The year is 2021. The place is Tuscon, Arizona. Immobile cards and empty homes litter the planet. Two years after we’re told a virus wiped out almost all of humanity, the jungles of American suburbia are wild and untamed save for the sole survivor wallowing amidst it. Meet Phil Miller – the last man on our earth who’s survived for reasons unknown both us and him. The planet earth’s now just one big playground and he’s just living in it. Alone. Forever. Maybe.
No, this isn’t the preview to a gloomy zombie apocalypse. Straight from the minds that brought us last year’s genius hit of The Lego Movie, The Last Man on Earth is humanity’s last laugh if it were embodied in an every-bro who just didn’t care – or does he? By day, Phil (so cleverly named after creators Phil Lord and Chris Miller) likes driving vehicles into abandoned stores, filching priceless paintings from museums to hang in the empty mansion he’s squatting in, and generally busting things up. By night, he’s a lonely sad praying for some company, female company in particular, a castaway in an urban jungle. He’s even got the (sports) balls to prove it – with whom he so reluctantly passes the time with.
These opening scenes were often beautifully thoughtful and equal parts comedic in the desert spaces we’ve so commonly come to know as Breaking Bad‘s grim territory. The eerie uninhabited atmosphere of The Last Man on Earth lends itself to a kind of visual slapstick in the style of a silent-movie comedy and a smart one at that. With his wide-eyed aloofness and forlorn gaze, Forte makes for a marvelous one-man show. His best scenes recall the loneliest moments out to I am Legend, romancing mannequins and steamrolling beer cans, only it’s just one part somber and three-fourths hilarious.
The show is forever leaps and strides ahead of itself at all times. No gag ever lasts longer than you’d like it too and beneath the bravado, its existentialist crisis is thoughtfully apparent. Phil, we’re shown, is a man who lives life like theres on wrong way to use a margarita-filled kiddie-pool in one of the show’s clever visual cues to his accumulated insanity. Just when I began to tire of its antics twenty minutes in, The Last Man on Earth goes the extra-mile to add another to its end-of-the-world party of one: Carol, played by Gravity Falls‘ impossibly endearing Kristen Schaal.
Carol is arguably where problems start for both Phil and the show. For the first half of its double-episode premiere, The Last Man on Earth‘s a brilliant physical comedy; an excellent short film, really ended poignantly with Phil’s finding a companion. That Schaal’s Carol should be that girl of his dreams is rather smart in theory – she’s a hopelessly neurotic busy-bee dreaming of saving humanity and Phil’s a devil-may-care slob invested in completing the world’s largest Jenga tower (It never gets that large). In essence, they’re the perfect odd-couple to be rearing the rest of humanity if Phil could ever commit, if their relationship didn’t feel like a peculiar dead-end.
More than that, Carol’s an uptight rule-follower, or to put it as bluntly as the show seems to desire – a nag. She wants him to clean up after himself. She insists he use proper grammar. To Carol, it seems, a dangling participle is as naughty as Phil pulling down his pants to let something else dangle in front of her. And she demands that if Phil wants to win her hand, he better put a ring on it. Carol is, in short, a character to be ridiculed as much as Phil, but with Phil as the comedian, it seems odd not to make her the sensible straight man. We can thank Schaal’s impeccable wit that Carol frequently rises above the stereotype, but I’m beginning to wonder how long it’ll be until this “boys will be boys” gets tiresome fast.
At the same time, I can’t help but appreciate The Last Man on Earth‘s adventurous spirit in a genre that just last week I’d have thought impossible. Its scripting questionable and its casting to perfection, I do hope that the show lasts long enough to see the notion of a post-apocalyptic comedy succeed – so long as it doesn’t outlast the warm welcome I’d give it. Though I’m not completely sold on it as a franchise, the mere idea of The Last Man on Earth is unparalleled genius, but the more would certainly be merrier in a world just about Phil.
The Last Man On Earth airs Sunday nights on FOX at 9/8 Central. Catch all the latest episodes at FOX.com and all the latest reviews here at BagoGames.
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