The Last Man on Earth
In 2007, Will Forte wrote and starred alongside Will Arnett in a comedy called The Brothers Solomon. It’s a pretty good film! Directed by Bob Odenkirk, Wills Arnett and Forte play siblings attempting to impregnate Kristen Wiig so that they can please their father (who, somehow, is portrayed by Lee Majors) before he dies. You would be easily forgiven for not remembering the film; the release pulled in an abysmal $1,035,056 gross against a $10 million budget. Although it crashed and burned commercially, it’s an idiosyncratic expression of Forte’s odd comedic sensibility.
The sweetly harmonized fraternal affection in the pitch-perfect cold open of “Falling Slowly” takes up The Brothers Solomon’s forgotten mantle, not just in its focus on brotherly love but also in its sour tang to their happiness. The desperate fathers-to-be of Forte and Odenkirk’s film spend nearly the entire run time with shit-eating grins plastered to their faces. Tandy, despite being as easily read as a children’s whodunit, always makes an effort to seem A-okay in front of the other survivors. Both works use that adamant cheeriness as a mask for insecurity and jealousy that’s apparent to everyone except the characters displaying it. But even as the Brothers Miller put on brave faces for each other, they can’t prevent emotional collateral damage. While Tandy and Mike get used to being in one another’s lives, feelings don’t just get hurt — things are seen that cannot ever be unseen. Things involving bodysuits with genital flaps.
It’s tempting to devote the rest of this recap to the excruciating, awkward, hauntingly weird sex scene between Mike and Carol, but “Falling Slowly” offers too much material to focus on that one shining moment. Even so: good merciful lord in heaven, what a miracle of cringe comedy. As Mike and Carol go all-in on an afternoon of dirty talk through their body-concealing custom suits, Tandy watches them with a studied intent that intermingles with envious horror. The reluctant voyeurism, the faint notes of incest (lightly foreshadowed by Mike and Tandy repeatedly serenading one another with an achingly intimate love song), and the crude, yet vaguely futuristic, bodysuits all add up to a complex symphony of discomfort. And in terms of sheer subversion, the scene also ranks as the only time I can recall watching a man watch his brother inseminate his wife on network television.
Even as Tandy can’t tear his eyes away from the most upsetting sight of his life, he and Mike maintain a totally copacetic façade. What goes unsaid — both in this particular episode and also on the show more generally — carries more weight than what is. When Tandy confesses to his (charming, successful, masculine) brother that he’s incapable of siring an heir, Tandy doesn’t act like he’s saddened by this development in the slightest. He gives it that unsettling Forte nervous chuckle and riffs, “Big-time blanks, like, extremely sterile.” Much in the same respect, Mike keeps up the charade that he couldn’t care less that his own brother would approach an outsider instead of family to be the sperm donor. Why they still feel the need for such eggshell-walking eludes understanding, though it could also be said that human feelings may very well be the one aspect of life not radically altered by the virus. Jealousy happens, dystopian empty planet or no.
What I love most about The Last Man on Earth is its steadfast commitment to upholding changes until they grow into running jokes. The show doesn’t act like a cartoon or a traditional sitcom; it doesn’t reset itself after each half-hour, putting the characters back at square one and negating any of the episode’s changes. Last Man behaves more like Roman Polanski’s film-noir classic Chinatown, where a thug splits Jack Nicholson’s nose open in the first hour and it stays that way for the rest of the film. Forte is willing to change the name of his main character halfway through a season, and Tandy reappears here with his body still half-shaven from last week’s shenanigans. Thank goodness, too, because the physical comedy of Tandy appearing to be two different people as he paces back and forth is delectable. His ridiculous appearance renders Forte’s every line, no matter how innocuous, at least a little funny. Hopefully it won’t go anywhere anytime soon.
With Mike added to the Malibu mix, there was bound to be turbulence and hurt feelings. But the stakes of day-to-day interpersonal dynamics are sky-high when human interaction has become as rare as it has, and having made Todd so frustrated as to angry-dance is a classically Tandian foible. It will come back to bite him next week, of course, because all polite exteriors eventually come crashing down. All it takes is enough of a push — say, six consecutive renditions of “Falling Slowly.”
Assorted Thoughts and Questions:
- The drone’s appearance at the end of the episode makes for another excellent cliffhanger, something the show has proven itself to be quite adept at. It heralds the appearance of another fresh character — and whoever this new person is, they have discipline and presence of mind to scout recon before engaging. Suggests a formidable force.
- Mel Rodriguez is a surprisingly solid dancer! He was born in 1973, which would place him at senior prom around ’91, so just picture it: A teenaged Mel Rodriguez, busting out some fresh moves to the musical stylings of Color Me Badd.
- Whenever she finishes her Last Man on Earth run, January Jones should find a good vehicle to show off her comedy talents. Her plea for Mike and Tandy to switch up the karaoke (“They’ve sung this, like, six times. The movie’s called Once!”) is rivaled only by her Sahara-dry read of “They’re really invested in this picnic theme.”
- Is Tandy really magically fertile? It’s unlike the show to undo its own work like that. I smell something fishy, and it’s not one of Carol’s ghastly culinary concoctions.
- Carol’s crack of “Re-enter Todd, pun intended,” is funny in and of itself, but it’s doubly funny because it clearly indicates what Carol considers funny. That’s even more absurd.