It’s not the most original idea in the world for a movie. One man by himself, trying to survive against all odds. Tom Hanks drove the vast majority of a film playing a man stranded on an island for four years in Cast Away, having little dialogue to work with. In I Am Legend, Will Smith spent the first half of the film tal king to either his wordless canine companion or the lifeless mannequins set up by his character to maintain his sanity. Ryan Reynolds even once played the only visible character in a 90-minute movie called Buried, a film that takes place entirely within a box six feet underground, with Reynolds trapped inside and trying to escape. Movies have proven that having very few characters can work. But can the same be said for a TV show that could potentially last multiple seasons? The Last Man on Earth seeks to answer that question.
This new show adds a comedic twist to the post-apocalyptic setting. Created by and starring Will Forte, the story follows Phil Miller as the eponymous “last man on earth”. After a mysterious event known as “The Virus” wipes the earth’s population in 2019 and a fruitless cross-country trip in search of survivors, Phil finally settles down two years later in his hometown of Tucson, Arizona to live out the rest of his days. Phil’s antics are quite the riot. No rules to tie him down, he tackles Tuscon with reckless abandonment, bowling abandoned cars down parking structures and using his new pools as his own garbage pits. Meanwhile, he grapples nightly with his crippling loneliness and seemingly insatiable desire to be with a woman again. Just when things are looking darkest for Phil, another survivor named Carol Pilbasian (played by Kristen Schall) makes her way into Tucson. Supposedly the last woman on earth to compliment Phil’s status, Phil is initially excited. Not only could he interact with another human again, but it was the woman he had wanted for so long. Unfortunately, her personality ends up being quite the turn-off for him, as she disrupts the many freedoms Phil had established for himself by making him obey traffic laws in empty roads and trying to push responsibilities onto him such as setting up running water and eventually repopulating the earth. Even for the last two people on earth, Phil would much rather be left alone to his own devices, but it is through this interaction that The Last Man on Earth truly stands out.
Having one or two characters for an ongoing comedy series is a tall order, especially one with such a bleak setting. But with that challenge comes a refreshing break from the traditional doomsday survival genre, with Forte and Schall already filling out its running time with hilarious encounters (with Forte doing extremely well on his own for the first half). The story behind the show comes from not just a man trying to survive (in his own highly unsanitary way, Phil has done that pretty well already), but after meeting the straight-laced Carol, it becomes about a man learning to live like a human again. With Phil’s lonely life almost literally in the dumps, his new sense of purpose (albeit thrust upon him unwillingly) acts as another unexpected yet entirely welcome kicker to an already-unique concept. This coupled with Armageddon antics such as interactions with townspeople made from balls—literally a la Cast Away—and a heated love triangle between the two protagonists and a mannequin proves that even the end of the world can dole out its laughs.