Sunday (May 3) night's “Last Man on Earth” finale brought Will Forte's Phil Miller full circle, which has been a long, 13-episode process.
First he was the last person on Earth.
Then Carol arrived and he was just the last man on Earth.
Then Todd came and he wasn't even the last man on Earth.
Then there were more people and soon he wasn't even the last Phil Miller on Earth.
Over 13 episodes, Phil went from alone, to living what he thought was the dream, to realizing his dream was a nightmare and, by the finale, he was sent packing by the community that he brought together and he was, briefly, isolated again before Carol look pity on him.
And, at the very end of the episode, Phil Miller was going off to a different location with the woman he thinks he loves for now, but we discovered that he isn't the only member of his family alive and his brother (Jason Sudeikis, whose picture appeared in the pilot) is “The Last Man in Space,” which would be a cool spinoff except that Sudekis is really busy.
Earlier this week, I watched the “Last Man on Earth” season finale and I sat down for a few minutes with creator/producer/star Forte to discuss the arc of the season and what the outer space climax meant going forward. We also talked about Phil's development and the midseason lull in which some viewers turned on the character.
Click through for the full Q&A.
HitFix: I appreciated how clearly full-circle the finale came and the sense that this season was arced out for this length and this compact story. When in the writing process did you know what the end was, either the very, very end with Jason or the end for Phil?
Will Forte: We knew roughly what we wanted to do. We knew the most general details. We knew that Phil was gonna get kicked out of the community. It wasn't until later in the game that we wanted Carol and Phil to get back together. We kept hovering in that zone like, “What's cooler – To have Phil just ostracized from the community?” And the closer we came to it, it felt like this was the way to go and I'm really happy with how that all turned out.
The Jason Sudeikis part of it, I think it was the fifth or sixth episode of the season — there was a point where we turned one episode into two episode, so my remembering gets crazy — but there was a point where we were doing a rewrite on something and I came back in with this just to shock everybody with that astronaut thing.
HitFix: Though you had the picture of him in the pilot, so you at least had Jason Sudeikis as a concept and the brother as a concept already…
Will Forte: We definitely had that as a concept. I had talked to Jason and we were still pretty early in the process when knew what we wanted to do and I talked to Jason to see. Even if that hadn't worked out, we just figured it would still be fun to put him in the picture as the brother. So that was something from the early-going when I tacked it onto the end of that episode… For a while I thought, “Oh, maybe we'll follow this storyline and every once in a while we'll just go up to space and check in on him and you'll learn more and more about him” and then the more and more we thought about it, the more it felt like it'd be a fun thing to end the season on.
HitFix: So this sets up a “Apollo 13”-style second season?
Will Forte: Yeah, it's all gonna be in space. It's only Jason. We're gonna pay him $5 an episode and… No, I honestly have no idea. We truly don't know what the size and scope of that storyline will be.
HitFix: But he's sorta available for you hypothetically?
Will Forte: Hypothetically. He is so wonderful and so busy. I've always had somewhat of a plan for what we could do with that character, but I certainly don't want to take advantage of his friendship, because he's a friend first. We'd love for him to be involved on whatever level he's comfortable. He's got a wife and kid and a million offers to do a million things, so I certainly want to be respectful of his life.
HitFix: What was it like for you this season watching the reactions as viewers went along on Phil's arc? Because there was at episode five or six the “We hate Phil! Phil's the worst person in the world!” outcry. [“Yup,” he agrees.] Did you watch that thinking, “It's part of the story! Just go with it…” How were you responding?
Will Forte: I certainly paid attention to it. I've done a lot of things where the character's not a very likable person, so I was used to that and I wasn't nervous about going into that territory where the character becomes unlikable. But I do know that we did lose people at a certain point, some people. I like that kinda thing, but it's not for everybody and I certainly don't have what you would call “normal” tastes. But it's a good learning experience. I look at that and I don't know that we would do anything that differently, but it's interesting to see and it definitely register.
I think that there are things that we could have done that might have kept some of those people there a little longer. And God, I've never done this before! I was a writer before I went to “SNL,” but a low-level guy, so to come in and be making decisions like that? It was new and we, as a whole writing staff and production team, we learned a lot and I'm not used to keeping a character alive for that long and arcing out something. I always want to keep it interesting and I like watching things where I never know where it's going and I'm not saying that I would change, in any way, so that people would know where it's going, but I probably err on the side of trying too hard to shake things up. I don't know, at a certain point there would be the argument that if you do that enough, then you expect more of a shakeup from time-to-time. Like picking your battles, you pick your shake-ups. But I'm very proud of the show and proud of the season and I certainly learned a lot of lessons that I look forward to bringing into the second season. I'm just so excited that we get a chance to do it again, because this group of people that I get to work with is so wonderful.