I have watched every episode of The Last Man on Earth, and I could not tell you why Melissa Shart (January Jones) is so, so angry at Phil Miller. This is a problem, but mostly because I can’t know if this is because she’s the most poorly drawn character on the show, or the only one who behaves like a real, complex human being.
The Last Man on Earth stopped being that some time ago. By the end of the first episode our Last Man, Phil Miller (Will Forte), was joined by a Last Woman, Carol Pilbasion (Kristen Schaal). The pair have since been joined by other characters, starting with Extremely Hot Woman (Jones) and Notably Obese Man (Mel Rodriguez). Eventually the show included such diverse survivors as Extremely Hot and Sexual Older Woman (Mary Steenburgen*), Extremely Hot, Black, Australian Woman (Cleopatra Coleman) and finally, Extremely Hot Man Who Also Happens to Be Named Phil Miller What Are the Odds? (Boris Kodjo). The show might now better be called Maybe The Last Group of People on Earth but Let’s Face It, Probably Not.
While the show has, week after week, added characters, it hasn’t added much in the way of character traits. On most sitcoms, you can boil your favorite characters down to some unchanging adjectives: Ron Swanson is libertarian and no-nonsense, Michael Scott is clueless but well-meaning, Liz Lemon is overworked and hungry for sandwiches. This how sitcoms work — if Monica Geller was suddenly messy without warning, we wouldn’t recognize our Friends. But there’s been a trend lately of shows that, beyond one or two main characters, operate on a New Yorker cartoon level of characterization. It works well on shows like Man Seeking Woman or Louie, where you know you will never have to see Josh Greenberg’s literal troll of a blind date again, or the smug 24-year-old store owner who speaks truth to Big Louie and makes him feel old. In these worlds, we’re following one hapless but ultimately likable character through a confusing and terrifying heightened reality where nothing ever goes their way. Sure, those guys make mistakes and treat people badly, but when you’re up against actual Hitler, who can blame you?
The premise of The Last Man on Earth is a classic New Yorker Cartoon. What if there was only one man left on earth? And what if, in his solitude, he became boorish and chaotic and talked to balls (the inflatable sports kind, not his own)? But twist! What if there was a Last Woman on Earth and she was conservative, shrill and nagging? READ MORE