There have been any number of ‘last man on Earth’ movies and I’m sure the idea has been seen on TV before – but I don’t recall the idea ever being used as basis for a comedy. FOX’s The Last Man on Earth (Sundays, 9/8C) takes the idea and really runs with it.
The Last Man on Earth is set in 2021, two years after a mysterious virus has, apparently, killed off everyone on Earth except Phil Miller (Will Forte, who created the series).
Except for a Duck Dynasty-type beard, Phil seems pretty sane. He crosses the country in a luxury bus – in which we see a few intriguing items (a Michael Jackson jersey, a storm trooper’s helmet…) – stopping to spray paint ‘Alive In Tucson’ on signs bordering every state. When he returns to Tucson, he decides his apartment sucks and sets in a lovely house in a posh neighborhood.
He unloads the bus and we see that he has acquired a few more mementos in his travels – a Van Gogh here, a Rembrandt there; a couple of Oscars for the mantle, Dorothy’s red shoes for a table in the foyer, and so on. He sets up a big screen TV using a handy emergency generator and watches movies – mocking Tom Hanks in Cast Away because no one would ever paint a face on a ball and talk to it.
He helps himself to booze and snacks from a supermarket; crashes his shopping cart into a stack of tins; sets up a kiddie pool full of tequila in his backyard and general does a lot of things that anyone would do if they suddenly found themselves alone in the world and didn’t have the rules of civilization to obey.
Of course, time goes on and Phil quietly (and occasionally not so quietly) goes off his nut…
The one-hour premiere of The Last Man On Earth – back-to-back episodes called Alive in Tucson/The Elephant in the Room – unfolds at a more leisurely pace than most sitcoms because, hey! There’s just this one guy. The result is we get to really get to know Phil and that makes his situation – and his reaction to it – incredibly entertaining.
Forte is superb as Phil. Whether he’s talking to himself or directly odd prayers to God, he comes across as the quintessential average guy doing his best to keep on keepin’ on. His optimism may flag, but even when he seems to go off his nut, he’s appealingly low key (even when his anger bubbles over into screams of frustration).
Given the premise and the sharp writing and direction – The LEGO Movie guys, Chris Miller and Phil Lord and directed the premiere – and the fact that the series was created by Forte, it makes perfect sense that he’d be terrific in it. And that his performance would be so grounded and nuanced.
The Last Man on Earth makes a fine companion series to FOX’s Sunday night programming. It would be lovely if its ratings matched its quality.
Final Grade: A+
Photos by Frank Ockenfels and Jordin Althaus/Courtesy of FOX