Is a show still good if it takes 20 episodes to get there? Fox’s “Last Man on Earth” is certainly testing that idea.
“Last Man on Earth” premiered in March 2015, and followed Will Forte’s Phil Miller as he lived in Tuscon, occupying an empty world ravaged by a virus.
(Mild But Unsurprising Spoilers Ahead.)
Miller finds another survivor late in the first episode, and a few more populate the show by the end of the first season. The show mostly revolves around Miller’s clumsy attempts to lead a group trying to endure—and to enjoy this new, communal life with all the awkward trappings that come with it.
“Last Man on Earth” stood out initially thanks to a refreshingly happy and colorful atmosphere. Instead of the typically oppressive, drab hellscape of most end-of-the-world stories, the show features many sunny scenes (it is a comedy, after all).
Part of the show’s appeal stems from its calm simplicity. Threats don’t lurk around every corner. The characters rarely struggle for the basics. In fact, the show really shines when characters improvise to enjoy the mundanity of a life with unlimited access but relatively limited resources: using the Declaration of Independence as a napkin, relaxing in a kiddie pool of alcohol, playing racquetball in the foyer of a mansion, etc. The characters can be disarmingly charming. Phil’s go-to expletives is “oh farts.” Another character won’t have sex unless she’s married (even during a population crisis).
The Show Had Turned Into An Unpleasant Grind
Unfortunately, the show tended to focus more on manufactured reasons for one or several characters to be awful. Phil’s goal for most of the first two seasons was to have everyone like him. He typically accomplished this by lying to and manipulating the few people he had in his life, but he also considered murder at least twice (disconcertingly dark for a mostly cheery show). For 20-ish episodes, Phil was selfish, petty, and uncouth. Other characters fell into the same trap. Conflict emerged mostly for the sake of it.
It’s an unenviable problem for a show that doesn’t feature an external or pressing threat other than loneliness. A show where Will Forte kills time after Armageddon wouldn’t last very long on network TV (I would watch the heck out of it, though). The show had turned into an uncomfortable grind. I gave up on watching the show as it aired.
How ‘Last Man’ Is Taking A Turn For The Better
However, I recently caught up on the show and I’m glad I did. The writers have turned Phil into a more well-meaning, oblivious idiot. And the show has improved drastically because of it. He tries to help his friends and be a leader, but regularly goes about it entirely the wrong way. His needlessly labyrinthine, often hysterical schemes sometimes come off in spite of Phil. It helps that the group faced real threats for the first time. It gave some meaning and depth to the show while making Phil’s gags a delightful contrast.
Binging on the first 20 episodes makes it much more bearable. It relies heavily on Will Forte’s schtick. If you can’t get past or embrace Phil Miller’s post-apocalyptic Michael Scott, you will not enjoy this show. But if you’re interested in a different sort of comedy or a different take on the apocalypse, give “Last Man On Earth” a shot. All the episodes are available on Hulu and the third season resumes March 5.