TV Recap: The Last Man on Earth, Series Premiere

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The Last Man on Earth – ‘Alive in Tucson’ & ‘The Elephant in The Room’ Plot Summaries:

It’s November-ish 2021. The human race has been decimated by a killer virus, leaving one man, Tucson native Phil Miller (Will Forte) alive. After scouring the country for signs of life, (and pillaging anything he wants) Miller returns to Tucson to live out his days. He drowns his sorrows in alcohol and after an awkward situation with a storefront mannequin, realizes he cannot live anymore. During a suicide attempt he sees smoke off in the distance and races to find the source. Miller discovers the creator of the smoke, a Florida office manager named Carol Pilbasian (Kristen Schaal). At first overjoyed at seeing another human, he soon realizes that the straight-laced, by-the-book Carol might be the last person he ever wants to spend time with.

The Last Man on Earth is not a perfect comedy. It’s not a perfect drama, either. But, what this series, created by SNL alum Will Forte and produced/director by LEGO Movie geniuses Chris Miller and Phil Lord is, is one of boldest, most creative and most daring programs television, particularly comedic television, since a little ‘show about nothing’ aired on NBC 25 years ago.

Photo Credit: Jordin Althaus/FOX
Photo Credit: Jordin Althaus/FOX

The first episode of the Last Man premiere, ‘Alive in Tucson’ pushes all its chips to the center of the table immediately, as this episode is a one-man show. It’s literally just Will Forte floundering around his hometown, which like the rest of America, has had its population wiped out by a killer virus. (In case you’re wondering, they never address where the bodies of the dead are.) The entire episode is based solely on physical comedy, sight gags and humorous dialogue Miller (Forte) has with God. There’s no whacky supporting characters, romantic interests or zany schemes that break up the stone cold reality that Forte’s character is all by himself.

Much like the novelty of being able to what he wants wears off on Miller, the novelty of this being all laughs and chuckles wears off for the audience. Reality sets in. The gravity of the situation hits all of us and we’re shown the flip side of being the last man on earth – the loneliness. And that’s where this series proves itself. It has the ability to be deadly serious and frank with its subject matter, but thankfully never strays into an overly philosophical or morbid state.

This sense of doom carries over into the second episode, ‘Elephant in the Room’ where Miller attempts to commit suicide. This leads to his discovery that he is indeed not the last person on earth (although still the last man) as he meets Kristen Schaal’s former hot sauce company office manager, Carol. This discover sets in motion the third, but necessary, shift in tone and theme for the series.

Photo Credit: Jordin Althaus/FOX
Photo Credit: Jordin Althaus/FOX

The relationship between Phil Miller and Carol Pilbasian might be one of the best comedic relationships on television right now, and yes, we’ve only seen them together for one episode. The two are perfect foils for the other – Miller sees this apocalypse as a time to do whatever he wants; while Carol feels in order to rebuild society, one needs to strictly adhere to the rules American society was built on, even if there’s no one else around. The interaction these two have are just perfect, it’s an instantaneous love/hate relationship that reveals so much about both character’s flaws, but also their inner beauty. Oh, and they’re also both wonderfully weird people too, so all their quirks ramped up to 11, including Carol’s obsession with grammar. In essence, we get the traditional television comedy tropes of the “will they/won’t they” and the “odd couple” comedies, but dropped in the post-apocalyptic world.

Will Forte gives a masterful performance in the series premiere. He literally carries the entire first episode by himself, and the plays the perfect pie in the face straight man to all the quirks and idiosyncrasies of Schaal’s character. While Forte hits all the comedic notes with ease and grace, it’s his dramatic side that makes Last Man work. He embraces the dark, suicidal part of Phil Miller and he breaks our heart so many times throughout the episodes. The scene where he musters up the courage to “talk” to a storefront mannequin, guys you emotional. You’re just soul punched by the entire sequence, especially when he realizes he’s emoting to a mannequin. That scene is an Emmy winner right there.

Photo Credit: Jordin Althaus/FOX
Photo Credit: Jordin Althaus/FOX

Kristen Schaal is just perfect as the rules-obsessed Carol. Schaal imbues Carol with both a quirky and dorky free spiritedness, but also a focused and fastidious OCD quality. Her actions seem very “sitcom whacky” at first blush, but it all makes perfect sense in the end. Carol wants society to return and she realizes that this situation is not about feeding your own vices, sorrow and greed but it’s about self-sacrifice in order to repopulate the earth. Schaal knocks it out of the park, giving us a fuller embodiment of a character than we get in most premieres, and hell in even most television comedies in general.

The Last Man on Earth is must-see television. It’s a series that takes more comedic and dramatic risks than you could possibly imagine. It features brilliant, breakout performances from two actors who’ve spent their careers as supporting players in countless films and series. If you’re one of those complaining about the lack of quality on television, particularly comedic television, you need to be watching this series.

Rating: 9 out of 10

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Bill Bodkin is the Owner, Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Pop-Break. Most importantly, however, he is the proud father of a beauty daughter, Sophie. He is beyond excited that Pop-Break will be six years old in 2015 as this site has come a long, long way from the day he launched in it in his bachelor pad at the Jersey Shore. He can be read every Monday for the Happy Mondays Interview Series as well as his weekly reviews on Law & Order: SVU, Mad Men and Hannibal. His goal, once again, is to write 500 stories this year (a goal he accomplished in 2014). He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @PopBreakDotCom
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Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites