Saturday, February 28, 2015

'The Last Man on Earth:' The Last Show You'd Want to Watch

Will Forte is Phil Miller, Awash in a 10-year-old's Paradise. (FOX/Justin Althaus)
Think of all the money they saved on casting.

The very definition of the one-note gag, The Last Man on Earth, premieres Sunday (March 1, 2015) at 9 p.m. EST on FOX with a one-hour introductory episode, which is at least 41 minutes too long.

The promos proclaim this comedy is "unlike anything you've seen on television," and that is true. The question is whether that's a good thing.

It's different. It's outrageous. What it's not, as far as I could tell, is funny. I occasionally thought to myself, "Well, that's excessive" or "That's meant for shock value," but I never thought, "Hey, that's hysterical!" I strained to work up a pleasant smile.

The premise – do I even need to explain the premise? – is the title. Will Forte is Phil Miller, a fortysomething ex-temp worker (read: slacker) who appears to be the lone survivor of a devastating virus in 2020 that wiped out the rest of America's 320 million citizens. (Question to God, please: If you were to kill everyone in the United States, why would you spare Will Forte?)

He steals – well, guess it wouldn't exactly be stealing, would it? – a tour bus and criss-crosses the country looking for another survivor, emitting the longest scream of desperation ever heard on TV after he comes up empty. He spray-paints the message "Alive in Tucson" wherever he can, because that's where he's elected to settle.

He's taken souvenirs from his travels to spruce up the mansion he's chosen as his new digs. Babe Ruth autographs. Priceless works of art. Dorothy's ruby slippers. He takes cues from the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away. He talks to God, and admits having the run of the country does have its benefits. "These are Hugh Hefner's actual pajamas," he boasts to the Almighty. "Yeah. I washed them."

Mostly, though, Phil fights boredom by engaging in the kind of childish acts of destruction that would make Jackass fans green with envy. Not to mention, he now has free access to all the alcohol he can drink, and takes full advantage at every opportunity. He flashes back to his last birthday, a joyous party surrounded by loved ones, then contrasts it to this year's celebration: a single candle in a Twinkie – washed down with a bottle of $10,000 wine.

If you had free access to all booze, would you become a human margarita? (FOX)
So socially awkward is Phil that he has difficulty working up the courage to introduce himself to a shapely dress-store mannequin. (No, really.) After vowing to himself that he can keep it together despite the crushing loneliness, by the 16-minute mark of the pilot he's ready to commit suicide by driving an off-road vehicle into a huge boulder he's taken the time to adorn with a red-and-white bull's-eye. Time is one of the many things Phil has plenty of. "I've been through a lot lately, and just realized that having other people around is really what makes life worth living," he acknowledges.

Where do you go from here? This show is sad, occasionally contemplative, maybe even pitiful, all of which flies in the face of classifying it as a sitcom. You won't be tempted to join Phil in ending it all, but I find it impossible to believe you won't want to end Last Man on Earth by jumping off to another channel. There is a development about halfway through the hour that changes the dynamic significantly, but I believe you'll find it more annoying than encouraging.

Since he's really all you've got here, liking this show inherently means liking Forte. My feeling: meh. Did anyone ever really think those MacGruber sketches on Saturday Night Live were funny?

It's hard to fathom that the same people who gave us Empire also could give us this. Different silos for drama and comedy development, no doubt?

Entertainment Weekly tells us nearly 100 new series have been greenlghted for airing already in 2015. If any more of them are as brainless and unwatchable as Last Man on Earth, networks, please, scrap the process and start over.

My rating (1-10 scale): 1 click.