One of my top “happy places” in this life is when I’m sitting around a table at Manuel’s Tavern in Atlanta with my family and close friends and having a deep, highly opinionated discussion about a movie or a TV show. It doesn’t hurt that my sister and brother-in-law both work in the film industry, which obviously adds an extra dimension to our lively discussions.
In the spirit of those times at Manuel’s, I thought I’d write a discussion of a show I recently finished watching the first and so far only season of: The Last Man on Earth. I’m calling this post a “review,” but like I said, it’s more of a discussion rather than some formal evaluation.
I’ll pause here to warn you I try to keep spoilers to within what you find out in the first few episodes. If you want to know nothing about the show (this is called “Jon Snow”-ing a TV show), then I recommend you watch the first few episodes before coming back to read this discussion.
Will Forte, who is also the creator of the show, plays Phil Miller, the lone survivor of a virus that has wiped out the entire planet. Is he truly the last person on Earth? Well, I’ll just say that it would be quite a challenge to support an entire season of TV with just one character. I’ll leave it at that.
Much of the show early on is Phil living the ultimate bachelor life (minus the ladies) — a life of filth, laziness, and doing random stunts just because he can. One of the most unappetizing (quite literally) aspects of the show is seeing the filth he lives in. Don’t worry though, that becomes a smaller part of the show as the season goes on. On the other hand, one of the most fun parts of the show is witnessing the ridiculous things he dreams up trying just because he’s the last person on earth and no one is around to stop him. Sort of like when MacCaulay Culkin’s character in Home Alone realizes his family is gone and he can do literally anything in the house he wants, Phil does the same, except in this case the whole planet is his playground. One of my favorite examples is when he stacks a bunch of filled aquariums up and then backs up a truck with about six bowling balls in it and abruptly stops to let them launch off the truck toward the aquariums. You can imagine what happens next (but it’s much more fun to watch!) The writers of the show must have had a lot of fun coming up with ideas for his stunts.
A bit more subtle, but another thing to notice is all the stuff Phil has collected from when he drove all around the country looking for people. I won’t ruin the fun by naming anything, but just be sure to keep a sharp eye for all the stuff in his house; it’s fun to see what you can pick out.
That setup may or may not appeal to you. Honestly, it didn’t appeal that much to me when I saw the initial ads for the show. I mean, how long can you support a show on that premise? Well, that’s when the hook comes in: at the end of every episode there is usually some sort of twist or reveal. Even though in every other respect these shows are completely different, the feeling actually reminds me of the first season of LOST where you just have to see what happens in the next episode right after you finish the previous one. Similarly to LOST, you are in this completely unexplored world (for LOST, the island; for Last Man, it’s the entire post apocalyptic world that we and Phil still don’t know much about). Let me be clear, I don’t mean to imply this show is as engaging as the first season of LOST (it certainly isn’t), but that same sort of mechanism that keeps you coming back is at play here.
After watching the entire first season, I can confidently say that they can probably keep up this pace of surprise/reveal pretty easily for another season or two at least (especially judging by the very last scene of the season). There is still so much unknown about the world in Last Man that the writers of the show have a ton of room to play around with ideas and reveal crazy stuff here and there as we go — that’s probably what I’m looking forward to most for next season.
A show or a sketch?
Will Forte was a long-time cast member on Saturday Night Live, so it’s not surprising that the show can sometimes feel a bit like a very extended SNL sketch. Though that aspect can add to the humor at times, ultimately I’d say that’s one of the biggest downsides of the show: the fact that sometimes the things people do or the events that happen all service the basic over-arching sketch idea and are not always realistic or make a ton of sense. Once you get used to this and accept it though, it’s generally ok. And contrary to what I just said, with a healthy does of suspension of disbelief, I actually felt like a lot of times I could picture people in a post-apocalyptic world behaving something like this. It’s also just a really refreshing take on a post-apocalyptic world that’s utterly* different than anything else we’ve seen.
Along the lines of the show feeling “sketchy,” and this is important to note, the show can sometimes seem like the entire premise is Phil’s desire to have sex with a beautiful woman. This setup provides some laughs, but also gets old. At a point near the middle, I really wanted to see some other plot points emerge. I hope the second season doesn’t just harp on that quite so much, just because there are so many other avenues they can go down that would be just as funny if not more so.
So is it good?
In short, yes, it’s a fun show. I really enjoyed watching the season, and, like I said, the fact that you’re constantly wanting to see what the next twist is keeps you watching. Plus, the post-apocalyptic world the characters are placed in is pretty unique, and we still don’t even know much about it.
To me there’s really one primary aspect that will either cause this show to really last or just to fizzle out, and that’s the overall character arc of Phil and, basically, the moral component of the show. Phil is not particularly a good guy, and he often makes that known during the course of the season. There are some wonderful moments of potential redemption and growth for his character, and if that is something the writers actually commit to and build on during the course of the show, that would really give the show the emotional depth to support the laughs on the surface. If they don’t commit to it and allow Phil’s character to simply flip flop as the plot requires (and the same for the other characters), then I feel like the show will get old and start to feel like it’s repeating its own beats pretty quickly.
If you watch it, let me know what you think in the comments!
*There’s a joke here…