[This is a review of The Last Man on Earth two-part series premiere. There will be SPOILERS]
After seeing any piece of promotional material for FOX's The Last Man on Earth leading up to last night's two-part premiere, most viewers were probably asking themselves, "Can I really stand an entire series of Will Forte?" For those who are rubbed the wrong way by his absurdist comedic sensibility (and for those who didn't even know who he was), the proposition of following the Saturday Night Live alum and MacGruber star for an entire hour, let alone an entire series, seemed like a daunting and time-wasting exercise.
But hopefully, after actually seeing both parts of the hour-long premiere, those skeptics realize that while the show's somewhat juvenile humor tests one's patience initially, the series also demonstrates that there's literally a world of comedic material that could be explored over the course of its run. The only question is, will The Last Man take advantage of its innovative concept or go for easy, obvious laughs?
Created, written and produced by Forte (and directed by The Lego Movie helmers Phil Lord and Chris Miller), the series quickly shows off that concept as it establishes its setting and tone, which skirts the line between downright grim and surprisingly gleeful. In the year 2020, we meet Phil Miller (Forte), a 41-year-old former temp who has been living as the only apparent survivor of a devastating virus for a couple of years. He's already scoured the country for anything living, but has resigned to the fact that he is the only person left on Earth - and after doing so, embraces a life of solitude holed up in a mansion in his hometown of Tucson, Arizona.
With no more laws, rules, consequences or real purpose, Phil chooses to spend his days indulging in alcohol, property destruction, and looting - all with a disregard for self-hygiene or self-respect. While amusing initially, his behavior - which includes bowling with cars, drinking expensive wine topped with spray cheese, and lounging in a kiddie pool filled with tequila and margarita mix - begins to wear thin. After 10 minutes of self-destructive antics, the point has been made and the joke has been told; Phil can do anything he wants to, including using a swimming pool as a toilet - and ultimately, he's depressed without a companion. But at this point, most of the audience has to be asking of the comedy, "Is this all we have to look forward to?"
Fortunately, at the end of the first episode, things begin to move in a more promising direction. After nearly committing suicide, Phil sees a puff of smoke and discovers that there is someone else out there, and that it's a woman! A hilarious dream sequence featuring Alexandra Daddario (True Detective) cuts back to the reality that Phil has actually been introduced to Carol (Kristen Schaal), who, for all we know, is The Last Woman on Earth.
Obviously, for our titular character, this is exciting because he's been longing for a female mate for quite some time. But for the audience, it is equally as exciting because Forte, as a performer, now has someone to play with. We could tell Forte was having plenty of fun on his own in the world that he created, but there's no doubt that he's at his best when his ridiculous antics get a recreation (just look at his work on SNL and in MacGruber), and Schaal's ultra-clean, law-abiding, grammar-Nazi character is the perfect foil for Forte's disgusting slob.
Of course, as soon as we meet Carol, we can see where the comedy and the show may be headed, but it is still a welcome change of pace from the series' first half hour, in which Phil simply found ways - albeit creative ways - to entertain himself but bore the rest of us. Carol's introduction not only gives the show another character to work with, but also opens up new comedic avenues, tackling material such as gender differences and relationships, as she and Phil discover that even though they may be the last two people on the planet, they still find it hard to want to be together.
Depending on how the series handles Phil and his relationship with his new companion, the comedic possibilities are nearly endless - even if the couple stays put in Tucson. They could become partners, friends or enemies, but one thing is for sure: Whatever they do together will be far more interesting and funny than Phil talking to a variety of sporting goods (admittedly a somewhat humorous nod to Castaway).
There's also plenty of terrain to explore and plenty to discover, including the possibility of more survivors. We already know that January Jones (Mad Men) and Mel Rodriguez (Getting On) will appear in the first season, but where, when and how (flashbacks?) is unclear.
With the world literally presented as the couple's oyster, there are limitless shenanigans to be had and tensions to arise from them. Will Carol adopt Phil's philosophy of reckless abandon? Or will Phil see that he actually does have a responsibility to help reestablish the human race? Whatever happens, we'll be interested to see where it goes and where the laughs come from.
What did you think of the hour-long premiere? Let us know in the comments!
The Last Man on Earth continues next Sunday with "Raisinballs and Wedding Bells" on FOX.