“The Last Man on Earth” has always been a series unafraid to approach the darkest elements of humanity. After all, the Fox comedy began with Phil Miller (Will Forte) driving across the United States in search of one more human soul, and when he couldn’t find any, he was prepared to kill himself. Such an intro established the idea that if you’re going to come up with a show about the only human survivor of a deadly global plague — as Forte, Christopher Miller and Phil Lord did here — you have to be willing to spend a lot of time thinking about, you know, death. And so does the audience watching at home.
Season 2, however, took this to an authentically frightening place. It opened with Carol (Krsten Schaal) literally killing new group member Gordon (a short-lived cameo by Will Ferrell, all the better for its brevity). The midseason finale ended with Phil Miller No. 2 (Boris Kodjoe) dying from appendicitis, a routine surgery in the existing world but a fatal condition in this post-apocalyptic setting. The final two episodes focused on Mike Miller (Jason Sudeikis) as he suffered from what appeared to be “the virus,” the disease that (nearly) wiped out humanity. And now the season has ended with a group of armed strangers — led by Pat Brown (Mark Boone Junior), the paranoid boat captain who helped and then attacked Mike — headed toward the Malibu beach house.
How the self-admitted goofball Phil will handle an actual physical confrontation is a discussion for a later date (though clearly he won’t suddenly turn into MacGruber), but Forte deserves credit for crafting a courageous season of broadcast TV. What started as image rehab for the lead character — who was just on the wrong side of “jerk-y” last season — transformed into a quirky, scary but consistently positive conversation about what makes living worthwhile. Each episode felt like a surprise — especially each ending — and those surprises added up to a wealth of sentiment, whereas Season 1 felt like a slow roll toward cynicism.
Moreover, “Last Man” never lost its creative spirit. One of the allures throughout has been how Forte manages to subvert expectations at every turn. Before, you might have felt like this kind of originality wasn’t enough to make up for the lead character’s mean-spiritedness. But with that aspect set aside in Season 2, it made moments like Mike’s reunion with Phil — where the long-lost astronaut brother was greeted by a punch to the gut — unreservedly rewarding. Examples could be provided for each episode, but let’s highlight the finale for a second. Last week, when Phil woke up with a note from his brother saying he’d left, that seemed to mark the end of Jason Sudeikis’ extended guest arc. Most shows would have accepted this earned out and moved on, focusing on a depressed Phil who could have very easily filled an A- or B-story by moping around for 22 minutes.
Instead, Phil tracked down Mike and brought Sudeikis back. The two worked through some difficult emotions — and got more montage of “Falling Slowly” to boot, an absurdly excellent bonding ritual for the brothers — before Phil left his brother behind for good, or at least until he gets better (fingers crossed). The point is, “The Last Man on Earth” didn’t make it easy itself or the audience, an admirable trait in need of even more praise because the episodes run so smoothly it would be easy to overlook the incredible effort being put into them. From set design (with such excellent prop work) to costumes (don’t think we didn’t notice Melissa’s badass leather jacket when she shot down that drone) to story arcs (look who resurfaced from that one-off episode about Mike coming home — Pat), “The Last Man on Earth” is as brave as it is entertaining; messy as it is meticulous; and only as dark as it’s willing to look for the light.