In the US: Sundays, 9.30c/8.30c, Fox
Literature - and in particular science fiction - has a long tradition of imagining what life would be like if everyone in the world was dead except for one person. Indeed, the very first English-language novel, Robinson Crusoe, is largely about one man’s exploits alone on a desert island. And since then, there’s been the likes of Castaway, Life After People, 28 Days Later, I Am Legend, The Omega Man, Silent Running and even Red Dwarf.
A common theme ever since Crusoe has been that finally having no distractions and the chance to do whatever one wants by oneself is unbearable. And almost always the author gives in and provides the hero someone else with whom he can interact - because the story’s also pretty dull otherwise. Crusoe had his Man Friday, Silent Running had its little robots, Red Dwarf had its Rimmer and so on.
So in a sense, the similarly themed The Last Man on Earth is nothing new, despite being both a sitcom and having the unlikely home of Fox. The show sees Saturday Night Live’s Will Forte seemingly the only man alive in the whole of North America, if not the world, following the outbreak of a terrible virus (that apparently destroys human bodies right down to the skeletons, leaving no ugly dead bodies behind anywhere…). For over a year, he’s by himself doing whatever he wants, appropriating whatever he needs from wherever he visits, but apparently happy to settle down in a McMansion in his home town of Tucson, Arizona.
Gradually, he begins to realise there’s no point to life without other people and prays to God that He send someone, anyone, to end his loneliness - preferably female, though. God fails to answer, so Forte tries to kill himself. Except at the last moment, it turns out his prayers have been answered and there is one woman alive in the world still, and she’s found Forte.
Unfortunately, she’s Kristen Schaal. And just as Burgess Meredith discovered in Time Enough At Last, you should be careful what you wish for.
The Last Man on Earth chronicles the life and adventures of an average guy - and humanity’s last hope - who discovers what life is like when no one is telling you what you can and cannot do. The year is 2020, and after a deadly virus has swept the planet, only one man is left on earth: Phil Miller. He used to be just an average guy who loved his family and hated his job. Now, in his RV, Phil searches the country for other survivors. He has traveled to every city, every town and every outpost in the United States, Mexico and Canada, and has found no one. As he returns to his hometown of Tucson, Phil comes to the realization that he is almost certainly the last living being on the face of the earth
Is it any good?
Originally, this was going to be a movie and to be honest, that’s what it should have been, since it doesn’t have quite enough ideas for a series and some of the ideas it does have should have been left in a box.
The show has two big problems. The first is the characters. Forte is an ‘average guy’, which is TV code for a grade A loser. He doesn’t bother putting much effort into anything yet expects big things for himself from the world. When presented with the chance to do anything he likes, he ends up inventing essentially a series of elaborate bar games and using a swimming pool as a toilet. He could have moved into the White House or an army base stocked with supplies; instead he moves to a slightly bigger house in Arizona. In terms of budget, cheaper, sure, and over the course of the first two episodes, Forte learns that you have to put some effort into life for other people’s sake, but you still have a character who’s not especially bright, funny, charming or interesting. At least Red Dwarf’s Lister had some hobbies and knew how to tell a joke.
Then there’s Schaal. For starters, she’s supposed to be the antithesis of what an ‘average guy’ would find attractive - a female Rimmer so to speak. In a dream sequence, we have the chance to see what Forte was hoping for from the last woman left alive - True Detective’s Alexandra Daddario - and then we get the supposed opposite: Schaal.
To some extent, the show hints slightly that Schaal is merely as equivalently average and rubbish as Forte is, but we don’t really get to see her side of things, only his, so she’s the disappointment, he the guy who could do better if he had a reason. She’s the ‘typical woman’ dismayed about the guy’s lack of hygiene and stack of pornography, not someone who’s had nothing to do with her sexual urges for over a year and who has been handling the issues similarly.
All the same, Schaal, who’s made a career out of being irritating on Flight of the Conchords, The Daily Show, 30 Rock et al, is as competent at being irritating here, meaning that we get to watch two very irritating, not especially fun people, with minimal desire to do anything interesting, interact for 30 minutes at a time. It’s Red Dwarf again, but if Lister and Rimmer spent their whole time talking about the cleaning schedule and wondering if they can get over their mutual disgust for one another long enough to have sex.
Which brings us to the second problem. The show doesn’t really have much going on up top. While there’s a reasonable amount of physical humour that works in the first episode, with numerous entertaining ways to pass the time being devised, but there are no ideas, no real things for the character to do. By about halfway through, you’ll long for Forte to beg for the sweet release of death. His failure to commit suicide is genuinely frustrating. Even when Schaal turns up, they spend their time watering tomatoes together rather than doing anything.
The first two episodes are amiable enough and future episodes promise flashbacks involving the likes of January Jones and Mel Rodriguez. And it’s intriguingly offbeat and different for both Fox and broadcast TV. But by the end of it, I couldn’t imagine myself watching more than one or two more episodes more - about the same length in total as a feature film.
So I’d stick with Red Dwarf re-runs on Dave, if I were you.