Laura a sister figure. We were coming up with the idea for this episode, and we got very excited about finding somebody really special for Kristen Wiig’s nemesis, and I always think of Laura for stuff because she’s such an amazing actress. I know that she’s so busy and sought-after so that the realities of getting her to do anything that’s a big time commitment is tough, so I thought I would take a shot and see if she would have any interest in this, just to really come have fun with Kirsten Wiig, and she luckily had some time and god, she was just amazing. And I think she was excited to eat the dog food — not because of the joke, but because she really has a taste for dog food. She loves dog food. It’s actually dog food in there. No, okay. I have to tell the truth. There was not real dog food in the bag. It was cat food. It was dry cat food in there. She loves cat food.
You and Kristen are friends and former co-workers from SNL and MacGruber. What appealed to you about having her in this role of Pamela, and how much of the role was tailored to her? What came first?
All the time we’ll think of our buddies because a lot of people who work on our show used to work at Saturday Night Live. So it’s a family there. And Kristen is, I think, the funniest person on the planet, man or woman. I would say that title goes to Kristen Wiig, in my book. And knowing her for that long, and doing Brothers Solomon with her, and MacGruber, I know what she’s capable of. She just can do anything. So, of course, when thinking of somebody on my wish list to be a part of this show, she’s always No. 1. But again, like Laura Dern, she’s just incredibly busy all the time.
I went back and got to be part of the monologue for when she hosted SNL a couple months ago, and it was just so good catching up with her. We had asked her if she wanted to be one of the people in the hazmat suits for the season premiere and do a little thing there, and she was doing something at the time, so she couldn’t. But she circled back around and said, “Hey, by the way, if we ever find something, it would be fun to do something on your show,” and I was like, “Oh my god, of course!” Then I thought, you know, sometimes you just say that. So I gave it a little bit of space [laughs], but I got really excited about it and I tried to give her room to back out, and she ended up having the time. And it was just so much fun. We just got really lucky. I can’t say too much – if the episode that happened this past Sunday was her only part on this show, I would be incredibly satisfied. But I think there’s a chance that we could run into her at some point, which makes me excited as well.
We know how Laura felt about eating dog food. How did Kristen respond to being told that she would be eating cat food?
I don’t want to ruin any of the behind the scenes magic, but it’s not actually cat food. See, Laura Dern loves the taste of cat food, but Kristen is more of like a hamster pellet person, so we put hamster pellets in there.
Did you always know that Pamela would get a standalone episode?
This came pretty late in the game. At a certain point, we had the episode written — which was the answers to all of our cliffhangers — which is coming up this Sunday. And while we were doing it, there was something about it that we were like, “Oh no, is this the right episode to come back with?” Toward the end of the season, we had this idea to do the standalone, and then we scrambled to get it together; somehow it worked out that Kristen could do it. So we actually shot the one that just aired with just Kristen, and then had to race through the edit to get all the effects together, so it was a very late in the game plan. The positive side of it is that the episode that would have been the first one back ended up really coming together, and I’m so excited about it. It’s one of our best episodes as well. But the Kristen episode is just a very special episode. I love doing those episodes that aren’t connected to other things and telling a different part of the story. Being able to go back and take people through one person’s journey as the virus is just catching on has always been something that we’ve talked about, but this was the perfect way to do it. And then to tie up with the loose ends with the drone — there were a lot of things that came together as we were writing that episode, and we pulled it together in such a short amount of time. … Everybody came together and just kicked ass to get that thing done.
How long will Pamela be struggling to make contact with our group before finally meeting them? And I know you’re going to say, “Who’s to say that she ever will find them?” But humor me in this crazy hypothetical: If she were to meet up with them, what kind of vibe would you imagine that to be?
Her character is so different from every character that is currently in our show, that I think it would be interesting to see her interact, but she definitely has quirks that will fit in nicely with all our quirky turds in our group. But I will caution that she saw us in Malibu through the drone, and then the drone got shot out of the sky, obviously, before she found us. So, you know, if she ever were to link up with us, it might take her a while.
Can you tease another one of her quirks that we’ll learn about?
In a lot of ways, I see her as very Tandy-like, having her own view of the world and trying hard. I feel like this experience of her being in the bunker has made her reexamine her life, so I think she’s going to still have a lot of quirks that she had when she was in a fully populated society, but she’s going to get a chance to remake herself.
Tandy and Pamela both are always thinking they just nailed a joke that they didn’t nail. I think they could share a good riff.
I’m wondering if they both think the other person’s jokes are funny since they both have the same type of horrible jokes. I wonder if they’ll get off on each other’s jokes, or if they’ll both think the other person is a sh–ty joke teller.
What are the odds of seeing Jeremy again?
We never saw Jeremy dead. Just like with Jason Sudeikis. You never saw Jason dead. We’ve never seen him dead. He’s probably dead, but we never see him dead. And the same thing with Jeremy. Jeremy probably fell into a cave and, you know, is decaying right now. But, we never saw that, so there’s always the chance. Oh, my god, that is the cutest little dog! We’d be crazy if we didn’t have Jeremy somehow find the group again.
Or they find his decaying corpse. That would be fine too. We just need that closure.
Exactly. But as you’ll see from the rest of the season, things get a little squirrely. I’m excited. [Laughs] There are some crazy twists and turns that are coming down the pike.
The audience has been waiting for resolution on the ‘Did Gail actually kill herself?’ fall-finale cliffhanger, but you gave us the fake-out with the Pamela episode instead. Do we get that resolution at the beginning of the episode?
I cannot confirm anything. But what I can say about this episode is there are some major moves. [Laughs] There are some major moves. It’s one of my favorite episodes. It’s got a little bit of everything. I’m really excited to be able to come back with the Kristen Wiig episode, which was so different and fun, and then a version of one of our episodes with our group that I think is among the best we’ve ever done. I can’t really say anything, except this is an episode that people who are fans of the show will not want to miss.
Can you give us a one-word tease for this episode?
“Roller coaster.” Is that one word or is that two?
The dictionary says two. Thanks for the bonus word!
Let me think… okay… “Tornado.” No. Well, “tornado” is not as good as “roller coaster” because roller coaster says more…. Roller coaster through a tornado.
To read what Mary Steenburgen said about that Gail cliffhanger in the fall finale, click here. And to sneak a peek at a scene from this Sunday’s episode (9:30 p.m., Fox), in which Melissa is choosing not to begin the healing process, simply watch the video above.