Dear The Last Man On Earth,
What the hell happened?!
I'm sorry for starting off so abruptly but I thought we had something really special going. Then you went ahead and completely blew it. Way to go, LMOE (or should I say, lame-o): you went from the most promising, daring and irreverent new comedy to hit the airwaves of network television since “30 Rock,” only to prove that, at the end of the day, you're just like all the others.
And it's a shame because I'm really not exaggerating when I say that you were one of the most promising, daring and irreverent new comedies since Tina Fey’s home-run. For a while there, after “The Office” closed its doors and “30 Rock” shut down, it seemed like the days of the oddball, cynical protagonist on a network show were over and done with. “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”'s rejection by NBC, the very network that commissioned it, only served to amplify this feeling. Its subsequent pick-up by Netflix, and the rising prevalence of similarly-toned shows on other premium services, like Veep and Silicon Valley on HBO, seemed to indicate that the days of decent network sitcoms were at an end.
But then you, LMOE, reared your pretty little head and provided me with one of the most hilarious, dark, cynical premises of any comedy in recent memory. Post-apocalyptic last man on earth-style stories have been done before, but never quite like this. With you, the last man left alive is... well… kind of a tool. But Phil Miller (named after the hotshot directing duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who helmed the pilot as well as some little films you may have heard of like 21/22 Jump Street and The LEGO Movie) is also an everyman, an overgrown man-child, and someone I could instantly relate to.
Instead of setting up multiple characters, their dynamics, conflicts, wants and desires like most network comedies do these days (since they have also recently almost exclusively tended to be ensemble comedies), you spent almost the entire pilot indulging in what can only be described as the most accurate, epic, and hilarious wish-fulfillment I could ever dream of.
Phil spends his first few years as the last man on earth collecting various artifacts from around the world (who wouldn't want to decorate their foyer with the presidential seal from the Oval Office, their hallways with a few Van Gohs, and their dining room table with a massive, fossilized T-rex skull?), talking with his imaginary friends (all embodied by various sport balls, naturally) about the implausibility of Tom Hanks befriending a volleyball in Cast Away, and engaging in some of the most satisfying acts of mass property destruction imaginable.
Only at the very end of the first part of the two-part pilot did you show your cards. Once the catharsis of smashing aquariums with bowling balls and swimming in a giant margarita wears off, Phil finally loses hope. It’s not easy to watch a man so desperate for human contact that he hits on a mannequin. And you weren’t afraid to take me to that funny yet tragic place. But then, just before committing suicide, Phil stumbles upon the last woman on earth, Carol Pilbasian (Kristen Schaal, who has never been better), giving him one last reason to live. Except, she’s a complete nut job and is the exact opposite of him in every way imaginable.
There was a sort of serene grace— an elegance— to the way you set up your central premise: the last two people on earth, burdened with the responsibility of re-populating the planet, can't stand each other. It's one of the most deliciously ironic premises in recent TV history. Boy, was I excited to see what you had in store for us next.
In subsequent episodes, you continued to expand on the hilarious misfortunes and ironic twists and turns of Phil Miller's experience as the last man on earth, who just wants to feel what it's like to have sex again, preferably with an attractive woman. All the while, you made the bold but outstanding choice of embracing a beautiful, harsh, cinematic visual style, taking the post-apocalyptic setting seriously and allowing the comedy to emerge from the situations and the way the characters act and react within them, as opposed to playing up the visual comedy.
You also continued to raise the stakes for Phil. Almost immediately after agreeing to marry and settle down with Carol for the greater good of humanity, a second woman rolls into town. Excellently played by January Jones, Melissa added an excellent kink to the dynamic and amplified the irony tenfold, since she is the embodiment of the kind of woman Phil would much rather repopulate the earth with: easygoing, elegant, and a total knockout. It's too bad he's a married man now. Things just get better when a second man rolls into town and, by process of elimination, is paired up with Phil's dream girl Melissa. Todd is the exact opposite of Phil: sweet to a T, charming, a true gentleman. Also fat, and balding. But he gets the dream girl? Oh, LMOE, you did such a good job of getting me to sympathize with Phil, I couldn't help but squirm along with him at the sight of Todd getting his hands on Melissa.
All of this and more was contributing to my thorough enjoyment of your first six or so episodes— it also didn't hurt that you gave Will Forte a chance to truly show off his comedic chops, and show me a character I just loved to hate, detestable and yet still so relatable and desperate I couldn't help but laugh at his antics. But then... something happened. I don't know exactly what it was, but you turned against me.
The new you was exactly the kind of show I was hoping you wouldn't become. You started relying on very typical and one-dimensional sitcom tropes to set up comedic punchlines that were just not funny anymore. You started to rely on jokes at the expense of Todd's physical appearance— and we all know that fat jokes haven't really been funny since Austin Powers.
But worst of all, you made Phil Miller an asshole. The goofy rogue, the scruffy everyman we could all relate to, was boiled down to a complete bag of dicks. Phil's antics in the latter episodes include driving Todd out to the middle of the desert with the intention of leaving him there to die, intentionally and spitefully sabotaging the attempts of the other members of the small community of remaining humans to make a better life for themselves, and lying to just about anyone and everyone who will listen about pretty much anything, even going so far as to fabricate a dead wife in order to drum up sympathy in an attempt to get into another girl's pants.
You turned me against Phil Miller. And, since he is the foundation of the show, you turned me against you as well. I wasn't even sure what you wanted me to feel by the end of the season. In the final episodes, another man shows up— also named Phil Miller— who is basically the embodiment of cool perfection. He is ex-military, tall and handsome, with a chiseled physique, crafty, intelligent, and street-smart. Of course, Phil hates him— as does Todd, who sees him as a threat because Melissa, like all the other girls, immediately falls for him (of course, by this point you have degraded all of your female characters to helpless, useless, sex-obsessed damsels in distress— way to be progressive).
But you have made Phil so incorrigibly detestable that I can no longer sympathize with him. So the new Phil Miller, who is supposed to be seen as a villainous threat getting between Phil and his women, really just comes across as the center of logic and reason, despite your best intentions to turn us against him. So in the final episode when Phil(1) drives Phil(2) out into the desert and does follow throw and abandon him there for good, an ordeal throughout which we are clearly meant to sympathize with Phil(1)… I just couldn't care less. In fact, I was happy for the new Phil Miller (who drove off, never to be seen again) who will now presumably be able to return to the community and start successfully re-building human society. And now, you've made me more interested in watching that than continuing to watch the antics of a lying, cheating, conniving, bully of a protagonist that I used to like.
You seem to be set up for a second season, so hopefully you'll be able to turn things around. I am hopeful that you'll be able to see the error of your ways and, because I like the cast members you managed to bring in, I am willing to give you a second chance. But it's a long, difficult climb back to the top, LMOE. And in the meantime, I can get my fix of unlikeable-but-lovable scumbags that I find to be both genuinely sympathetic and hilariously wicked/incompetent in “Veep.” You have a lot to learn from them, “Last Man on Earth.” And I hope for my sake as well as yours that you change your ways so we can give this a second chance.