By Devon Shuman, For The Miami Student
Lackluster sitcoms are a dime a dozen. In today's competitive world of television, it seems that almost every producer is attempting to get their own pilot picked up by imitating the success of "Friends" and creating a show in which a group of people who live or work together show up each week to compete for the affection of an overplayed laugh track.
What sets apart "The Last Man on Earth," the new comedy created by and starring Will Forte ("Saturday Night Live," "Nebraska"), is its sheer originality. "The Last Man on Earth" takes all of our preconceived notions about what a sitcom is supposed to be and throws them out the door.
The show opens in the year 2022, after the outbreak of a virus. We meet Phil Miller (Forte), one of the only apparent survivors. He is driving around the country in search of human life and spray-painting "Alive in Tucson" on billboards. When he fails to find anyone, he returns to Tucson to wait, hoping that someone has seen his message.
What makes Phil such an interesting character is that despite being possibly the last person on the planet, he is not actually that great of a guy. In fact, it is difficult to empathize with him.
We root for Ted on "How I Met Your Mother" because, although dorky, he is a compassionate and genuinely nice human being. We root for Michael on "The Office" because even though he does not appear to have any normal boundaries, he truly cares about his friends and his employees. When it comes to Phil, however, trying to find a reason to root for him is like trying to find a needle in a haystack of horrible vices.
For one, Phil is an alcoholic. He wastes his days away finding new and creative ways to consume drinks, of which he now has an endless supply. "There's really no incorrect way to use a margarita pool," he explains in one episode.
Phil is also a slob. He litters his house to the point where walking through involves wading through a foot-deep mess of empty beer cans. He uses a swimming pool as a toilet. He collects pornographic magazines and leaves them lying around his property. Put simply, the last man on the planet is a sleaze.
As becomes clear in the first episode, despite how original the premise is, a sitcom can't be successful with just one character. Simple loneliness isn't enough to make us care about the meaningless escapades of Phil Miller. The show, like its protagonist, needs human interaction to survive.
Fortunately, Phil is not actually the only survivor, and as the others begin to see his signs, they start to flock to Tucson to meet him.
First is Carol (Kristen Schaal), a woman who is as tied to her morals as Phil is separated from his. After all of Phil's prayers for a woman to share a bed with, he is rewarded with the one woman on the planet who still thinks they should have to get married before "repopulating the Earth." Her persistence and obsession with rules coupled with his carefree attitude and exasperated sarcasm create for some hilarious scenes.
And just when Phil is starting to get used to Carol, just as he is beginning to accept the fact that although she might not be ideal, she is better than the alternative of no human interaction at all, the stunning Melissa (January Jones) arrives. Now tied down with Carol, Phil has no way to convince Melissa to "repopulate the Earth" with him. This creates for another unique and hysterical character dynamic.
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"The Last Man on Earth" can get bogged down in repetitiveness. There's a streak of three or four episodes that are almost exactly the same in their basic plot structure, with Phil looking for new ways to lie and scheme his way around Carol and into Melissa's pants. However, as a whole, the show is a refreshing move away from the stereotypical sitcom. It utilizes the post-apocalyptic setting while still putting the focus on the characters' interactions. The humor itself is witty and offbeat, and the small cast brings originality and realness to their characters.
Hopefully, "The Last Man on Earth" is not just an anomaly and other producers will begin to take inspiration and create more original sitcoms and not just another laugh track-driven train wreck. Will Forte has the start of something unique here and given time to develop it further, he might be able to turn it into something great.