Absurdity is the key to THE LAST MAN ON EARTH.
Sure we want stories based on slowly evolving characters. And we want arcs that test our characters, both emotionally and physically, so that we feel rewarded for following the series for so long.
But it’s the absurdity of the situation that separates The Last Man on Earth from other sitcoms. And “You’re All Going to Diet,” in which the gang finally decides to leave Malibu, turns the absurdity dial up to 11 to salvage an otherwise slow-moving episode.
Fear drives the crew in the opening moments of “You’re All Going to Diet.” Now paranoid Pat is potentially on the prowl (say that five times fast), but Phil wants everyone to hang tight and stand their ground in Malibu. His reasons, predictably, are selfish: He has too many memories in Malibu and doesn’t want to let go.
But is Phil wrong to be selfish? This is a guy who lost everyone and everything he knew because of the virus, then roamed the world alone and nearly gave up. He wanted people. He wanted protection. It’s a unique circumstance, of course, but that’s exactly the point with Phil’s behavior. He finally has a family – as he says himself in “You’re All Going to Diet” – so leaving his home isn’t like ripping off a bandage.
But Lewis gets him there, throwing Phil’s friend-speak right back at him. This could prove fatal for Phil’s future, because Lewis just seems a little too smart for Phil, but for now, his push to move the group out of Malibu is seemingly the right move for everyone.
It all takes about an act too long. But at least we get some wonderful absurdity.
The best gag is Phil’s “alarm system,” involving several dozen Big Mouth Billy Bass props that sing Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” once someone passes by in the hallway. That doesn’t seem to be enough, however, so Carol suggests everyone blow whistles and stomp on the floor when passing the fish, so everyone knows it’s not a real threat.
Meanwhile Melissa is getting more out of hand, creating a personal “sniper’s nest” out of sandbags. Her evolving lunacy is the best thing about Season 3, and is already proving a threat to the group.
The threat comes quickly. First, she hides a bunch of axes around the house without telling anyone (until she remembers to tell everyone). Then, after Phil invites Lewis to the beach to ask him to be friends, Melissa remembers she hid several landmines all over the sand.
That leads to some top-notch visuals, something else The Last Man on Earth does extremely well. Overnight the tide comes in, setting off an array of land mines, which cause car alarms to go off, which nearly leads the group to blows. Through all the insanity we see the explosions down on the beach, way off in the distance. Absurdity at its finest.
That’s the last straw for Lewis, who gets Phil to leave Malibu. “This place is a nightmare!” he argues. Phil’s classically lame retort: “If anything, this place is a day stallion.”
Another kind of absurdity follows, as members of the group pack up their mementos – life-sized CPR dolls, weird drawings, miniature replica dolls of the group – before heading to the cars and heading out.
It’s weirdly sweet. The Malibu house is their home. Carol (Kristen Schaal is in top form in “You’re All Going to Diet”) turns the bullet holes into daisy art. She keeps Phil’s sriracha-scribbled messages on the wall, just changing them to be more positive (“See you in Hell … sinki, Finland” and the title of the episode, among the messages). They still try to have big family dinners until the very end. And, of course, they have their burial ground right by the house – a stark reminder of what once was, and what they had to do to survive.
There is something comfortable about Malibu. But circumstances change things. Now the group has to head off into the wild wide open of America. Who knows what awaits … but at least there will be absurdity.
Season 3, Episode 3 (S03E03)
The Last Man on Earth airs Sundays at 9:30PM 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