“Dead Man Walking,” this week’s episode of “The Last Man on Earth,” follows Phil (Will Forte, “Saturday Night Live”) and Carol (Kristen Schaal, “Bob’s Burgers”) as they finally reunite with the supporting cast from the first season. Carol pretends Phil is dead, planning to reveal the truth once the others learn to forgive his past transgressions and mourn him.
Last season’s biggest flaw was that the show spent too much time focusing on Phil’s cartoonishly dickish behavior instead of developing side characters like Gail (Mary Steenburgen, “Orange is the New Black”) and Erica (Cleopatra Coleman, “Neighbours”). In most ways, the show is best suited to focusing on just one or two characters — and most of its best episodes, like this season’s premiere, have steered away from sitcom-esque hijinks with a big cast of characters. It’s slightly frustrating to once again veer away from the melancholic vibe of a two-character show to reintroduce banal characters like Melissa (January Jones, “Mad Men”), especially this early in the season.
That said, this season has made up for Phil’s questionable characterization last year, giving the audience more reasons to empathize with him without taking away most of his core traits. He hilariously combines his old tendencies with new kindness in “Dead Man Walking,” holding a gun to the others’ heads to force them to listen to his sincere apology. If the show continues this focus on characterization, the sitcom vibe might not feel so wasteful anymore.