Phil Lord Archive

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First Impressions: The Last Man on Earth Season 2

The first season of Will Forte’s apocalypse comedy, The Last Man on Earth, fell flat with me. Other than the occasional sight gag, I found the show to be painfully unfunny and a salute to the worst parts of the human experience. To wit, Forte’s character, Phil Miller, was an asshole. Granted, two years of being alone might turn anybody into a bit of a self-involved narcissist. Yet the more I tried to give Phil Miller the benefit of the doubt, the more the writing let me down. On Sunday night, the season two premiere of The Last Man on Earth gave me a reason to think the series might have grown up a bit.

There’s a substantial change in town between the first and second season. Though some might chalk it up to a long arc of emotional growth for the Phil character, I’m more inclined to think that the writers realized they had reached the limit of what they could do with an emotionally stunted prick as the main character. The first episode of season two sees Phil and Carol (Kristen Schaal) remarried and looking for a new home in the ruins of America. True to form, this is no somber road trip. In fact, the light hearted, “I can do anything I want” gimmicks actually land as something other than tone deaf slapstick.

Sure, it’s supremely goofy watching Phil and Carol use an F-117 stealth fighter as a pickup truck, but now the whimsy isn’t poisoned by Phil being an asshole. The kiddie pool margarita is as gross (or genius, I can’t really tell) a concept as ever, but seeing Carol in it with Phil gives the show the warmth it was otherwise missing. And weird as it is to invoke two adults bathing in a party drink as a symbol for the rest of the show, I can think of no better tableau for the episode. Phil and Carol are now, finally, both in it together.

Phil is still a bit irascible. Carol is still a bit of a nitpicking weirdo, but now both characters are in on the joke. Carol isn’t simply the wet blanket half of the odd couple. The duo might revel in congressional themed puns while having sex in the White House, but the weird coitus is no longer a tool for laughing at Carol. The Last Man on Earth is finally letting me care about Phil and Carol as equals.

What’s really remarkable is how effortlessly the writing is able to sell me on Phil and Carol as actual people in a somewhat unconventional marriage. Carol’s art book is mobilized as an effortless tool to fill in the missing parts of the couple’s story. It catches the audience up on their past, while also injecting some much needed humanity into both characters.

From where I left it last season, The Last Man on Earth seems almost unrecognizable. No longer will I be tuning in to hate watch the show. Twenty-two near flawless minutes of comedy has me wanting to see Phil and Carol reunited in the next episode. Likewise, my trust is restored that Phil, though still a bit of a jerk, isn’t going to jump at the first chance he gets to abandon Carol for someone more physically attractive.

Now the only question remains what role Jason Sudeikis will play as Phil’s astronaut brother. He’s not bad as the cut-away joke guy, but that gimmick will play itself out sooner rather than later.


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TV Review: The Last Man on Earth

The Last Man on Earth has all the trappings of a show I should love.

  • Wanton property destruction? Check.
  • An Omega Man scenario that involves a lot of porn? Check.
  • Will Forte? Check.
  • Phil Lord and Christopher Miller aka the guys behind the Lego Movie and Clone High? Check.

The problem with The Last Man on Earth, and I’ll admit it’s a problem that took me two or three episodes to really notice, is it’s not really funny. I got wrapped up in all the lighting things on fire, smashing things with bowling balls, and physical one-off gags. These things are gimmicks, and out of the gate I confused gimmickry with comedy.

Beyond the slapstick, I soon reconciled myself with conceptual distance between Will Forte’s Phil Miller and Will Forte’s Abe Lincoln from Clone High. Though they sound the same, Abe was at least redeemable. Phil Miller is simply a terrible human being – a terrible human being who used up all the good “last man on Earth” shtick in the series’ first episode. As I mused on the seeming impossibility of managing a half-season of the Will Forte one man show, Kristen Schaal’s character, Carol, entered the fray.

For the duration of the second episode, the awkward but awesome Schaal charm seemed to work. This is to say it worked until I realized every joke in the second episode was at Carol’s expense.

Carol is pedantic, fussy, and wants to get married on the first date (because women and getting married, right?). She’s anti-Phil’s porn collection (because woman and porn, right?) and pro-repopulating the Earth because…god. One might think the latter could lead to some genuine comedy. Instead, I was treated to a sex scene slightly less awkward than imagining my parents screwing. From said teeth chatteringly bad moment  onward, almost all of the show’s jokes are built around one of two incredibly lazy archetypes: Phil is an oafish asshole, or Carol is really weird and not fun (because women and fun, right?). Really, series creator, Will Forte, that’s the best you’ve got in your arsenal?

Maybe when I was nineteen I would have thought a litany of jokes about the crazy girl being crazy was comic genius. Now, not so much. Now I look at Will Forte’s creation and wonder if it’s Forte, the Fox Network, his writers, or some combination of the above who never managed to move past a late-teenage worldview.

Suffering through episode after episode of The Last Man on Earth has me feeling singularly sorry for Carol having to spend the apocalypse married to the likes of Phil. Moreover, if my pathos is engaged all the time, how exactly am I supposed to shift into wanting to laugh about the end of the world?

When the series isn’t revelling in Phil being utterly awful to Carol, it’s guilty of being painfully obvious. From the arrival of January Jones’ character, Melissa Shart – GET IT, SHE’S ANOTHER WOMAN CHARACTER AND HER LAST NAME IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU POO AND FART – to the coitus interrputus of Todd (Mel Rodriguez), the show is utterly predictable. The jokes are so lazy and the writing so textbook that it’s almost impossible not to see what’s coming down the pipe. I’m certain a potato might be caught off guard by the series’ writing. Alas, most sentient creatures should be able to see through the gambits and charades.

My prediction: Phil ends up alienating everybody in the last enclave of society and leaves Tuscon in the series finale. Then, the first three episodes of the second season will be The Search For the Last Man on Earth. You see, it turns out Phil did a bunch of things off-camera that made their lives better. Only in his absence will the group realize how much they need Phil. Thus, his awful ways will be validated, and the show will return to the status quo.

Despite these obvious shortcomings, I still wanted to believe in The Last Man on Earth. I found myself desperately searching for some evidence of self-awareness in the series. Perhaps it’s being meta. Maybe it’s a commentary on actual gender issues. Could it be Phil’s monstrously selfish behavior is the product of spending two years living on his own, searching for any signs of life in the world and finding only silence? I wanted to give The Last Man on Earth the benefit of the doubt, but each time I did it ended up farting in my face and calling it a joke. I can only take so much wind absent substance – even on a hate watch.

The bottom line is there’s no soul to The Last Man on Earth. Will Forte has created a truly reprehensible character for himself. Kristen Schaal’s talents are utterly wasted on a show that jumped the shark after its first episode. Though set in the not-too-distant-future, the series feels about as fresh as a 1950s “take my wife, please” joke. Of all the things The Last Man on Earth could have been, who knew it would end up as such a crass, unfunny, and mean-spirited exercise in juvenile wanking.

Ah, there’s the meta moment. Phil loves porn and Will Forte has created the ultimate expression in conceptual masturbation. I knew I could shove this show’s head up its own ass. Shaftoe for the win!