May 4, 2015

TV Retrospective: "The Last Man on Earth" - Season 1

Will Forte
If anything, 2015 will have to play quick the hat trick to find a show that had as divisive of a turn as The Last Man on Earth did in its initial run of episodes. Along with producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller, it was considered the perfect new series, even being hailed as the Breaking Bad of comedy. It was a premise that seemed ripe with potential to satirize post-apocalyptic culture among pretentious success stories like The Walking Dead. However, The Last Man on Earth wasn't the last man for long and soon the show formed a subset of dissenters. Was it deserved and did the show actually squander its potential? Yes and no.
There are many ways to address the show's more problematic elements. For starters, Phil Miller (Will Forte) is very unlikable. He is loud and obnoxious and for those outside of Forte's comedy sensibilities, it can easily get grating real fast. However, what started as an inventive use of destruction in which Phil blew up cars and talked to volleyballs turned into an even more conflicting show with the introduction of the familiar sitcom politics. The neighborhood of Tucson quickly became populated and the jealousy elevated the worst in Phil to the point that his asides could be eviscerating to the moment. What is to happen when the show's protagonist goes from being tolerably offputting to just being offputting?
It could be that it repurposed the feeling of a three camera sitcom into a post apocalyptic environment. While there isn't a laugh track or actual staging, it does have all of the tropes that if replaced the location would feel familiar. Instead of the show going for wacky and supernatural premises, the show went for character conflict which resulted in a lot of talk about repopulation through sex and coming to terms with their disagreements. The weirdest that the show ever got was bringing in a cow. In fact, by the end when Phil has no choice but to leave Tucson behind, it feels like a breath of fresh air.
This isn't to say that the supporting cast wasn't enjoyable. In fact, Phil is still the most problematic character in the entire series. He is childish where everyone else has a sense of rationality to them. Phil attempts to abandon people and have infidelity as the town grows bigger. It is a nice twist in theory, but the show never earns those moments. Instead, it becomes a test to the audience to see how long they will put up with a man who refuses to communicate with plausibility. There are even points where you might want to just abandon the show entirely. Had this show been the familiar 21 episode order, which it likely will get with its second season, this may be a tougher pill to swallow.
Probably the part that is most annoying is that in a premise rich with infinite possibilities of lacking supervision, they were self-involved and got wound up in each other's problems. It was only in small bursts after the premiere in which we saw the cast do very clever situations that gave the show its initial appeal, such as spraying a wall with paint balls. Instead, it feels familiar and likely will not change that much. Who knows if the general cast will return for season two, but hopefully it will be come something more interesting, especially now that there is presumably a bigger budget that they could use. 
The thing with the show is that it has potential to be great, but it feels like it isolated audiences by doing something very old in a very new setting. The results didn't pay off and the question of watching someone act selfish for an entire season doesn't always work, especially with Forte's louder than life acting style. It seems especially odd considering that even "the last man" aspect isn't even true anymore. It is a show that may work in small doses, but will likely never rise to the heights that its premiere suggested that it could. 
The Last Man on Earth remains a show of conflicting, divisive nature that even I with my lenient opinions on TV shows felt like rejecting at certain points. Whereas shows like Enlisted were canceled, it feels hard to support comedies that waste their premises so carelessly and end up doing nothing particularly new. It will be interesting to see if the lesson is learned for season two. However, is there really any appeal left for those that initially had hope? It may be a little late, or at very least a tough climb back for this show to gain back the trust. Fingers crossed that they can pull it off.


Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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