Synopsis of 1×1: After a virus wipes out humanity, Phil Miller scours North America for another survivor but finds no one.
Synopsis of 1×2: Carol tries to get Phil to respect the rules of civilization again, to prepare him to repopulate the Earth.
Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are quickly becoming two of the biggest names in Hollywood for beating the odds over and over again. First, they turned a 30-page children’s novel into a full-length movie with Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs; then they cast Channing Tatum in his first real non-chickflick role in a reboot of a forgotten 1980s TV show with 21 Jump Street and its sequel; and finally they directed the most transparent feature-length toy commercial in history with The LEGO Movie. And miraculously, not only were all these adaptations successful, but they were fantastic, some of the most creative and self-aware comedies in the last decade.
It’s probably for this reason that FOX backed up the duo in producing this year’s most unproducable new show, The Last Man on Earth, which stars Will Forte as Phil Miller, who happens to be the only survivor of a disease that’s wiped out all of humanity (at this point, no reason is given as to why). For a serialized comedy, it’s extremely loosely conceived; Phil doesn’t even have a job or friends, let alone a goal he can work towards on a week-by-week basis. So does it work? Well, so far, yeah. Lord and Miller have done it again: injected a surprising degree of originality and insight to a premise that any other creative team would have wasted, even if The Last Man on Earth isn’t yet as strong as their film work.
“Alive In Tucson” begins with Phil trekking across the country in an attempt to find another survivor, leaving behind signs that say “ALIVE IN TUCSON” everywhere he visits. (As an Arizona native, I’m a little baffled as to why Phil would choose to live in Tucson when he can live anywhere in the country, but hey, I don’t judge.) At first, Phil openly embraces the freedom that his new position lends him, and much of the comedy from the first episode comes from him hanging Van Gogh and Monet paintings up around his house, bowling in a parking alley using fish tanks instead of pins, and mixing $10,000 wine with Cheese Whiz.
And then the episode skips ahead 5 months (one nice thing about the show’s premise is that it can skip huge chunks like this without worrying about any potential consequences with its subplots; it’s good to see the show already embracing its ability to pull tricks like this). Phil’s house is filled to the brim with garbage, he’s converted his pool into a giant toilet, and not only does he talk to a volleyball, but he’s got a character for just about every piece of sporting equipment available. Phil is now sad, lonely, depressed, and very horny. The show makes this dramatic mood shift, from goofy and light-hearted to dark and existential, with an ease that few others could. Forte plays the range capably, and the jokes maintain their humor while only delving deeper into Phil’s psyche.
At the end of “Tucson,” Phil’s literally seconds away from committing suicide when he sees a smoke signal in the distance. When he arrives there, we realize that the show’s title is somewhat misleading: yes, Phil is the last man on Earth, but there’s also a last woman on Earth, Carol Pilbasian, played by Flight of the Conchords-alum Kristen Schaal. Desperate as he is, Phil realizes right away that Carol doesn’t click with him. She makes passive-aggressive comments about his trash-filled home and insists that, despite the complete lack of traffic, he stops at every stop sign. Her attempts to maintain a civilized demeanor work in direct opposition to Phil’s free-spirited laziness. In one of the episode’s best sequences, Carol demands that Phil move his car out of a handicapped parking spot. “The whole freaking world is a parking spot now!” Phil yells at her. “It’s one of the only benefits of our situation!”
It’s a little hard to buy into Carol’s character for much of “The Elephant In The Room.” Anyone might make an effort to try to stay civilized in such a trying situation, but how could she possibly judge Phil for looking at pornography after months of not even seeing a woman? Luckily she becomes easier to swallow later into the episode, as she herself has to resort to some of Phil’s more primitive ways of life. Eventually Phil swallows his pride and decides to figure out a way to get running water to their houses, in a slapstick-heavy sequence that’s actually one of the episode’s best bits thanks to Forte’s flawless execution.
The two finally connect on a more human level when they get together for dinner and discuss the titular elephant in the room: they’re the only man and woman left alive, so it’s their responsibility now to repopulate the Earth. Carol, of course, insists that they get married before having sex, and given the very idea of marriage has completely lost its meaning to Phil, he agrees. If Carol and Phil’s dynamic in this scene indicates the way they’ll play off each other for the remainder of the series, they could become a great comedic pairing. They still definitely don’t like each other, but they’ve managed to reach a level where they no longer act like Odd Couple-esque caricatures, and the necessity to procreate makes for a great potential factor to mess with their hatred.
It’s still too early to judge, but this pair of episodes signals that The Last Man On Earth could be one of the most interesting and funny shows on the air. There’s no telling what could come in the next few weeks; the show has no set road map, and since the characters have free access to every place and thing in the United States, Lord and Miller could run a long way if they follow the same no-holds-barred approach they did with The LEGO Movie.
Forte has incredible comedic timing and delivery, and even though he hasn’t had a lot of experience as a leading man, he demonstrates he has the chops to carry a show that so heavily relies on his performance. Right now Schaal still shows room for improvement, and there were only a few laugh-out-loud moments in the two episodes combined; I’ve given the 4-star rating baring in mind that comedies have notoriously bad pilots and lending major props to the originality of the show’s premise. But I’m already excited to see what the gang cooks up for next week.