There is nothing more sitcom friendly than a wedding. If a series doesn’t kick off with someone getting fired or cheated on, chances are someone’s getting married. Weddings are high-pressure situations with relatively low stakes, often involving wacky relatives, embarrassing friends, romantic entanglements, and inevitably, heartwarming realizations. Weddings can open a whole new chapter, or they can unravel just about everything. It makes total sense that weddings are comedy catnip. In a continuing pattern, though, Last Man On Earth takes this convention, runs with it, and twists it into something entirely different that manages to be both heartbreaking and hilarious.
There are aspects of Phil and Carol’s wedding that feel familiar. The bride talks about how this is supposed to be the best day of her life and immediately locks into overbearing planning mode. The groom rolls his eyes, gets drunk with his friends, and forgets the rings. These wedding-crazy lady and disinterested slacker dude characters are as old as comedy itself, and it’s almost impossible to keep them from being terribly boring. Last Man On Earth’s very premise, however, makes sure that none of the familiar sitcom wedding tropes go off quite as we’ve come to expect. In fact, the episode’s writer is Emily Spivey, whose sitcom Up All Night focused on a couple’s struggles to make their marriage more interesting than a “traditional” one. In “Raisinballs And Wedding Bells,” Spivey gets to have fun with the clichés of onscreen marriages.
As The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg wrote in a piece about how the series satirizes romantic comedy conventions, Phil and Carol “are totally different people, and not in an opposites-attract way,” and yet “their coming-together is inevitable.” Phil even tells the mannequin he fell in love with that Carol is “not the one…I mean, she’s the last woman on earth, so technically, she is the one.” They are literally each other’s last options (or so they think), which gives more depth to both Phil and Carol’s reactions. Phil is apathetic and resentful not because he’s getting married, but because he’s getting married to a woman he can only stand in very small doses. Carol is aggressive about the wedding because she sees it as the beginning of a new chapter in which she can just maybe live a life approaching what she wanted for herself before an unspecified virus wiped out the entire planet. As strictly as their characterizations adhere to stereotypes, the show’s premise makes them far more complex.
As with everything else in their lives, preparing for a wedding is a little different in a post-virus world. Carol raids a craft store to make decorations and bakes an eggplant cake. Phil has flaming shots at his bachelor party with his “wolf pack”—which just happens to be a bunch of childishly scrawled faces on a variety of tennis, soccer, football, and ping pong balls. Then, when Phil finally drags himself to the church in his old sweatshirt and cargo shorts, he has to turn on a boombox so Carol’s pre-recorded voice can perform the ceremony. There have been thousands of weddings on television, and this one just might be both the most pathetic and hopeful one to date.
It’s also a relief, though, that “Raisinballs And Wedding Bells” makes Phil graduate from eye-rolling to some actual forward motion. Carol is undeniably a lot to handle, but in choosing to resort back to his stance of not handling much of anything, Phil’s more selfish tendencies come to the forefront in a very unflattering way. Phil’s barely concealed repulsion becomes almost too hard to watch as Carol tries her very best to make the best of a bad situation—like, for example, making “raisinballs” in a meatless world. Granted, the answer to their differences might not be getting married (and it’s definitely not making raisinballs). But when Phil walks into Carol’s house and sees the incredibly effort she went to for their wedding, realizes that as much as he needs to surround himself with inanimate friends to deal with his loneliness, Carol needs some sort of structure to keep herself sane. Or as he says: “I’d rather eat raisinballs (live in a world where I’m challenged by your tendencies) than eat no balls at all (go back to living alone).”
So as much as I admire how the show has navigated Phil and Carol’s thorny relationship, the scenes I like the most from “Raisinballs And Wedding Bells” are the ones in which they’re getting along. Carol recognizes that Phil agreeing to get married—and finally getting the rings she asked for—represents compromise, so she offers the same by wasting time with Phil in increasingly inane ways. Will Forte and Kristen Schaal have become known as reliably absurdist actors, but their easy chemistry when smacking bouncy balls with rackets and steamrolling beer cans makes it clear why Forte wrote the part for her in the first place.
How perfect, then, that the second Phil and Carol decide that marriage is “surprisingly tolerable” and “totally bearable,” they literally run into another survivor—January Jones. (It’s even better that this happens because Phil runs a stop sign, an unspoken callback to Carol asking him to observe normal traffic signals even when there is no traffic.) In interviews, producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have said that Forte convinced people The Last Man On Earth is sustainable with thirteen different twists, and it’s safe to say that January is a compelling one. Who is she? Did she see his “Alive in Tucson” signs? Will Phil drop his burgeoning friendship with Carol to go after the tall and mysterious blonde? If what we have seen from The Last Man On Earth is anything to go by…well, it’s pretty much impossible to say, and how refreshing is that?
- Having just steamrolled The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, I couldn’t help thinking about Kimmy when Carol went so hard with her wedding. Both Kimmy and Carol are dealing with incredible trauma in incredibly—and sometimes ill-advisedly—optimistic ways. Wouldn’t it be great if Kimmy Schmidt made it past the virus so she could come eat eggplant cake with Carol?
- Will Forte’s “grin and bear it” smile and nod while Carol talks about the United States’ first unanimous presidential election is just the best.
- January’s appearance provides further evidence for my “hey why not” theory that Phil really is the last man on earth.
- “You want some beans, babe?” “I’m just going to sit here and figure out what just happened.” Phil and Carol’s post-coital talk could use some work.
- But maybe not as much as Carol’s mid-coital talk: “You better put the food in the trees before the bears get it? Hear them coming? Oh, well done, Phil!”
- “Phil, you were a real scrub today. And you know how I feel about scrubs.” “You don’t want no?” “Bingo.”