Review: ‘Last Man on Earth’ a ‘work in progress’

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Si Fi Company

If you inherited the Earth, what would your kingdom look like? Movies featuring a whimsical post-apocalyptic world, such as “Zombieland” and “This Is The End,” explore these fantasies. A world without rules creates entertaining scenarios. “The Last Man on Earth,” Fox’s latest stab at a situational sitcom, follows Phil Miller (Will Forte) and his struggles as the sole proprietor of a barren planet.

Phil is named after the directors of the pilot episode, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, of “21 Jump Street” and “The LEGO Movie” fame. Once again, the duo strike gold with their vision of the inaugural episode “The Last Man On Earth.”

Like many great stories, “The Last Man on Earth” shoots first and asks questions later. The series jumps right in with Phil touring the country and leaving his version of an S.O.S.: “Alive in Tucson” is painted on signs, billboards and landmarks across the U.S. The remainder of the pilot episode delves deep into the world Phil has created in his kingdom of Tucson.

He possesses the unique ability to live out any and every fantasy ever dreamed up inside his head, often taking the form of ludicrous and humorous displays. Who hasn’t wanted to go bowling using a car? Or smash the delicate display of stacked soda cans that occupies every grocery store? Or take a 90 mph fastball to the chest while wearing a suit of armor? Phil explores these and more as Tucson’s autonomous ruler.

When “The Last Man On Earth” came out, many wondered if a single isolated character could carry a show. The series answers these critics with the arrival of the first of many characters.

After living out every conceivable fantasy, Phil comes to grips with the reality of his desolate existence: A life devoid of human companionship falls under “survival” rather than “living.” Just before he’s about to pull the plug on his own life, Phil meets someone seeking him out after seeing his “Alive in Tucson” messages.

Carol Pilbasian (Kristen Schaal) proves to be the first in a long series of disappointments for Phil. Phil dreams of a blonde bombshell finding him, but is instead faced with the task of repopulating the human race with the eccentric but sweet Carol. Phil’s handling of their wedding, masterminded by Carol, reveals his developmental arc as a character: two steps backward, one step forward.

Without witnessing Phil in the context of society, the audience has no gauge for his moral character. When new characters begin to shuffle into Phil’s life, it soon becomes clear that “The Last Man on Earth” is, in fact, a giant jackass. Although many viewers would reject a premise centered around terrible people, shows such as “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” prove the genius of having a morally depraved protagonist. Over the course of the season, Phil grows at a snail’s pace, transforming from a pathological liar to a tolerable human being.

With the arrival of new characters such as Melissa Shart (January Jones) and Todd (Mel Rodriguez), Phil’s schemes grow increasingly farfetched. Phil lies about anything and everything in a desperate attempt to impress others and hide his flaws. His lies spiral out of control in every episode, from the misguided fib over lactose intolerance following the discovery of a cow to an all-nighter at plowing a field after boasting of his farming skills. These situations draw “The Last Man on Earth” into awkward situations that highlight just how far Phil is willing to go to deceive. These hilarious but cringeworthy moments only make Phil’s growth in the direction of “decent human being” all the more impactful.

The final episodes focus on the displacement of Phil within his own kingdom. Not only do his schemes fail, but the arrival of another man named Phil Miller (Boris Kodjoe) renders old Phil obsolete in every sense. Having been replaced, literally and figuratively, Phil must move on in the season finale. As Phil drives off into the sunset, the final shot of the season pans out from Earth to reveal a juicy plot point floating in outer space.

The dark humor of “The Last Man on Earth” will prove too strong to be many viewers’ cups of tea. Phil is not a good man, and showrunner/lead actor Forte takes a big risk by making Phil the engine of “The Last Man on Earth.” Toward the middle of the first season, the audience’s goodwill toward Phil evaporates.

Despite this midseason stall, “The Last Man on Earth” finds its way over the final stretch. Phil may not encapsulate the ideal characteristics of a leading man, but that’s what makes him special. Boring and safe sitcoms litter the TV landscape, and “The Last Man on Earth” provides a stark contrast to the monotonous sitcom schema.

Phil encapsulates “The Last Man on Earth”: a work in progress, and definitely one to see more of next season.

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Follow Alex Furrier on Twitter.


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