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It’s no secret The Last Man On Earth returns to a few different wells time and time again for plot catalysts. Like past and present sitcoms, LMOE uses certain well-developed character traits—Tandy’s stubbornness, Carol’s jealousy, Todd’s kindness, etc.—to drive most episodes. Sometimes these iterations can be quite dull because the audience instinctively knows that, say, Tandy will see the error of his ways or Carol will realize she’s being silly by the end of the episode. So it becomes kind of an uninteresting waiting game, especially when the episode in question isn’t that funny.

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In plot terms, “Name 20 Picnics… Now!” is a very familiar episode—Tandy and Todd butt heads over a heavily medicated Melissa’s presence around the new child Jasper, and Carol feels jealous towards Erica and her new baby bump. But it shines nevertheless because credited writer Matt Marshall and the LMOE production design team pack so many jokes and sight gags that the familiarity never weighs down the material. It’s just genuinely funny from beginning to end.

Let’s start with Tandy, a tricky character to balance in recent weeks. Forte’s committed performance aside, Tandy can often be too much—too over the top, too dumb, too selfish, etc. However, his behavior feels appropriately grounded this week (well, at least grounded for Tandy) because it’s ostensibly rooted in good intentions. Tandy wants Jasper to open up in a new environment and he thinks Melissa’s medicated behavior might make him uncomfortable. Of course this is slightly naïve, given that Jasper has bore witness to mass death and decay, but it makes sense that Tandy might want to keep more pain from infiltrating his space.

So when he, Carol, Gail, and Erica decide to throw Jasper the “party of all parties,” a combination of every major and minor holiday into one big celebratory bash, Tandy doesn’t exactly want Melissa to attend. Naturally, this upsets Todd, not just because he’s been taking care of Melissa this whole time, but also because it’s deliberately shielding Jasper from the realities that surround him. Regardless, Tandy throws Jasper the party while Todd gets drunk as Melissa sleeps.

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The endnotes are fairly predictable: Todd crashes the party, Tandy and Todd fight, but then they make up when they see Jasper and Melissa laughing and playing in a cop car. Yet, the small moments in between are what liven up the story. It’s not that Todd gets drunk, it’s that he drunkenly pops and locks, and then later watches Gus Van Sant’s Milk, affirmatively nodding along to Sean Penn’s performance. It’s not that Tandy throws Jasper the party, it’s that he plays Rabbi Jackal Thanks Bunny Claus and introduces himself by saying, “Ho ho ho, gobble gobble, Shabbat Shalom, Boo!” It’s not that Melissa walks around in a drug-induced haze, it’s that she catatonically tries to blend silverware. There are too many small moments and gags to count, but they all worked in tandem to make this episode pop.

If there’s one major snag, it’s that the Carol-Erica plot doesn’t go the distance. At first it starts like a typical Carol plot that will return to its status quo soon enough, but Marshall takes it in an interesting direction. It isn’t that Carol is jealous that Erica has her baby bump before she does, it’s that she’s worried that something has gone wrong with her child. She admits she has exhibited no pregnancy symptoms and worries that something terrible has happened. It’s a nice turn that grapples with some fairly grave material given that Jasper’s sudden appearance only heightens the group’s impending children problem. However, the episode mostly throws the idea out there and doesn’t follow through because it has to deal with Todd and Tandy’s clumsy fight outside. It’s a shame since Schaal and Coleman play off each other quite well and it would behoove the series to tackle the baby issue head on.

On some level, LMOE has spent the back half of this season juggling one too many balls. There’s the Melissa mental health plot, which the writers’ have treated fairly sensitively but have often conveniently left it in the background when it suits them. There’s the general wheel spinning that feels too much like biding time, even when it’s punctuated by legitimate pathos, especially since the season began with such an intense threat of danger. Now, there’s Jasper, who doesn’t have much of an identity beyond what the other characters project onto him. Maybe it’s too much to hope LMOE will cohere all these elements in the last few weeks of the season, but if they don’t, let’s hope they make the same old thing this fun to watch.

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Stray observations

  • Tandy does his best to explain the intricacies of modern social society to young Jasper, e.g. the birds and the bees (“the horniest of the flight animals”), zombies (“They have an insatiable appetite for human flesh, and they just keep coming after you until they get you!”), exorcisms (“An exorcism is when a demon takes over a person’s body and just makes them do terrible things.”), and leaving flaming bags of dog poop as a prank (“Now since all dogs are dead, instead of dog poop, I used my own…”)
  • Some of the holidays that qualify for Carol’s “festive smorgasbord”: Birthday, Christmas, Halloween, Kwanza, Flag Day, Toyotathon.
  • Clubs that Todd has been refused entry: Barrage, Mosaic, Jericho, Rain, JP looneys, Charlie Fitzwhiskeys.
  • Mel Rodriguez plays a fantastic drunk. He gets the slurs right without going overboard on the histrionics. I love when he yells at Jasper, “I’m legitimately drunk, bud!”
  • The big party scene has so many background jokes that it’s worth watching frame by frame.
  • “The eye roll is a classic sign of respect.”
  • A satellite hits a building and it catches fire. Tune it next week to find out what that means.

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