The Last Man On Earth has spent its entire second season deftly balancing its high-stakes premise with low-key, sitcom-standard plots, and it has successfully mined comedy from both areas. Creator Will Forte never lets the audience forget that the world of LMOE is a post-apocalyptic wasteland, replete with limited resources and a whole different set of conflicts than the ones in our own world; in other words, it’s a comedy where people can theoretically die from many things, including simple medical problems like appendicitis. But despite the premise’s dramatic foundation, the series’ creative team has found plenty of ways to work in stand-alone comedic storylines outside of the immediate drama of the characters’ situation. The writers have found much success in simply using their world as a backdrop for character-based comedy, taking advantage of LMOE’s talented ensemble as well as their noticeable familiarity and comfort with the characters.

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Case in point: Though it’s been three weeks since the last very funny episode of LMOE, “Fish In The Dish” maintains the series’ comedic momentum by focusing on the dual plight of Phil and Todd, both of whom are suffering from sexual problems. Phil learns that he’s sterile after years of playing nut-punch with his friends, smoking pot, and constantly masturbating; Todd agonizes with the guilt of being in a love triangle of his own making with Gail and Melissa, with Erica thrown into the mix after she tells him that she wants him to help raise her child. Both men battle their lack of willpower and sense of masculinity as they try to best approach the reality of their respective situation.

Let’s start with Phil’s plot, which succeeds in deriving the majority of its comedy from variations of masturbation jokes. Carol worries about their trouble conceiving a child and asks Phil to take a fertility test to see if the problem lies with him. Being the eager, caring husband that he is, Phil agrees to take the test, feeling certain that his sperm count is reliably high, but when the test indicates he’s sterile, he goes into full-on Phil panic mode. He initially claims the test is defective because it’s expired, but after it works with Todd’s sperm, he aggressively masturbates to try to “game” the system.

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Writer Liz Cackowski takes a standard LMOE plot—Phil gets into a mess, tries to lie his way out of it, and then fesses up to the truth—and hangs a bunch of great comedic setpieces on it, like Carol’s twisted Masturbatorium to help Phil get in the mood, complete with a mural of strong women, like Billie Jean King, Condoleezza Rice, and Janet Reno to “watch” Phil, or Phil crying out in agony/ecstasy as he “buckles down” and jerks off to the women on the mural, intercut with Todd’s own screams of existential panic on a speedboat. The storylines resolves how you’d expected it with Phil telling Carol that he’s sterile, but it’s a great ride along the way.

Meanwhile, Todd’s story brings together the best elements of the series’ entire creative team to bring new life to a borderline-trite sitcom premise. Todd falls deeper into his lies with Gail and Melissa as he starts hooking up with both of them, usually one after the other, but when he kisses Erica after she tells him about Phil 2.0’s dying wish, he loses his mind and screams out his frustration on a speedboat. The love triangle storyline is as old as the sitcom itself, but it works here for three reasons: 1) Mel Rodriguez, who externalizes all of his character’s internal suffering into a wonderfully jittery, frustrated performance (his breakdown on the beach is a character highlight); 2) Cackowski’s funny script, as she piles on various obstacles in the way of Todd telling the truth, like Gail’s grief, Melissa’s horniness, and Erica’s sincere belief that he’s the nicest one in the group; and finally 3) Josh Schaeffer’s quick-fire editing, which lends a farcical tone to the proceedings; I’m thinking especially of the hard cuts between Todd kissing Gail, Todd leaving Gail’s room, and Todd entering Melissa’s room and falling into the same trap, and overlaying Todd’s anguished scream while he’s still staring into Erica’s eyes before cutting to Todd on the beach.

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The conclusion of the storyline also works really well because it plays off the contrast between Todd’s overcompensated reaction and the muted reactions of Gail, Melissa, and Erica. When Todd eventually comes clean to his sleeping around, the women all express disgust, but not exactly outrage, whereas Todd goes into an over-the-top, self-serving explanation of how he did it to share his love with them and keep them from being hurt, which plays wells, but then he makes a desperate plea for a polygamous relationship with all three. Cackowski and director Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite, Nacho Libre) linger on the moment for just the right amount before cutting the tension with Phil’s own confession, but not before Forte gives the best line-reading of the night: “Looks like I’m up. That was super gross, by the way.”

Sometimes a comedy just needs to be funny, no matter how seriously it takes its premise, and LMOE has been on a roll recently. Ever since the series has come back from its mid-season hiatus, it has chosen to focus on the ensemble and dole out plot when it’s absolutely necessary, and it’s worked fantastically. Plus, when the series does give us one of its patented “surprise” or “cliffhanger” endings now, it no longer feels like a mandate from the network. Mike’s appearance on the beach at the end of the episode is a great example of this as the writers could have easily stretched out his journey to find his brother until near the end of the season, but instead chose to push it up so that it could bring Sudeikis into the mix much sooner. Given that welcoming nut punch, Phil and Mike’s reunion in the coming weeks should be as fun and fizzy as a pool full of DC cola and rum.

Stray observations

  • A great sight-gag: Carol’s face filled with pushpins for makeshift acupuncture. The one streak of blood was a nice touch.
  • Carol’s erotic “female empornment” book was nice as well, which included hand-drawn pictures of female CEOs and judges.
  • Todd’s desperate attempts to cover up his lies return again, like his bit about how he was getting lotion from gail for his dry forearms.
  • Loved Phil and Todd’s sperm discussion, especially Todd’s willingness to give Phil his sperm without knowing why. “If a friend needs semen, he gets semen.”
  • “Left-handed?”
  • “At least this isn’t a Monet.”
  • “I mean, talking is overrated. Not always, but in this case, yeah.”
  • “There is no crossword puzzle.”
  • “Amelia, where did you land?”
  • “I didn’t know this was a ‘take a number’ situation!”
  • “Not a Big Love situation, but more of like a Big Love situation.”
  • Finally, the song that closes the episode is “Dreams” by The Kinks embedded below.

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