The Last Man On Earth:
“Alive In Tucson”/“The Elephant In The Room”
Review by Jonathan Wolk
If you watched Saturday Night Live anytime between 2002 and 2012 you no doubt have seen the quirky and unusual comedy of Will Forte. You really could not have missed it. From characters like Greg Stink and Tim Calhoun, to MacGruber and the Falconer, Forte brought a certain level of depth, humanity, and focus, in his decade on the cast to some of the most unusual, oddball, and memorable characters to grace the SNL stage in the last 40 years. Macgruber, as has many an SNL skit before it, even spawned a feature film that, while not well received by critics or particularly successful in the theaters, has grown to be something of a cult classic to the point that a sequel has now been tentatively announced.
Like so many of his fellow SNL alumni, now that he has left the cast, he is attempting to make his mark on his own and he is doing it with one of the more unusual shows to hit network television in quite sometime. The Last Man On Earth (Sundays 9PM ET on FOX, Available Mondays on FOX On-Demand and HULU Plus) is exactly as the title says. But it is also so much more and, if it continues as it began, it could be something very special. There were moments early in the first episode where it felt like the highest budget SNL Digital Short ever made but that feeling quickly passed as the complexity of this story was slowly revealed. While the show is a dark comedy, it also explores some much deeper issues of loneliness, loss, and depression in a very authentic feeling, and at times touching, way.
The show premiered with “Alive In Tucson”/“The Elephant In The Room”, the two episode introduction to our protagonist, former ‘Temp’ Phil Miller (Forte). As we join Phil in “Alive in Tucson”, written by Will Forte and directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller of “The LEGO Movie” fame, we are told that it is the year 2020 and it is “One Year After the Virus”. What this virus is, how it started, and why it wiped out all of humanity except this lone man (and where the hell are all of the bodies!?!), is left untold, but that is okay because the why does not matter. Phil is driving around in a $4 million tour bus/RV, going from state to state trying to find any other living human being and crossing each state off the map as he finishes, apparently searching the entirety of each of the forty eight contiguous states. When he finally reaches Utah, which is already crossed off the map, we hear Phil give off a primal scream of frustration and agony. His final act of his epic road trip, and of hope, is to spray paint “Alive in Tucson” on a billboard, climb back into his RV and head for home. After looking around his crappy little apartment he realizes that he can upgrade (I mean, who’s going to stop him?), and makes his way to ‘Bonita Estates’ where he chooses a rather gorgeous mansion and proceeds to decorate it with some of the spoils of this travels. There is art from Monet, Van Gogh, and Rembrandt. Emmanuel Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware becomes the backdrop behind his bed. There are “Oscar” looking statuettes placed on the mantle, a Heisman Trophy, a full T Rex skull, Dorothy’s Ruby Red Slippers, a NASA spacesuit and Babe Ruth’s bat, just to name some of the wonders and relics of humanity he has collected. From here, having accepted that he is the last man on earth, he proceeds to try and begin life on his own terms in his hometown. Phil is apparently Catholic and, with only God to speak to, his bedtime prayers become a device by which we can gauge where his mental state is. By the end of the first 18 minutes of the episode we have seen Phil getting to do all those things that we only do when we think no one is looking but Phil does them right out in the open with no one to judge him. There are some great moments in this montage of him trying to pass the time. My favorite might have been “Twinkie Fingers”. I won’t explain, you’ll have to see it. There are also some powerful moments of this man’s immense loneliness, (and horniness) including a flashback to celebrating with family and eventually we see him trying to make an emotional connection with a female mannequin. Using a generator to power the television, he laughs at the movie Castaway and Tom Hanks talking to a volleyball, only to end up with his own cadre of friends from a sporting goods aisle. From here we follow him and his, perhaps inevitable, decline into darkness. He is drinking constantly, using priceless documents as a napkin, and, as seen in many of promotional pieces for the show, climbing into a Margarita kiddie pool and spending much of his time building an ever growing “Jenga” tower. Finally we reach sometime in November 2021 and Phil has hit rock bottom. He has finally decided to end it all and just before he can do the deed in the most Wile E. Coyote manner possible, something sparks his interest in a new direction and the show really hits a whole new level of comedy. I’m not going to spoil any of the wonderful twists and turns heading into the second episode of the premier just yet.
So that you can stop reading before I get to the spoiler-y part let me just give you the important stuff; my impression of the show and my thoughts on its future. I love this show. I fear it’s not going to be for everyone as, even with all of the bathroom and masturbatory humor thrown in amongst the rest, this is a show that genuinely strives to be more than just a series of sight gags or a gimmick drawn out from a single clever idea. It explores, in a very funny yet completely believable way, our need for human contact and community while exploring facets of depression and the human condition, and this is in no small part thanks to a truly wonderful performance by Will Forte. Forte (who has been almost universally described by all who know him to be one of the nicest people you could ever meet) brings that quirky, everyman, dork-next-door personality that made him so successful on Saturday Night Live to this show, in abundance, and manages to be simultaneously sweet, charming, pathetic, and repulsive as he grasps at everything he can think of to maintain his sanity. With 10 shows in the can, and a second season mostly written, I really hope that the audience gets on board with this show early and sticks with it. I see a lot of potential in this show, especially as we head into the end of the first episode and into the second episode, “The Elephant In The Room”, written by Andy Bobrow and again directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Please, please, please watch this show, people! Get your friends to watch, and let’s make sure that the show gets the long run that it deserves… now on to the spoilers…
As our intrepid hero Phil is about to take his own life by driving his SUV into a rock, with a big bullseye painted on it, he happens to spot smoke in the distance. Instead of ending it all he chooses to drive to the smoke and finds a tidy little campsite with some women’s clothing hanging out to dry on a clothesline. After nearly 2 years completely alone, he faints at the sound of a woman’s voice only to seemingly awaken with this amazingly gorgeous woman (True Detective‘s Alexandra Daddario) trying to make sure he’s alive. He is quickly shaken from this little fantasy to find that it is actually Carol (played by 30 Rock/Daily Show alum Kristen Schaal), a neurotic, rules obsessed, grammar Nazi, who apparently is The Last Woman On Earth. This takes us into the second episode and the show truly hits its stride with some of the funniest, and yet somehow most poignant, moments coming in the insanity of the interactions between these two. At this point I will leave you to watch the show and make your own judgments. But I highly recommend this show and I think you will enjoy it. I did.