What would you do if one day you woke up and were literally the only person on earth? Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's new series — appropriately titled "The Last Man on Earth" — asks that question of Phil Miller (heh!), played by Will Forte.
Lord and Miller revealed that the actor was responsible for writing much of the first season, and therefore a lot of his character's behavior is what Forte would do if he were, indeed, the last man on earth. That includes taking art from museums, singing at Dodger Stadium, and making a swimming pool that's really just a giant margarita.
When Lord and Miller visited The Frame's studio, host John Horn asked them about finding humor in the apocalypse, working together as a cohesive unit, and leveraging their previous successes to say, "Trust us, we can make this work."
How did you come up with the idea for a post-apocalyptic TV comedy?
Chris Miller: The idea was something that Phil and I had been kicking about as a feature idea, but Will really sparked to it. We talked about it for a couple hours and he got really excited, and then he spent a weekend writing a treatment for the first season. And that's basically what's happening right now. [laughs]
Phil Lord: Right. When you watch each episode, you're watching his pitch in extremely slow motion.
Miller: If that pitch lasted, like, seven hours.
This is a television comedy about the apocalypse. Where did all the bodies go? What happened?
Miller: They're just out of frame. You can smell them if you're on set, but we didn't include them in the shots. [laughs]
Lord: I don't know if Will has a rationale for what exactly happened. In my mind, a bunch of animals gobbled up all the bodies, and then they succumbed to the virus, and then they died.
Miller: There have been a number of off-handed mentions about like, "Oh, help me clear this body out of there," or they'll drive by a hospital and say, "You do not want to go in there," but in general, we've found that the more talk or visuals of dead bodies, the less hilarious it is.
Lord: You wind up provoking two questions for every one that you answer, and we didn't want the show to be about what happened or what the virus was like. We didn't care about any of that stuff; we were interested in how a man deals with this new reality.
How do you go about getting the apocalypse to be funny?
Miller: All along, we talked about how, if there were an apocalypse, none of us would really be well prepared for it. I find everything about how to do everything off the Internet. I can't really fix a car or tell you the elements of the Constitution.
So it was kind of funny to think about an average person with no real skills. Not some person who's stocked up their basement with emergency supplies, but how a regular person would solve their problems and learn how to live.
So it's not just post-apocalyptic, it's life without Google?
Lord: Yes, exactly. I'm really worried that a lot of that information is just going to disappear, right? We don't store it on paper any more, we just store it in some computer's brain. So in our initial conversations when this was a feature, that idea takes about 10 minutes in a feature, and then you have to bring in vampire zombies or something.
But in a television show, which is really about exploring a character, you can get a lot more granular and that 10 minutes can become a whole series: What parts of society are essential? Can we throw it all out, or are there certain things we need to keep?
You've had great success with "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," "The Lego Movie," and the "Jump Street" movies, so in the film world have you proven that you know what you're doing and you can tell a story? And does that give you a little bit of permission to say, Trust us, we can make this work?
Miller: We've definitely had several conversations where we've used the phrase, "Trust us, we can make this work." [laughs] For sure, that was definitely a part of it. But the show has to be good, it has to deliver. And what really made Fox believe in the show was when they started reading the scripts and the executives were passing them around and couldn't wait to see what would happen next.
They were like, "Don't tell me what happens next! I just want to read it in the next script." So the fact that Will and the writing staff were able to deliver a show that continually surprised everybody and was hilarious, but also kept taking new turns in a way — that kept them on the edges of their seats — was really the reason why they ended up believing in it.
What do you think you each bring to your creative process, or how do you complement each other's way of working? Phil?
Lord: I could speak for Chris. I think he is a genius of simplicity and boiling something down to its barest, most concentrated, funniest elements.
Miller: The thing I admire most about Phil is his ability to think not only outside of the first box, but outside of the second box that the first box was in, and you didn't even know there was a second box. [laughs]
"The Last Man on Earth" airs Sunday night at 9 on Fox.