March 2, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “The Last Man on Earth”


THE LAST MAN ON EARTH:  Sunday 9:30PM on FOX – Potential DVR Alert

THE LAST MAN ON EARTH is both excitingly original and disappointingly cliched, an odd mix that leaves its future prospects somewhat unsettled.  However it ends up, though, FOX and its creator/star Will Forte deserve credit for embarking on a show that’s a big swing, strikingly different from any other comedy on broadcast TV.

The title encapsulates both what’s great and small-minded about the series, although the latter will require a SPOILER for anyone who hasn’t watched the premiere.  In many ways, especially visually, it’s been conceived almost as a feature film, and both of the opening night’s two half-hours are directed by Executive Producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, whose own work includes The LEGO Movie and both 21 Jump Street and its sequel.  Forte plays Phil Miller (no, it’s not a coincidence that his name is a combination of the directors’), who literally is the last man on earth, survivor of a cataclysmic virus.  For most of the first half-hour (written by Forte; Co-Executive Producer Andy Bobrow wrote the 2d half-hour), we watch him live his solitary, increasingly unhinged life in Tucson, Arizona, in a McMansion he’s furnished with some of the world’s most valuable paintings, Michael Jordan’s jersey, a Star Wars stormtrooper outfit and enough porn magazines for a lifetime of masturbation.  Since there’s no running water, he uses one of the house’s pools as his bathroom, and he has a smaller pool filled with margaritas that he can simultaneously soak in and drink.  His closest thing to human contact is an entire menagerie of balls, from soccer to tennis to billiard, that he’s used to one-up Tom Hanks and his volleyball companion from Cast Away.  This entire section of the show is brilliant, and perfectly suited to Forte’s ability to mix gleefully surreal comedy with an undertone of melancholy.  Lord and Miller direct with unusual visual scope, and an inventive use of music.

The title, though, if parsed correctly, also refers specifically to the last “Man” on Earth, and sure enough, Phil discovers at the end of the opening half-hour, when sheer loneliness has driven him to the point of suicide, that his most desperate wish has been realized, and Earth also has a surviving woman:  Carol (Kristen Schaal).  The joke is on him, though, and also unfortunately on us, because this is where Last Man‘s world-view becomes constricted in a way familiar from any number of Hollywood comedies that involve the civilizing of middle-aged boys who haven’t grown up.  Carol is a romantic interest by way of a humorless, nagging scold, correcting Phil’s grammar, insisting that he stop at red lights although there are no other drivers in the world, and constantly encouraging him to clean up his act and look to the future.  The show is fully aware of how annoying she is–that’s the joke–but it’s not clear if those involved realize that she’s also a bore, who’s going to grind Phil into being a Better Human Being and the series into being far more conventional than it needed to be.  (By the end of the premiere, he’s already created an irrigation system for her to-mah-to garden, and gotten on bended knee to propose because she requires marriage before she’ll agree to repopulate the planet.)

Although Last Man On Earth may certainly have more narrative surprises in store, for now it appears that the show is going to be all about the dynamic between Phil and Carol, and that may be the least interesting way to tell this story.  Forte, Miller and Lord clearly have inspiration to spare, and even if that’s what the series turns out to be, it’ll be worth watching.  It’ may not, however, fully realize the potential of its singular start.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."