Saturday Night Live alum Will Forte has recently created a new television comedy for FOX called The Last Man on Earth. It’s a slightly odd, offbeat show that takes place in a post-apocalyptic Tucson where the titular character, Phil Miller (Will Forte), grapples with being the last human alive. With that premise comes all the existential angst you would expect, albeit with a hearty helping of physical comedy, hold the bleakness. But what I found fascinating is that the best laughs come from the relationship between the last man on earth and who he thinks is the last woman on earth. It’s in their exchanges that we find glimmers of the truth about marriage; and it is in the complementarity of men and women that the show delivers its best laughs.
The show’s clever setting of a post-apocalyptic world (free from destruction and those pesky dead bodies and/or zombies everywhere) introduces us to Phil Miller who is wildly pursuing all the strange and crazy impulses in a world free of rules and all other people. He lights shopping carts on fire and crashing fancy cars like in action flicks. But as Phil travels the country seeking fellow survivors, while at the same time collecting historic artifacts and precious works of art to hang over his bed, it’s clear that Phil is chronically lonely. The first episode combines both perfectly timed visual comedy scenes and poignant, heartfelt moments–like when Phil is so desperate for human companionship he talks to and kisses a shop window mannequin. He’s an Everyman who isn’t simply the butt of jokes but someone who’s trying to figure out how to survive. In well-constructed, fleeting scenes we see that although Phil is able to fully indulge any urge or desire because he is the last person on earth, he is also staggeringly lonely for companionship. He is on the verge of suicide after his prayers for a female companion have gone unanswered until he spots smoke. He follows the smoke and finds a woman. Phil’s life is saved and his prayers answered.
What happens next is both amusing and cleverly written. Phil at first dreams that the woman he has found is a supermodel fantasy whose lusty first smiles promise the answer to his many sexual fantasies. But as Phil wakes and sees Carol (played geniusly by Kristen Schaal), a plain, quirky, talkative woman full of eccentricities. For the first time, his superficial dreams are crushed. Carol is still deeply connected to the rules of human civilization that Phil has so gleefully abandoned. She still believes in stopping for stop signs, not parking in handicap spaces, and using correct grammar. It’s infuriating to Phil who has let his house become a garbage heap and his pool a toilet. Just like that it becomes clear that the two people could not be more different, and yet they must forge some kind of relationship for their own survival.
The interplay between Phil and Carol as they try to get to know each other is rendered with comedic perfection. It’s obvious that Phil’s main concern is his sex drive while Carol is thinking long term–how are they going to repopulate the earth? Carol declares that she has to be married before she’ll have sex with Phil because she does not want her children to be illegitimate, and she is insistent that the purpose of their marriage is procreation in order to save humanity. Phil naturally finds the idea of getting married when they are the only two people on earth absurd, but Carol is vehement.Phil finally acquiesces and they two become one.
I can’t help but think that the laughs that come from this situation–man and a woman who hardly know each other going through with marriage when they’re the last people on earth–serves as a reminder of the truth about marriage. Men and women do yearn for each other. Their complimentary is needed still today just as it was needed when Adam was alone in the garden. Just as Adam cried out for a helpmate, so too does Phil cry out for a woman while he stands in a parking lot littered with bowling balls and burning shopping carts. It’s clear that Phil needs Carol not just for sex, but for building a life. His house is a disaster, his pool is literally full of crap. Carol’s nurturing womanhood civilizes Phil and gives his life stability and purpose. Although it may seem to play up stereotypes, the show honestly depicts men and women needing each other because of our differences. These differences are talents, skills, and attributes that are exchanged in order to build a life–and in this case, all of life from scratch.
I think the early episodes depicting the marriage of Phil and Carol are so hilarious because they ring of truth. The show remains well written and produced throughout the season, but as more survivors begin to emerge, Phil’s selfishness and unchecked sex drive takes center stage, and in turn the laughs become more cringe-worthy and less smart. The best humor always builds on truth. Sometimes it’s through laughter that we remember forgotten truths.
Christy Isinger is the mom to five lovely, loud young children whom she herds in the northern wilds of Canada. In her spare moments she likes to drink wine and quote Chesterton while watching TV. She blogs about family life, faith, and good books at Fountains of Home, and co-hosts the Fountains of Carrots podcast.