The main thing to know about FOX‘s The Last Man on Earth before going in is that it’s a long con. FOX is keeping things under wraps with the Will Forte vehicle (the clip above finally lets on that someone else is on Earth), but there’s only so much you can hide if someone really wants to know. For example, if you just go to IMDb.com, you find that Kristen Schaal, January Jones, Mel Rodriguez, and Cleopatra Coleman are all on the show as well.
The gimmick is clear going in, and Will Forte is a talented enough comedian and actor that he can sell the idea of jumping on board with a few clips of lamp bowling. But, as I said, this is a long con, and no amount of selling an audience on a few gags is really setting the proper stage.
The official premise (see below) tells you that Phil Miller (Forte) finds himself to be the last man on Earth after a plague ravaged humanity in 2020. The show kicks off with his journey across the United States and Canada searching for anyone. Finding no one, he leaves signs everywhere alerting anyone who may stumble upon them that he will be in Tucson, Arizona. He then returns home to wait. Of course, he’s picked up some knick-knacks during his travels.
Thus, the show quickly lets us know that this isn’t your normal “end of the world,” show. This is light-hearted to say the least, and is somewhere in the “silly, with unicorns,” area of the apocalypse spectrum. The barely-mentioned virus is apparently of the body-dissolving variety, as Phil doesn’t have to deal with them, and it seems to have gotten rid of everyone almost instantly, as there are no signs of panic. Fair enough. Also, Phil figures that with the planet at his disposal, what he’d like to do with his life, such as it is now, is just go back to Tucson to live out his days. It’s that sort of show.
Apart from establishing just what sort of world we’re entering, the show is also laying a serious foundation for Phil’s perspective. He’s pretty much as moronic as you could imagine, while still being able to believe that he survives for two years on his own. A fair plan for life after everyone, for Phil, includes stocking up on Jenga sets so that he can build a tower for months on end, and cruising to the local bowling alley to destroy whatever happens to be handy.
Just when things are at their lowest point, and Phil has decided that there is only so much being alone a person can take, he finds someone else. Carol (Kristen Schaal) is the perfect Yin to Phil’s Yang. She is as annoying as he is stupid, and the gag of the show quickly turns to a question of what you will put up with when there just aren’t any other options.
The series premiere is an hour-long, massive effort at establishment, and it sets up Phil’s slow descent into a special kind of madness, and then shoves Carol on him so we can watch him squirm, more or less ad nauseam, because we feel his pain at finding the one human he didn’t especially want to find.
Schaal is a brilliant comedienne, but her character here is part of an odd, and oddly forced construct, which makes it somewhat difficult to pull the humor out of anything she does. Carol isn’t so much a character as a checklist of annoying features, which might have served for a laugh if he’d ditched her after a couple of days, deciding to bite the philosophic bullet, but we get a lot of exposure to her, and it becomes a gag that won’t end.
The whole show is an experiment of the medium actually (in a sense not entirely removed from something like Portlandia… only this one isn’t particularly good), and ultimately might have been a better film. There is a fairly serious sense in which the show doesn’t actually start until the end of the second episode, the very end, which makes it hard to convince anyone to watch it.
There’s so much, and so little, going on here that I’d be equally surprised by the show’s success as by the fact that no one came back for the second episode. Which is to say that I would not be at all surprised at either outcome.
I have to give Forte credit for taking a shot on something that is, if nothing else, rather different. It is perhaps too different. As much a stand-up routine brought to life as an effort at a story, and probably as much “drunken napkin” as coherent effort at writing, it is at least something that takes a shot. It is also as likely to be one of the funniest shows ever by the eighth episode as it is to have run completely out of ideas. And, it is as likely the product of some grand design that Forte is convinced leads to genius as it is to be the laughable excuse he sold someone because he actually just wanted someone else to foot the bill so he could break a bunch of shit.
From writer/producer Will Forte (“Nebraska,” “Saturday Night Live”) and directors/producers Chris Miller and Phil Lord (“The Lego Movie,” “21 Jump Street”), THE LAST MAN ON EARTH is a new single-camera comedy that chronicles the life and adventures of an average guy – and humanity’s last hope – who discovers what life is like when no one is telling you what you can and cannot do.
The year is 2020, and after a deadly virus has swept the planet, only one man is left on earth: PHIL MILLER (Forte). He used to be just an average guy who loved his family and hated his job. Now, in his RV, Phil searches the country for other survivors. He has traveled to every city, every town and every outpost in the United States, Mexico and Canada, and has found no one. As he returns to his hometown of Tucson, Phil comes to the painful realization that he is almost certainly the last living being on the face of the earth. All he wants is for someone – anyone – to find him in Tucson – preferably a woman.
Be careful what you wish for, Phil…