Have you ever said, “I wouldn’t _____ you if you were the last _____ on Earth!” to someone? Probably not, because that particular cliché is as un-realistic as saying “We’ve got company” when being chased by a murderous lunatic. Movies and TV have made this idiom into a seemingly realistic phrase by repeating it over and over in every show or movie we’ve ever seen. This may be the core of why The Last Man on Earth, Fox’s new half-hour comedy starring Will Forte as the (possibly) last man left on Earth after a virus has wiped everyone else away, works so well. Clichés are often based in truth.
The show starts by introducing us to Forte’s Phil Miller (an amalgamation of the names of the show’s director/producer team, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who also brought us the Jump Street films and The Lego Movie), a bored, broken, and shaggy man in his early 40s just trying to make it and not go insane in a vast empty post-apocalyptic Arizona suburb. He passes the time the same way any of us might in his situation: masturbating, getting drunk, talking to his new group of drinking buddies (balls of varying size and sport with faces drawn on them), and trying to figure out how to poop like he used to when there’s no running water.
Forte captures the burning depression of boredom and the ache of loneliness with his daily routine. He plays racquetball in the foyer of the McMansion he squats in, and he pines for the love of the mannequin in the window of the shop next to his favorite bar.
And then, cataclysm.
Just as he’s ready to kill himself, Phil discovers he isn’t alone. There’s a woman left, and she’s the most annoying woman he’s ever met. Now Phil’s days are occupied with trying to fill the needs of someone other than himself.
Played to perfection by the hilarious Kristen Schaal, Phil’s new reason for living, Carol, is a fastidious busybody who detests everything Phil is: a dirty, aimless, hedonistic slacker. She’s intent on getting her life in order, and starting a family.
Sound familiar? The whole show is just a metaphor for marriage, but an exceedingly creative and successful one. Phil covers all the key stages of single life: self-doubt, self-loathing, boredom, jerking it to a literally ceiling-high pile of porn magazines, cutting a hole in the diving board of a swimming pool so you can use it as a toilet… you know, the same things we all go through. And then, just as he’s ready to kill himself rather than be alone, he meets “the one” and gains a whole new appreciation for single life. Yet he can’t say no, and he can’t bring himself to fight it.
While it may seem a decidedly pessimistic view of marriage, it’s a surprisingly realistic one, and it’s also got hidden gems of understanding, such as when Phil, desperate to fix an error he made, stays up all night fixing the irrigation system in Carol’s garden. We all sort of kill ourselves when we get married, both men and women, but we also bring ourselves to life when we put the needs of others over our own. And while the gender roles are pretty familiar in this vision of courtship, the roles could easily be reversed. This isn’t a male-centric show despite some of the familiar man-cave activities going on. Schaal is particularly adept at flipping the switch between Carol the Type A nutjob, and Carol the everywoman.
Last Man is a sign of good things to come on TV, playing our biases and clichés off one another until something valuable comes out of it. And the future of the show holds more surprises in store, including, undoubtedly, more “last” people. The themes we have to look forward to, such as fidelity, buyer’s remorse, and jealousy, will surely make for entertaining storytelling. Fortunately early reviews and ratings have been strong, and we should be seeing this show for a long time to come.
It’s impossible to not feel kinship with Phil Miller, because we all, on some level, feel the way he does and we don’t even need an apocalypse to experience it. He wouldn’t even stay with himself if he “were the last man on Earth,” and now, even worse, he’s got company.
The Last Man on Earth airs on Sundays at 9:30 p.m. on Fox.
By Ygal Kaufman