Struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic world has been the setting for many films and television shows, so many that it has become a sub-genre unto itself. From the Mad Max films, 28 Days Later and The Book of Eli, to current TV fare such as The Walking Dead and The 100, this premise is often compelling and frightening as well. But it has rarely been played for laughs. Until now.
The Last Man on Earth comes to us from the writing/directing team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who gave us such critically acclaimed hits as Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, 21 and 22 Jump Street and The Lego Movie, and ex-SNL cast member, Will Forte, who also plays the titular character. The show takes relatively little inspiration from the films, The Last Man on Earth (1964, starring Vincent Price, The Omega Man (1971), led by Charlton Heston, or I Am Legend (2007), with Will Smith, all based on Richard Matheson’s classic novel, I Am Legend. There are no vampires, mutants or zombies anywhere in sight. And though we have no idea what lies in store (other than a vast supply of canned goods and booze) down the road, based on the first couple of episodes, the show is taking a less dangerous, more realistic look into an uninhabited future.
Forte plays Phil Miller, the apparent lone survivor of a virus which wiped out the human population, who travels the U.S. in his RV, in search of anyone else. Having no luck, he returns to his hometown of Tucson, Arizona, where he fills his days and amuses himself by raiding supermarkets and blowing up cars. He ultimately decides to move into a mansion which he fills with souvenirs from his road trip across America, which includes a Babe Ruth bat, a T-Rex skull and works by Van Gogh and Monet. Though he mocks the Tom Hanks movie, Cast Away, for being unrealistic, proclaiming, “Balls aren’t people, dude, balls are for fun,” Phil eventually amasses a vast collection of “ball friends” to spend his time with. When that becomes too tedious and his attempt at wooing a department store mannequin fails, Phil realizes, “having other people around is really what makes life worth living.” It is when he is at his utmost lowest that Phil runs into Carol, played by Kristen Schaal.
Initially excited over the prospect of having his first contact with another living human being in a couple of years, Phil soon finds Carol’s fusspot ways rather oft putting. From having his grammar corrected to being forced to stop at stop signs and not park in handicapped spaces, it’s not long before Phil declares, “I think I need a little space.” Whether these two lost souls can find a way to share the planet together will decide whether they can find happiness too, and maybe ultimately determine the fate of the human race as well.
The Last Man on Earth is certainly one of the most original and unusual premises for a comedy in many years. And, as stated earlier, while there have been a number of end-of-the-world scenarios in film and TV, they’ve generally included an imminent threat, whether it be radiation, disease or some type of deadly creature. In Last Man, the biggest dilemma faced is the monotony of just trying to fill each day. Will Forte carries the load brilliantly as Phil, going from kidlike and nearly insane to lazy and annoyed. The show pretty much rests on his shoulders and he handles it with pathos and wit. Kristen Schaal is also excellent as Carol, at once incredibly annoying, yet oddly endearing. Now, as we know that other actresses have been cast this season, including Cleopatra Coleman and January Jones, it will be interesting to see how they are integrated into the show.
There are a great many fun, enjoyable touches sprinkled throughout the first couple of episodes. From using the U.S. Constitution as a napkin to lounging in a margarita kiddie pool, the show taps into everyone’s fantasy of what it would actually be like to have free reign over the world with no rules or boundaries. Surely, there would be many perks to living in such a world, whether it be smashing things just for fun or taking advantage of not having to buy anything ever again. Indeed, Phil, upon moving into his luxurious new home, makes note of at least one of the advantages of his predicament, in that he never would have been able to live in such splendor before. Ultimately, though, as Phil comes to realize, one needs more out of life. And we’re ready to join him on his journey of discovering this and what he is capable of, as he learns not just to survive in this newfound world, but to truly live in it and share it with whoever else may be out there too. The Last Man on Earth airs Sundays nights on Fox.
Trivia – in a photograph shown early in the pilot of Phil with his family, it really is Will Forte’s mom and dad in the pic, along with fellow SNL castmate, Jason Sudeikis, as his brother.
— review by Brian de Castro