Phil Miller (Will Forte) is the last man on Earth. He’s heavily bearded, with a gleeful destructive streak and an aversion to personal hygiene. He drove around the country for years, looking for other surviving humans; he found none, and has come to Tucson to get drunk and break things, and maybe kill himself. I mean, why not, right? Let’s throw bowling balls at aquariums and roll over beer cans with a steamroller. The opening act of the pilot is both catastrophically tragic and endearingly silly, demonstrating a kind of emotional dexterity that’s rare in any story but especially in a half-hour comedy. Ambitious seems like such a cheesy critic word to use here, but I don’t know what else to call it.
Being the last person alive is a surprise every second of every day; Phil’s aware that his existence is a huge, devastating, baffling surprise. But after two years, that’s also the norm, and any deviation from it would then be the real shock. I’m reluctant to reveal too much else about how the story unfolds because some of the richness of the show is about that contrast between ordinary and unfathomable. That said, if you’re reading this, you’ve probably heard of what television is, and can use your context clues to guess that Phil is not, in fact, the last surviving human.
For a show that shouldn’t really work at all, Last Man works pretty well. A lot of that is Forte, who makes Phil kind of dumpy and sad and gross, but also clever and resilient. (Forte is also a creator and executive producer for the series, along with The Lego Movie’s Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.) Phil still has a capacity for joy, and even as he’s using a once-glamorous pool as a toilet, he also looted (collected?) significant artwork and cultural artifacts, which he uses to decorate his home. Is this a life worth living? is a massive question for a sitcom to tackle, but that’s what the first episode has to convince us of, that Phil’s life still has meaning and value and purpose, as much as any of our lives, which is to say, “some.”
As fully as I bought the concept — completely and without struggle — there are a few moments in the first three episodes that rang just a little hollow. Phil’s propensity for filth is one thing, but once you’ve trashed a house, and there are infinity other houses, why not move on? Occasionally Phil’s sadness seems a little too arch, and sometimes he seems more jerky than the circumstances would require.
At first I thought Fox made two episodes available for review, and I enjoyed both; when I re-watched them to write this, though, I discovered a third episode and was immediately just thrilled. “Oh, yay! More show!” That’s what we’re going for here with this whole TV endeavor, right? That feeling of sign me up. Not just humor, but a kind of urgent originality. I have no idea where this show is going or how, but Phil will not be alone on his journeys. I will be there, too.