When it’s exploring connections, THE LAST MAN ON EARTH is a pretty good show. Makes sense – here are the final handful of people known to us, here are their strange relationships, here’s them failing to grow with each other and improve the planet. You can go pretty deep with this premise.
But sometimes, as we know, Last Man gets pretty dumb. The recent “Point Person Knows Best” showed by spending too much time focusing on Phil’s loony attempts at becoming friends with new kid Jasper. There’s maybe an element of Phil’s grief hidden in there, but that’s just the problem: it’s really, really, really hidden in there, and so hidden that it’s hard to even question if it’s there. So we forget that and simply groan at Phil’s run-on thought process, his swimming pool filled with sundae ingredients.
But also sometimes, Last Man pulls back Phil’s Tandiness, pushes everyone else’s skeletons and ticks, and suddenly we have a show saying something meaningful and insightful. That’s what happens this week with “Name 20 Picnics… Now!”
Finally we have a scene where the group worries about Jasper’s wellness. Remember, this is a small boy who’s not talking, who very possibly has no living relatives, and somehow was able to survive alone for a considerable length of time. Because our gang is a little off, their discussion about Jasper devolves into “he may have never known what a holiday is,” and so it’s Phil and Carol off to throw the biggest one-shot holiday party in history.
The set design is impressive here (though it’s not as if good set design is lacking on Last Man), with every holiday imaginable represented by a backdrop and classroom party favors (my favorite is easily the single drawing of Martin Luther King Jr. with the initials “MLK”).
As with everything Phil and Carol dream up, it’s more than a little overboard, with Jasper basically standing in shock and/or boredom as Carol recites a bunch of references for each holiday (Easter includes “Resurrection!”). Gail, of course, ain’t having it, going only as far as to fit on some bunny ears and say “nibble” three times.
Their (as in Phil and Carol, with Erica trying to be the super-invested parent) attempt to connect with Jasper is – of course – pretty extroverted and flashy. They’re playing the id, trying to reel in a little boy with a trail of candy (well done) and a sensory explosion. They’re basically thinking that kids love candy and holidays, so that’s the answer. Obviously, it’s not the answer.
It’s the same thing when Phil attempts to explain sex to Jasper, which is both completely misguided and ridiculous. After catching Jasper watching porn (Phil’s porn), Phil uses the “birds and bees” analogy. Only it’s not the right usage. Again, he’s thinking about flash. Instead of getting to the root of the problem (Jasper’s curious about everything because of course he is), Phil immediately jumps into “let’s talk about sex!”
Meanwhile Phil thinks Jasper is scared of Melissa, wandering around again like a zombie (though not like a zombie, though totally like a zombie). And as per usual, Todd defends Melissa and claims all is well.
It’s obvious Jasper is interested in Melissa, relating with something in her (the silence, the childlike wonder), but nobody sees this. Despite Jasper playing around alone. Despite his silence.
At some point Melissa sees it, because just before Phil and Todd come to blows – over Melissa, over Jasper – Melissa and Jasper sound the siren from behind the wheel of the police car. And they’re laughing. These two connect because, maybe, they’re not so different.
Maybe, in their own weird way, they’re the most “normal” people around. Everyone else is either moving on as if nothing happened or pretty deep in their own heads, but Melissa and Jasper are actually acting as if billions are gone, their lives have been completely upended and they don’t know what the heck’s going to happen.
Carol also seeks connection, but with the child she hopes she’s birthing. Erica is now showing, and Carol worries that her lack of belly (or any pregnancy symptoms) means she’s really not pregnant. It’s hard to get behind this story, primarily because Last Man has spent so little time on the two pregnancies. In fact the “last time on Last Man” introduction showed us Carol’s positive pregnancy test. The lack of any build here means a lack of tension.
Plus there are stakes here: heck, the fate of the world depends on Erica and Carol delivering healthy babies. It’s a shame we’ve spent so little time on this – Carol’s plotline in “Name 20 Picnics… Now!” felt slightly unearned.
Definitely earned: Todd’s dancing (as always), Todd and Melissa’s “picnic” (complete with the former squirting the latter with a toy water gun) and the sight of more potential disaster for the survivors (a falling object causes a major explosion somewhere in the world). Now (as we’ve said before) let’s kick up the paranoia next week and really raise the stakes, gang.
Season 3, Episode 15 (S03E15)
The Last Man on Earth airs Sunday at 930 PM 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