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Review: ‘The Last Man On Earth’ Episodes 1 and 2

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In 2020, Phil Miller, average white American male, is the last person to survive the end of modern society. He spends his days talking to himself, eating junk food, and passing the time collecting famous museum pieces. Just when he’s about ready to go mad entirely, he discovers he might not be alone after all.

Two years after the world moved on, the last man on Earth is lonely, unkempt, and currently asleep in a kiddie pool he filled with margarita drink.

As ideas go, this isn’t his worst one. Phil is a little bit gross but he’s not a total loss, and his lack of motivation feels contextually justified. He spends his hours wandering an empty Arizona suburb, which thankfully is absent of corpses or bodies of any kind. Although it seems like remains would be everywhere, a la The Walking Dead, I’m grateful for the executive decision not to show any. The point of Phil’s situation is to find humor and pathos in his isolation, not to flinch at the horror a real world epidemic would produce.

Phil, played by comedian Will Forte, begins this new Fox sitcom as an “average Joe” stereotype who, for reasons unknown, is the only survivor of a cataclysm that has killed every other person on the continental United States. He’s driven around every state to check for survivors, leaving signs along the way pointing to his hometown in Tuscon, Arizona. It being his hometown is the only reason I can fathom with for someone choosing to live out their wasted days in that place; honestly dude, Napa Valley is right over there.

Phil does many of the traditional things we’ve come to expect from post-apocalypse stories: the grocery store tour, the bar raid, conversations with God, wanton destruction, and talking to mannequins. In what’s probably the most amusing sequence from the pilot, Phil escalates his bowling game from pins, to fish tanks, to sending one car down a hill to smash into another. The graphics and directing for those scenes are excellent. In fact, the whole production has a bright, sophisticated look.

There’s a few running jokes regarding the movie Castaway that made me smile, and Will Forte is a pleasant, if innocuous lead actor. Not particularly charismatic or charming, nor particularly funny, but not bad either. If anything, his blandness feels deliberate to the genre. Personally, I wish they might have designed a character who wasn’t such a blatant Every Man Working Joe Guy Next Door type. Phil seems to lack any ambition to explore his world or improve his circumstances, and I can’t help but feel this is the result of him having no specific characterization from his past life except being, as late and brilliant novelist Douglas Adams put it, “just some guy, you know?”

After a couple years of living on his own and turning into a model candidate for Hoarders, Phil decides to take his life by the end of episode one. I can’t blame him for this, since he’s essentially the most boring man on Earth, but luckily the show chooses this moment to introduce Carol (Kristen Schaal), who may herself be the last woman on Earth.

The second episode sets up Phil and Carol as two people who choose to associate because they’re literally the last two people alive, but otherwise annoy one another. And, I should add, annoy the audience. Nevertheless, the characters are well-developed and their dynamic is a lot more interesting than enduring another thirty minutes of Phil putzing around aimlessly. Good acting from both comedic leads gives the scenes some life, and overall the show is gently amusing, if rarely laugh-out-loud funny. If they introduce more characters in the future episodes it could be fun to watch, but if it remains just these two I’ll be tempted to quit after a few weeks.

The Last Man on Earth is neither the best nor the worst show of the mid-season pick-ups. While good acting and strong visual direction lend the first two episodes as solid foundation, it suffers from a premise that seems to have been built entirely on an antiquated, one-line joke. It’s based around the most average, nondescript white guy persona I think I’ve ever seen on television. Watching two episodes of Phil is like the watching the default version of humanity as imagined by a dull, biased Hollywood stuck perpetually in the 1970s. I hope if the human race ever does come down to a single person, she or he is even marginally more interesting than this chump.