Part of the driving appeal of The Last Man On Earth is curiosity… of the “How they hell will this concept work?” variety. Not only is the cast list at the barest of minimums, but so is the list of their potential activities, considering that society no longer exists. There’s only so much time the audience can watch a lonely man tool around Tucson (although, to be fair, it is quite funny to watch him do so). This odd experiment works at times and drags at others, pulled along by that curiosity factor surrounding its sustainability, considering the only reason the show can go on is to render its title incorrect. But by the same token, the show feels wholly original, as there isn’t a customary genre template to follow here. The Last Man On Earth doesn’t work all the time, but in a sitcom season when The Odd Couple is making yet another appearance, it’s certainly not a bad thing that there’s nothing else like it.
The titular Last Man On Earth is Phil Miller (Will Forte). The year is 2020, two years after a virus has knocked out the human race, at least in the continental U.S. (The Walking Dead connections are nil; the virus itself isn’t a particularly active topic of conversation and the lack of bodies is a welcome, if not quixotic view of a society-decimating disease.) Phil spends much of those two years traveling the country in search of others to hang out with, leaving spray-painted signs to indicate that he’s alive in Arizona.
The show reunites Will Forte and the much-lauded duo of Phil Lord and Chris Miller (hence the main character’s portmanteau-style name), who have worked consistently with the former Saturday Night Live star since he voiced teen Abe Lincoln in the little-seen, much-beloved Clone High. The Last Man On Earth is the duo’s return to TV production after their string of successful movies, including the Jump Street reboots and The Lego Movie.
Created by Forte (who also penned the pilot), The Last Man On Earth feels very much in line with Lord and Miller’s other output, in that it throws off expectations, in part because it’s difficult to have any expectations from its high-concept premise. It’s darker than many other sitcoms, with Phil losing any sense of hope after he spends much of his time doing whatever the hell he wants: making a baby-pool sized margarita (for both swimming and drinking purposes), bowling using aquariums as pins, and not wearing any pants (because why would any sane human wear pants post-apocalypse?). Watching Forte gloriously destroy societal conventions is the show at its best, but that only works for so long. Phil gets depressed at the lack of human contact (especially the romantic variety), losing his sense of self and devolving further into bearded slobdom.
That’s where The Last Man On Earth has a harder time navigating its subject matter, if only because sitcoms are not generally fertile grounds for total and utter despair. Forte can certainly handle the darkness, the lack of contact weighing down his heavily bearded face, but his attempts to compensate for that lack of connection make for some strange turns of events. Phil’s long depression eventually makes way for the last woman on earth: Carol (Kristen Schaal). Phil doesn’t like Carol, but he needs her. The lack of social conventions is thrilling for Phil (at first), but it soon becomes a source of sadness. He bristles up against those conventions when they are thrust back into his life.
How the cast will expand in the future is still undecided. Casting notices for the likes of Mad Men’s January Jones, Australian actress Cleopatra Coleman, and Enlisted’s Mel Rodriguez portend other cast members will populate Phil’s world, but we don’t know yet what form they will take. But with The Last Man On Earth, it’s worth it to find out.