Now many shows, particularly sitcoms, are going to put themselves out there with such a bold premise like The Last Man on Earth, but with Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (22 Jump Street) running the show, and Will Forte (Nebraska) as the eponymous last man, at the bare minimum the optics are intriguing.
Set in 2020 after a deadly virus has wiped out the population, Forte plays Phil Miller, who believes he is the last person on Earth. He leaves signs if anyone else is out there, but eventually this hope starts to wane, and he takes up conversations with various sports balls, similar to Tom Hanks in Cast Away. The show follows his quest to find someone, anyone, as he makes his way down to Tucson, Arizona, to try and see if his family made it.
There are a few nods to similar ‘lone survivor of a post-apocalypse and/or Earth' movies made before such as I Am Legend and The Omega Man. And it's a ‘lone survivor of a post-apocalypse and/or Earth' movies that has (refreshingly) no zombies to speak of. However, The Last Man on Earth cannot last a half season on network television strictly on a mix of comic and melancholic guile, can it?
A spoiler or two to follow, so prepare accordingly.
Well, it can't, hence the gradual addition of several folks that would presumably toss the title of the show into a bit of a paradox. Kristen Schaal (30 Rock) plays Carol, the first woman Phil finds, and January Jones (Mad Men) plays the Melissa, second woman, quickly putting Phil in a conundrum in terms of who to be with.
In terms of carrying the action by himself, Forte is great. He does the stuff we would want to do yet not acknowledge, stuff that is visually cringe worthy like having a kiddie pool full of margaritas, or going to the bathroom in a swimming pool (just trust me on this). But he conveys his solitude remarkably well, even as he is talking to badminton birds and tennis balls. Forte communicates being alone remarkably well, and to a frustrating point, this disappears as soon as he starts running into people.
Once he gets to that point, Phil becomes a mean or at a minimum, extremely selfish person. It would normally not be worth mentioning, but Phil's attempts to ‘get some' with who he wants take up large chunks of the episodes and season, and the journey into this territory comes off as amateurish and not worthy of the time built in the first couple of episodes of the show. The way he treats virtually anyone he meets is downright cruel. During this downtime for Phil, Schaal's performance over the course of the season is downright charming, as if she put her head down and through herself into Carol as much as she could, and it shows on-screen.
There is a production note I think worth mentioning; Forte may have been spread a little thin in Season One, along with his work in front of the camera he wrote an episode and served as the show runner in Season One; he has since been replaced by Dan Sterling (The Sarah Silverman Program). This reduction of the many hats Forte wore in Season One of The Last Man on Earth I hope will be as promising as I believe it to be.
I think there are some things that can still make The Last Man on Earth appointment viewing every week, and the idea that Forte, Miller and Lord had in mind for the show is evident and worth sticking around for, but if you can get past the pigheaded nature of some of the things that Phil does, some of the turns that the ensemble (yes, ensemble) turn in are sweet and worth their weight in gold.The Discs:
13 episodes split over two discs, and the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks good. The show gets a chance to show off many of the Valley areas northwest of Los Angeles just fine, despite being set in Arizona. The characters in the image have little if any instances of haloing or edge enhancement, colors are reproduced faithfully and the source material is as pristine as can be. If you want image detail, Forte's mountain man beard has got everything you want in a nice transfer, though thank goodness it's not in Blu-ray.Audio:
Dolby Digital 5.1 surround for all episodes, and it handles the workload admirably and without complaint. Dialogue is consistent, the low-end fidelity is smartly used when called upon, there are even some directional effects and channel panning during the season, though the latter two items are fairly scarce through the season due to the material. The soundtracks are good for what they have to replicate.Extras:
Deleted scenes span both discs and I think all episodes. The scene total is fairly large (1:05:52), includes some alternate and extended takes, including some really good stuff with Schaal, and at least compared to the final product, contains some interesting wrinkles worth perusing. Lord, Miller, Forte and Schall contribute two commentaries, one on the show's second episode "The Elephant in the Room," the other on "Screw the Moon," the season finale. Things are more casual on the second track, to the point where they discuss how their studio is next to a sex toy factory, but both talk about scene intent and provide basic recollections on the production. Disc One includes a Q&A (22:51) that looks at the origin of the idea of the show, any possible regrets on how Season One transpired, and how things may change going forward. Its inclusion is nice. Disc Two as a gag reel (6:13) that is somewhat disappointing, and a making-of on the show, titled "Survival of the Funniest" (11:37), where the cast discuss what they would do as the last man on Earth, and more on the show's intent. It is a little spoiler-heavy but the feature is nice.Final Thoughts:
The Last Man on Earth sags a little in the middle, but past the soft white underbelly is a show with a decent heart, featuring surprising and polished performances by two of its stars. Technically, the discs are decent and the extras are okay. It looks like you can start Season Two (airing now) without having to brush up on Season One, but this is worth checking out at some point down the road.