When “The Last Man on Earth” was announced last year, they hadn’t even filmed a pilot. FOX picked up the idea straight-to-series with only a loose idea and Will Forte (“Saturday Night Life”) attached to star and write the series. Upon presenting the show to advertisers in May, they had only a video of Forte performing solitary activities — singing the National Anthem to an empty Dodgers Stadium and getting food from an empty grocery store, among other things. That added up to a series with an amount of promise, but even more uncertainty. However, upon watching the first three episodes, it’s clear the network’s risk has been rewarded. Over the course of these episodes, the comedy displayed some growing pains, but it also showed great potential.

The Last Man on Earth

B+
Series Premiere
FOX
Sundays at 9:30 p.m.


“The Last Man on Earth,” which counts “21 Jump Street” directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller among its executive producers, follows Phil Miller (Forte), the titular last man on Earth after a virus wipes out the rest of the planet’s population. It portrays the hijinks that ensue and how he lives his life as the only person in the world. At the end of the pilot, the show expands its world by introducing Kristen Schaal (“Bob’s Burgers”) as Carol, the last woman on Earth, and the second and third episodes of the show feature her interactions with Phil.

The best aspect of “The Last Man on Earth” is how it generates the show’s inherently one-man comedy style. His activities are absurd, yet always enjoyable to watch. The first episode is almost entirely made up of things like playing racquetball on the presidential seal, creating a Jenga tower that would put anyone else’s to shame and going bowling with a truck and a queue of fishtanks. Forte plays each of these scenes so casually, adding to each moment’s level of humor. While this idea on its own is not enough to sustain a TV series (which is likely why they introduced Schaal’s character), it’s the best part of the show.

What’s more problematic is Schaal’s character. They bring her into the world to add a foil for Forte to play off of, however, they go slightly too far with this. Her first episode (the show’s second) is the worst of the three because Carol isn’t given any sort of nuance. She is OCD to the extreme and follows the rules of the “regular world” with constant rigidity (like stopping at stop signs), and perfectly juxtaposes Phil’s messiness and complete neglect of the rules. Schaal is directed to turn up the volume of her performance to full blast, and it just comes off as obnoxious. Her second episode does a lot better by the character. It gives her more notes to play with her wedding to Phil.

“Last Man on Earth” is the type of show that network executives should make more often. It has an incredibly weird premise, but in the hands of an actor like Forte and writers like Lord and Miller, it turned out to be highly entertaining. Sometimes in television programming, it’s worth investing in a risky premise because of a belief that it could be strong. Even if the show had some rough growing pains, as many sitcoms do, it’s a show that’s engaging and worth watching.

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