Maybe I should sympathise with the writing team of THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, because Phil Miller is a tough character to write.
To show why, let’s go back to the very beginning of the series, when Phil was the apparent last man on Earth. Back then he was automatically the protagonist. Since, you know, he was it. The only one. As humans, we had to sympathize with him. So, right from the onset, Phil Miller was the hero, the liked, the one we rooted for to discover something new in this American wasteland.
But I remember being instantly disappointed watching the pilot of The Last Man on Earth. We were sold this post-Apocalyptic future man, an extension of Will Forte, just trying to figure out what was left of reality. Then, just as quickly as we got settled in, we were introduced to Carol, the optimistic fool and an extension of Kristen Schaal.
Nothing against Schaal, because she’s as effortlessly ridiculous as one of those inflatable flailing arm men, but I wanted to see Forte bumming around America over more episodes. I wanted the writing team to go wild, to really explore the potential behind a genius premise: What would happen to the last guy left?
Instead we got a second character, and instantly, we were forced to consider that our protagonist could be something beside a protagonist.
That brings us to “Five Hoda Kotbs,” in which the last people on Earth search for their next home, heading north from Malibu. So we get a transition episode, which is good – more character development, less fretting over lurking killers. But we also get too much Phil Miller, and it’s really bad Phil Miller. Unwatchable Phil Miller. And it almost derails everything. Almost.
Phil’s annoying. Sure. But he also swallows “Five Hoda Kotbs” with scenes of bad karaoke, tired Phil jokes (the ZZ Top references about Eliminator were inspired, though), and a painful attempt at bonding with Lewis. Our newest member of the group reveals he’s gay (or, to Phil, “was gay”), which takes a while for Phil to understand, then leads to cringeworthy attempts at talking up San Francisco, the group’s destination.
But when they reach San Francisco, they find the city’s been burned completely to smithereens. It’s a beautiful long shot, and a chance to call back to Phil’s trip to the Bay Area, when he put on a huge fireworks show that, yup, burned down the city. “I like it burned,” chimes Melissa, but more on her in a second.
Cars break down, Phil keeps comparing the group to Noah’s Ark (he’s Noah, of course), and the group nearly dissolves as they fight over a new destination while lodging inside a patio furniture store. That’s when things change: Melissa, hanging out on a giant pile of hay, sees a strange light in the distance. Of course they follow the light, taking them to salvation in the form of a still-powered corporate headquarters, likely somewhere deep in the heart of Silicon Valley.
So here’s why bad Phil almost – and not entirely – derails everything. The big saving grace – expression intended – of “Five Hoda Kotbs,” is connecting the Noah’s Arc talk to the strange light that happens to be a giant corporate headquarters. It hits just the right notes and reminds us of the power of spirituality – however weird – for these guys.
Plus, this episode is still pretty funny.
Especially Melissa, who’s still crazy like a fox. She’s taken up random sprinting. She decorates herself with snack food (“My fingers are Bugles!”). And she randomly pops her head up in the A-Team van, a brilliant sight gag while Todd and Gail argue. January Jones is stealing Season 3, and it’s not even close.
The rest of the cast, however, is drowning in the flood of Phil. We get a quick pregnancy tiff between Carol and Erica. And we get Todd growing tired of Gail’s Gordon obsession. But these bits get little time compard to Phil’s droning. Maybe this is leading to something bigger, where the group finally splits or Phil gets true comeuppance.
For now, the gang has a new home, and it’s scrubbed clean and modern, which should make for some interesting new threads.
Season 3, Episode 4 (S03E04)
The Last Man on Earth airs Sundays at 930PM on Fox
Timothy, who grew up on The Golden Girls and Seinfeld, writes regularly about entertainment, arts and lifestyles for a number of publications.
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Timothy Malcolm | Contributor