No, I totally would and did, but the headline was *right there*.
“There’s kinda no wrong way to use a margarita pool,” Will Forte offhands, somewhere in the middle of the hour-long premiere of his almost one-person limited series The Last Man on Earth (Sundays at 9/8c on Fox, for the next eight weeks). I haven’t personally tested this statement, but the math generally seems to check out.
Forte offhands, and deadpans, and wryly asides many things over the two episodes, as is his (wait for it) forte. As the title implies, he does so solo, at least for a while. It’s pretty good, and easily watchable, which shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows any of Forte’s oeuvre; he’s up there with Newhart in his ability to ground a complete world with just pacing and facial expressions.
Plus the conceit doesn’t overstay its welcome. By the time the margarita pool is commented upon, Kristen Schall has appeared in all her oddball, own-planet, sometimes screechy1 glory, adding her own brand of dry but never droll delivery. It was good timing, too, because as much as I love a well-constructed monologue or even better constructed silent physical bit, The Last Man on Earth had effectively illustrated its remarkably synoptic title and I was ready for it to go somewhere. Fortunately this is a well-built show, one that knows how to frame the sort of comedy it’s attempting to achieve.
The Last Man on Earth isn’t as broad or sketch-like as the promos may have implied. Nor is it high concept – if you don’t get the plot from the title, I don’t know what to tell you. But it is definitely a concept through and through: What would the last man on earth do with his days? What would the last man and woman on earth do if they met? What would they do if they met and they were both fairly normal run-of-the-mill a little kooky already folks in a world oddly devoid of the corpses of all the other people who used to be here? They wouldn’t comment on that last point, that’s for certain. It’s a David Ives play in ten episodes, which is only a bad thing if David Ives has personally insulted you at some point.2
What I found most promising about The Last Man on Earth‘s premiere was how well Schall and Forte handled the more serious moments that weave in and out of the comedy. It never becomes maudlin, thank the TV gods, but the dialogue does poke into real territory from time to time. Both characters push the other to question their very attitude towards their situation, and the pair are too talented to oversell the lines, too human to undersell them.
If I have a complaint about where things wound up, it’s that it didn’t spend enough of its first hour there – a few solid moments of seriousness, several brilliant lines, nothing negative in the meanwhile, and then the last 90 seconds of the premiere just full of zippy dialogue and subtly perfect delivery from both actors that could have appeared twice or thrice more in the preceding 20 minutes. Ultimately, it felt a little thin, a little short of the promise these performers bring to this premise. It could have gone deeper and darker, or it could have gone more absurd, but it probably could only have gone those places were it not on network TV.
We’ve been thirsting for good comedy this year, leading me at least to denial-fueled enthusiasm for both Marry Me and Benched. I thin I know what I’m getting here, though – a very solid, limited-run concept, with the potential for some real highs. I would honestly be stunned if The Last Man on Earth were picked up for a second season, but I’ll be much more surprised if the remaining eight episodes don’t collectively keep me watching Forte, and Schall, and this little world where they live, sans corpses.