It’s easy to forget that The Last Man On Earth began from a quasi-religious place. Though the series has embraced a large ensemble cast and somewhat of a trad-sitcom energy, it started as the story of a man who roamed the country for signs of life and found nothing. In an effort to prove to God that he didn’t need other life, he sunk deep into despair and depression, and was pushed to the brink of suicide until he saw light on the horizon, a beacon of hope in a world completely devoid of it. The man prayed for life and God answered his prayers, but the man soon learns that the presence of life isn’t all peaches and gravy. The comedy derives from the man’s expectation of others vs. the reality of their own individual lives and experiences, and the drama derives from their reconciliation.
After a few weeks of hijinks and table-setting, “Five Hoda Kotbs,” written by Emily Spivey and directed by David Noel, injects some well-needed energy and tension into this season of LMOE, in part by embracing that religious element once again. The episode follows the gang on a road trip to their new home, San Francisco, but when they arrive, they find that it has completely burnt to the ground. (Little do they know that it was Tandy himself who accidentally burnt the city to the ground by lighting all the fireworks in a fireworks factory at once.) Without any concrete plan, they decide to keep driving and let their new home find them. Unfortunately, all the cars end up crapping out and they hole up in a remote patio furniture store at the end of their collective ropes. That is until they spot yet another light on the horizon.
That’s the barebones plot, but Spivey adds enough lax road trip antics, character quirks, and genuine weirdness into the episode that the actual journey from A to B has an offbeat, yet poignant quality to it. “Five Hoda Kotbs” has the tone of a road comedy, complete with an annoying paternal figure (Tandy) and a series of maddening obstacles, but it never reads like a retread of classics of the genre. Some of this is because of the breezy pacing that allows plenty of two-hander scenes between characters with plenty of history, like Gail and Todd who argue about Gail’s continued obsession with the Gordon mannequin, or Carol and Erica fighting over whose pregnancy is more legitimate.
But all of these scenes contribute to the general mood of the episode, which lies somewhere between dread and fatigue. The fact remains that these people are tired of so many things—constantly moving, fear of the unknown, lack of resources—but they are also tired of each other. Personalities clash every time a new person enters the group or when a strange character trait comes to the forefront, but now, everyone knows each other (except for Lewis, who is the group’s “normal” for better or worse) and the excitement or fervor that came from tackling a new set of human challenges has been replaced with a dull familiarity. Everyone’s snapping at each other and worried about their prospects. Any hope for the future has curdled into perpetual anxiety regarding the present.
It’s why Gail’s big speech at the end hits as hard as it does. When the gang can’t decide on a place they would all like to move to, Gail chooses to leave and head to Napa on her own. Tandy protests, trying to appeal to the sentimentality of their group being a makeshift family embarking on a journey together, like Noah and his ark. But Gail isn’t buying it, mostly because the argument, divorced from the sweetness of the sentiment, is complete horseshit, and Tandy’s standard lines have run stale. “I got news for you,” she says, “we’re not a family. We’re just a bunch of people who happened to meet at the end of the world.” There’s no real reason for any of them to be together other than the fact that they’re the only people alive. For most of them, that’s enough of a reason. But for Gail, it’s not good enough, and she has a point.
If there’s any one thing holding the episode back, it’s that Spivey hits the gas on Tandy’s truly annoying qualities, which exacerbates the intra-group hostility but still grates on its own. Though some of these scenes wholly work, like the utter brilliance of his The Partridge Family/“12 Days of Christmas” mash-up song that inexplicably cites TV personalities, but the rest of it, such as his exuberance at Lewis’ homosexuality, feels really old hat, like he’s a more eager version of Michael Scott circa-2006. Though Tandy has solidified into a wide-eyed jokester with little conception of social boundaries, his actual personality varies from episode to episode. Here, he can be a bit of a nuisance that actively works against the episode.
But that’s a small price to pay for that ending, which reaches some kind of genuine catharsis. As Gail is about to leave, Melissa, still in shock from her murder, keeps trying to get everyone to look off into the distance. They finally see what she’s pointing at: A burst of light off into the distance. As The Kinks’ “Daylight” roars over the soundtrack, they follow it until they discover, in awe, that it’s an office building, with all of its lights on. It’s a mundane sight, one that we see everyday, but to them, it’s the sign from the heavens that they’ve been waiting for. It’s a sign that says, “Stay together, if for no other reason than to see where this all leads.” There’s no good reason for the gang to be together, but they are, and sometimes that means Tandy drives everyone crazy with his “Boom!” quips and other times that means finding hope together. Holy balls, indeed.
- Writer’s note: I’ve caved and am going to start referring to Phil as Tandy in these reviews because the name is not going away and it’s become a nuisance for me not to call him that.
- The funniest scene of the episode by far is when Tandy explains the six degrees of separation between Danny Bonaduce, better known as Danny Patridge on The Partridge Family, and Katie Couric: “Danny Partridge was in The Partridge Family, and he then went on to be in a movie called The Jerk Theory, which was written and directed by Scott S. Anderson, who was acting in the movie Midway to Heaven, which of course starred Kirby Heyborne, who was in a video short called “I Want My Hat Back,” with Galen Fott, who did a small part in a show Nashville with Katie Couric.” This is all true by the way. Look it up.
- Carol makes The Golden Gate Bridge out of Twizzlers, complete with jellybean “jumpers,” for added realism, only it’s not jellybeans but rather adzuki beans with Petroleum jelly.
- Gail’s runaway self-driving car is a fantastic sight gag. “Heel! Bad car! How dare you disobey me? No luck with these self-driving cars!”
- Though Melissa is clearly losing it on some level, her Bugles faces was priceless.
- “Being on the road is tough. That’s why a lot of rock ‘n’ roll marriages don’t go the distance. Circus performers, too.”
- “You were lovers with your business partner?”
- “We got a real Benetton ad going on here!”
- “Who’s Aimless Lee and why are we driving him around?”
- “Guys, we could be in Tampa right now sipping from the fresh waters of the Hillsborough River!”
- For those who didn’t pick it up: 9 Matt Lauers, 8 Katie Courics, 7 Al Rokers, 6 Savannah Guthries, 5 Hoda Kotb, 4 Willie Geist, 3 Cokie Roberts, 2 Willard Scotts, and a Partridge Family prison bus.