The ratings aren’t promising for THE LAST MAN ON EARTH.
Whispers about the series’ fate are growing louder, and there’s still no way of knowing for sure whether Will Forte’s post-apocalyptic comedy will be renewed for a fourth season. If I were a betting man, I’d put money on the series getting canned, though – hey – it’s a known entity, it draws an audience of some sort, and the cast is pretty winning. But even with a good cast, it still seems as if Last Man is on its last legs.
Which justifies the idea of “The Big Day,” which speeds time forward six months to land us at a crucial moment in the survivors’ story: All at once, Erica and Carol are very pregnant are close to birth, Todd and Melissa are getting married and, maybe in the biggest shocker, Erica and Gail are coupling.
Let’s be frank: This is a giant leap. And maybe the writers are apologizing for spending no time on Erica and Carol’s pregnancies by speeding things up and getting to the deliveries. But maybe the writers planned this all along, dropping in some minor shock-value storylines to get us excited for a season finale.
But this is pretty bad writing.
We’ve spent considerable time searching Melissa’s psyche and probing Todd’s obsessive insistence on restoring his lover’s mental stability. Hell, Melissa has been the best story of the season, with January Jones turning in a herculean effort with little dialogue at her disposal. Last week in “Name 20 Picnics… Now!” Todd had no clue how to manage Melissa’s medication, while she was still behaving like a zombie, walking around blurry backgrounds and shoving metal utensils into a food processor. And suddenly she’s fixed, stable, talking (and even in full understanding of her past condition) and the dominant player in her relationship, growing angry that Todd won’t yet have sex because of some silly abstinence pledge?
No. Last Man can’t get off that easy. It’s shabby writing for convenience sake, throwing away all the good material regarding Melissa just to jump us to a fitting conclusion.
Then there’s this Erica and Gail relationship, demonstrated as they coyly talk about each other’s importance to another before a kiss. What the heck is this? Name a moment in season three in which there was any hint of a spark between them? And don’t claim Gail’s “I’ll bed with anyone before I bed with Phil” stuff counts. It doesn’t. This is another convenient plot point, one to generate shock, at worst.
Lest I forget that our newest character, Jasper, is now talking to everyone. Seriously, you couldn’t just address that one?
The time travel ultimately doesn’t matter, of course, because Last Man can’t be Last Man if it isn’t all about Phil. As the survivors celebrate Todd and Melissa’s marriage, Carol tries to inform Phil that it’ll be Gail, and not him, who will deliver their baby. Okay, another plot point plucked out of thin air. Why? Because we need Phil in the A-story.
And where does it end? Where it’s supposed to: Carol finally tells Phil the truth, and he comes to terms with not delivering his baby while patching things up with Gail. Yay. Another tragedy averted for the only people left on the Earth.
I admit that “The Big Day” has funnier than usual moments, like Phil attempting to extract a doll baby from a giant gelatin mold, or Phil attempting to catch babies fed from a pitching machine, or Todd singing Fine Young Cannibals’ “She Drives Me Crazy” as a torch ballad. But what do these scenes ultimately serve? Only a story that resolves itself when there are literally so many more good stories to tell. Where did Jasper come from? How the heck did Melissa finally stabilize? Where in the world is Kirsten Wiig’s Pamela Brinton? What about Pat, whose body didn’t stay in that dumpster? And really, why did they have to kill off Lewis? What really was the point of that?
Oh, I know. The point was to serve a stupid Phil story. Most of The Last Man on Earth just ends up to serve a Phil story, and this show is worse for it. Instead of developing better characters (Melissa, Todd, Gail), and instead of showing how relationships develop in this new future (seriously, why Erica and Gail?), we need to tell another story about how Phil gets hurt because he seems to think he’s the best at everything.
Next week is the season (and maybe series) finale of Last Man. And we know that Erica goes into labor. There’s a chance the series goes big on death and hurt and survival and the actual stakes that face these people every day. There’s a chance.
But more likely Phil will cause some problem leading to some wimpy redemption. And boy, wouldn’t that be an underwhelming end for a series with such a fantastic premise?
Season 3, Episode 16 (S03E16)
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