Stay Tuned: Spend some time with ‘The Last Man on Earth’
It’s 2021 and a virus has left Phil Miller (Will Forte) one of the last people on the planet. After driving across the United States in a tour bus looking for fellow survivors, he returns home to Tucson, Arizona, as alone as when he started. It’s not so bad at first. He moves into a mansion and decorates it with priceless works of art, a few Academy Awards, the Heisman trophy and a rug from the West Wing, among other notable artifacts he’s collected along his journey. He drinks $10,000 bottles of wine. He takes bowling to a new level. Five months later, the house is trashed and he’s a drunk slob who realizes that having other people around is “what makes life worth living.” Giving up, he’s about to kill himself when he sees smoke in the distance. It’s from a fire made by Carol (Kristen Schaal), the last woman on Earth. Meet the new Adam and Eve and one of this season’s most original situation comedies.
“The Last Man on Earth” skips the messy parts of the plague scenario. The virus hasn’t turned everyone into zombies, and there’s plenty of food and water. The only thing Phil has to survive is his loneliness. The show is too smart to let the reference to the movie “Castaway” go unacknowledged. In one scene, Phil is watching the movie and scoffs at the need for Wilson, the soccer ball Tom Hanks’ desperate character speaks to as a companion. A few scenes later, Phil is at the local bar surrounded by his “friends” — balls of all shapes and sizes — who each have a name and a different drawn-on face.
Phil does survive his loneliness thanks to Carol, but then he has to survive Carol. She corrects his grammar, pronounces tomato as to-mah-to and insists that he follow traffic rules and doesn’t park in the handicapped spots. She grows vegetables. Phil exists on canned foods and alcohol. She won’t give up on using an indoor toilet despite the problem of no running water. Phil’s solution is a clever repurposing of existing facilities. Along with the “toilet pool,” he has a garbage pool and a margarita pool, this last one being the inflatable kiddie kind.
She decides to “fix” him, and when her efforts are rejected, she goes it alone, only to discover that the civilization and order she’s clinging to is hard to maintain on her own. When she gives up and starts to use her own “toilet fountain,” Phil does something selfless to make her happy. It’s a sweet effort that establishes Phil’s kindness and Carol’s vulnerability, along with the show’s satirical nod to romantic comedies.
A two-character series isn’t easy to pull off. A funny two-character series is even harder, particularly when it tries to mix genres. This show is a single-camera sitcom and a romantic satire within an apocalypse narrative. It’s a combination that could easily fall apart, but it works because Forte and Schaal are talented enough to challenge these conventions.
“The Last Man on Earth” is on Sundays at 9:30 p.m. EDT on Fox.
Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing.’” She has a Ph.D. in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.