Last Man on Earth: What Made Season 1 a Success
The Last Man On Earth closes out its first season this Sunday, and Fox has already ordered a Season 2 of the Will Forte post-apocalyptic comedy that gleefully embraces classic sitcom gags, existential humor, and nods to weepies like Cast Away to serve up a very original new series. We’re happy to be spending more time with
Phil Tandy and the rest of the steadily ballooning group of survivors. But what should a second round look like? We’ve got some ideas on what made Season 1 worth watching (and what we hope will be left behind.)
What We Love
Will Forte’s Phil “Tandy” Miller
Forte clearly isn’t going anywhere–not only is he the star of the show, he also created the series. The early episodes played up Forte’s hangdog charm, really making the at-home audience feel for the supposedly stranded man. That said, once other survivors started wandering into his life, our endearing lead’s myriad personality flaws revealed themselves. The gag–what if one of the last people on Earth was a major jerk?–is funny in small doses, but it’s keeping the show (and Forte) from really soaring. Still, even if he’s a tremendous jerk most of the time, occasionally his inability to behave in a socially acceptable manner and his panache for lying intersect into a mostly charming stew of weirdo fallibility. Phil doesn’t have any practical skills, but his deficiency is far sweeter and considerably more endearing than “lies a lot, is kinda gross with girls.” Phil doesn’t need to be perfect–in fact, he can’t be–but The Last Man on Earth shouldn’t scrimp on his more huggable qualities.
January Jones and Kristen Schaal
Phil’s first two pals are still the best. Schaal’s Carol Pilbasian is goofy and giddy and kind of crazy, but the actress brings genuine charm to an otherwise outsized character. Jones’ Melissa Shart may have captivated Phil with her classic good looks, but the blond beauty is also wicked smart and an excellent judge of people (including Phil, who has never been able to put one past her). Together, Melissa and Carol–two very different women who both know their own minds– are funny and real, and their blossoming friendship should be nurtured.
The Balls (and Other Running Gags)
Phil’s most enduring companions are a bunch of crudely outfitted sports balls–basketball, ping pong, tennis, soccer–and although they can’t talk back, they still manage to root the so-called last man on Earth. Even when Phil is acting a total fool and trying to sell these not-actually-living things on his side of the story, the truth outs itself. The balls are one of the best running gags of the entire series, but the show’s ongoing jokes also include Phil’s horrendous personal hygiene and his raiding of the country’s most important cultural institutions to furnish his home, The Last Man On Earth continually circles back to early jokes, always freshening them up in the process.
A Slow Trickle of New Talent
That Phil was truly the last person on Earth wasn’t a sustainable concept for an entire television series, and the show has knocked it out of the park when it comes to slowly rolling out new friends and foes for Phil to interact with. In addition to Carol and Melissa, we’ve now met Todd (Mel Rodriguez), Erica (Cleopatra Coleman), Gail (Mary Steenburgen) and the other Phil Miller (Boris Kodjoe.) The show is never content to introduce characters in obvious or expected ways; from car crashes to billboard-set rescues, everyone has entered the scene with flair and style.
What to Lose
The preview of the show’s season finale hints – okay, strongly suggests – that Phil (now “Tandy,” thanks to the arrival of Boris Kodjoe’s own “Phil Miller,” who won naming rights in yet another blow to Phi—uh, Tandy’s shattered psyche) is pushed out of his own hometown by the new Phil. Would that really be so bad? As Kodjoe’s Phil has sagely pointed out, Tucson doesn’t boast a ton of viable farmland, and if this motley crew wants to survive, they need to start growing things beyond jalapenos. We’ve also seen enough of Tucson to last a lifetime, and that cul-de-sac, while a cozy fit for the show’s current cast of characters, is getting to be a little dingy. Why not actually move to Tampa, if even for a little bit?
Phil’s Bad Attitude
Phil/Tandy’s bad attitude has grown so fiercely mean that he’s gone so far as to suggest actual murder (and, yes, Todd, we saw you agree with him). Phil can stay a jerk, but he needs to kick his dark spirit for something a touch more sunny and relatable. Hang with the balls more, Phil.
Lack of Backstory
Early looks at The Last Man On Earth showed a solo Phil traveling around the country, looking for other survivors and having sad, poorly dressed adventures along the way. The show’s premiere picked up after all that happened, robbing us of seeing Phil’s early days and getting a better handle on what in the world killed nearly everyone on the planet. Although there have been hints as to what went down–a virus that did similar damage to the animal population–it’s still unclear just what ruined the world, and how everyone (like Phil!) reacted in those early days. Any chance of a flashback episode?
A prime example: Todd’s seemingly unfounded belief that Melissa was going to leave him for some new hunk. At the time of Todd’s initial insecurity, there were no other hunks around, but the heavy-handed nature of all his whining and mewling made it clear that someone (a male someone, and a good-looking one at that) was going to show up quite quickly. Enter Boris Kodjoe! The show has hit us with the unexpected before (think back to Melissa’s own entrance) but a late season reliance on hammy foreshadowing has robbed it of its surprises.
Emphasis on Romance
Almost every conflict and plot point in Last Man On Earth‘s first season can be traced back to romance and sex. Horndog Phil tends to evaluate situations and interactions strictly as they relate to what’s going on his pants. But it’s not just Phil–every other character on the show does it, too. Of course a limited population would spawn all kinds of love drama, but why is that the only thing that keeps so many of these storylines going?