The Last Man on Earth
After watching a lonely two-episode premiere, the last thing we’d expect to hear The Last Man on Earth’s Phil Miller say is, “Everyone’s still dead — oh, thank God!” Yet these are the first words he utters this week, after jerking awake from a nightmare about his impending wedding to Carol. To refresh: Phil and Carol’s union grows from necessity, not passion; she insists she and Phil tie the knot as properly as possible on a barren planet before beginning the daunting task of repopulating it.
Their engagement is brief — Carol (played delightfully by Kristen Schaal) stops by Phil’s mansion with dinner on his last night of freedom. After they “elect” Phil president, Carol serves spaghetti with raisinballs, a bizarre take on a classic meal. Carol’s makeshift meatballs, she explains, represent her philosophy: “I’m the kinda gal who tries to make the best of things, and since meatballs will never ever exist again, I said, ‘Carol, get your hands up, grab some raisins, and you smash ‘em into a ball, girl!’” Why raisins served as a protein stand-in instead of a more appetizing item (rocks, even) remains unclear.
“I know we’re not each other’s soul mates — parentheses, meatballs — but if we give it a little effort, perhaps we can make it work.” Carol’s trying to sell herself on the idea as much as Phil. “We might as well dig in to the raisinballs — parentheses, life — we’ve been given,” she says. Watching their inability to relate to each other leads to the most awkward laughs of the night.
Naturally, Carol and Phil prepare for their looming wedding in very different ways. Carol raids a craft store to make the event as Pinterest-worthy as possible, even giving a groom wedding-cake topper a mangy beard to match Phil’s; her sincerity continues to shock and amuse us. Phil invites all his friends — parentheses, balls with faces drawn on them — to a bachelor party.
After downing some flaming shots, he and his wolf pack go visit his mannequin “ex” and inform it of the wedding. Both Last Man and Will Forte take this non-relationship seriously, with shots that settle on the mannequin’s blank eyes and then back on Phil’s. With a lack of bodies to work with, the writers give us in-jokes and sight gags as recurring characters. This is the rare show that lets laughs play out slowly instead of having them whiz right past.
“She’s definitely not the one,” Phil admits of Carol, conceding, ”I mean, she’s the last woman on the face of the earth, so technically she’s the one, but she’s not the one one, you know what I mean?” Mannequin Mary is far less opinionated than Carol, but Phil stays loyal to the more sentient of the two.
We make it to the wedding, where Phil’s donned his finest cargo shorts and even washed his hair; Carol’s done hers, too, and put together a beautiful bridal ensemble.
“Thank you for marrying me,” Carol tells Phil during an interlude to the service she prerecorded on a boom box, which allotted time for the bride and groom to recite their own vows. “Through this union we will hopefully be blessed with bringing life and promise to a new world, for a new day will dawn and humankind will rise again!”
We’ve heard little of Phil’s backstory so far, and even less of Carol’s; her devotion to the details of their wedding flesh her out more than her aversion to ending sentences with prepositions. It’s a reflection of her controlling tendencies, sure, and veers dangerously close to nag territory, but it’s also a testament to her faith and perseverance.
The vows don’t come as easily for Phil, perhaps because he feels more of a connection with a lifeless piece of plaster than with Carol. When Phil cops to forgetting to bring rings, Carol snaps, even allowing a noun to function as a verb: “I tried to raisinball the hell out of this ceremony, but you’re the worst!” She storms off.
Phil heads to Carol’s house, hoping to console her; he finds the place empty and decorated for a party, showing just how hard his bride tried to create a nice wedding in suboptimal circumstances.
He finds Carol holed up in her beloved craft store and presents her with the worst wedding vows we’ve ever heard: “You drive me crazy, you don’t get my jokes, you correct my grammar … you pester me worse than my mother!” Fortunately, there’s a “but”: “I realized that I’d rather eat raisinballs — parentheses, live in a world in which I am challenged by your … tendencies — than eat no balls at all — parentheses, go back to living alone.” Phil and Carol’s aversion to each other after being alone for so long has been one of the most unbelievable aspects of the show so far, so it’s nice to see them start to appreciate each other.
Carol loosens up. They return to the chapel and their prerecorded ceremony; “Yowza — let her up for air, Phil!” the boom-box officiant heckles as they peck tentatively.
Phil asked God for a woman last week, but he couldn’t be less enthusiastic to consummate his marriage with Carol. Of course she’s on top, yelling out confusing metaphors and shoveling canned beans into her mouth afterward with the satisfaction reserved for a postcoital cigarette. The next morning, the newlyweds bond some more. Carol finally seems to be enjoying herself. Phil takes her to meet his “ex girlfriend,” and watches as his wife throws her predecessor out a window. “You can tell everybody that Phil Miller is off the market!” Carol yells. Both characters take the charade seriously, and it’s a sweet moment between them, but only further defines their loneliness and desperation for contact of any kind.
On the drive home, they admit each other is “surprisingly tolerable” and “totally bearable.” “This is our destiny, maybe,” Phil says, gazing at his wedding band … taking his eyes off the road just long enough to crash into a moving car. A beautiful blonde emerges — here’s where they’ve been hiding January Jones.
Now the tally of Last Man characters reaches a whopping three, but the title’s premise remains true: Phil’s still the only guy. His mouth agape, the credits roll; we can feel him backpedaling his destiny speech already. Here, our story gets a new start. It will be entertaining to watch this trio try to make sense of each other.
As this first stand-alone episode proves, Last Man’s half-hour run time serves it well: We’re given just enough information that we crave more, and each episode raises more questions than it answers. Who knew the apocalypse could be this fun?