The Last Man on Earth is a new sitcom created by Will Forte, who also stars as Phil Miller, the titular Last Man on Earth. The first episode of the show is beautiful and strikes a perfect tone. They have fun with the high concept premise, filling the episode with gags and visual sequences exploring how much you can get away with when you’re the last man on earth. But, as it progresses it really starts to strike an emotional chord as you realize that, despite being about a situation that has never happened to anyone, it’s exploring things we’ve all felt before. The reality of Phil’s loneliness is, of course, much more extreme, but a lot of his thoughts on how much he misses people hit home.
The first episode is more fascinating and resonant than it is funny, but they definitely get amusing gags in there. At one point he decides to watch Castaway and says out loud to the TV that this will never be him– he’ll never end up talking to a ball. Months later, he doesn’t have just one friend who’s a ball, he’s created about a dozen different friends out of balls. A scene where he talks to a mannequin in a store as though she’s a woman, with real nervousness and real uncertainty, demonstrates the show’s potential for both comedic and emotional excellence.
The moment from the first episode that struck me the hardest came when Phil decided he was ready to end it and kill himself. He says, to no one, “sorry for giving up.” It was a harshly honest moment to show how, even in these circumstances where anyone could surely see why he wouldn’t want to go on living, he feels like a failure.
Just when he’s about to kill himself, he realizes there’s another survivor. In a fantasy sequence, we see his hope that the other survivor will be a beautiful woman who immediately just wants to kiss him. Instead, he meets Carol (played by Kristen Schaal) who’s loud and aggressive and not immediately trusting of him. The second episode of the series is all about their relationship.
After spending a day with Carol, Phil heads to the bar to talk to his ball friends. He tells them he’s not sure how he feels about Carol. Specifically, he describes her as being cute until she opens her mouth. Yikes. I felt very ambivalent watching the early scenes between Phil and Carol play out. There’s definitely something satirically brilliant about this. He spoke often about how much he missed women and it was always very clear that there was one specific reason he missed women. When he’s finally faced with a woman and discovers she’s an actual person, he’s disappointed. That commentary is fantastic. But, at the same time, I do think we’re supposed to like Phil and I felt very uncomfortable realizing there’s probably a significant about of the audience that felt bad for him that Carol has opinions and agency.
My worries continued during the scenes of Carol telling him how to drive and judging his messy house. It was depressing to see a sitcom with one of the most unique concepts ever, that could do so much with that concept, somehow fall into the nagging wife jokes we’ve gotten on TV since its beginning.
However, these scenes were well done even with the issues that bothered me throughout them and I had a lot of good will for the show from how beautiful the first episode had been. Towards the end of the second episode, the Phil/Carol relationship really started to come into its own and move away from the cliches. It was also during the ending of the second episode that I started laughing out loud a lot. Overall, I’m very optimistic about the show. It was an amazingly refreshing feeling to watch a sitcom where I was genuinely unsure of what would happen next at every turn. I’m still not sure exactly what this show will be as it plays out. That’s pretty exciting.