[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “The Last Man on Earth” Season 4, Episode 1, “M.U.B.A.R.”]
Like watching two sea-doos slowly arcing through the ocean on an unlikely, yet inevitable collision course, “The Last Man on Earth” Season 4 premiere offered a few tantalizing possibilities, but ultimately felt stuck on a predictable path.
There were plenty of callbacks from seasons past: The episode began by answering the Season 3 cliffhanger, in which Pamela (recurring guest star Kristen Wiig) saved Phil “Tandy” Miller (Will Forte) and the group’s lives by shooting Pat (Mark Boone Junior) before he could take out any of the other survivors. Though the visor-splattering burst of blood may have made it look like Pat was dunzo, he recovered long enough to put a bullet in Rear Admiral Roy Billups, Pamela’s former lover played by another one-and-done mega guest star, Jack Black.
Seasons past have seen the likes of Will Ferrell and Jon Hamm get axed in season openers, so Black joins an impressive list of quickly killed “Last Man” characters. Yet his death wasn’t quite as funny as those in years past. Blame the high bar set by January Jones shooting her former “Mad Men” co-star (in a fantastic “Betty lives out her ultimate fantasy” meta joke), or Pat’s inexplicable survival after taking a bullet to the head, but either way, it felt a bit tired and a bit forced.
The rest of the episode played out in a similar, predictable pattern. A button-pressing mistake led to the boat drifting out to sea and the group getting lost. Watching Melissa (Jones) and Gail (Mary Steenburgen) try to work together in secret served as a welcome, unusual pairing, but everyone still ends up in the same place. Pamela kidnaps Tandy (Forte). The rest of the survivors drift off to sea. At episode’s end, they’re on the verge of meeting yet another “last man” (or woman).
Seeing the leaves part came as no surprise, and it wasn’t because it was set up. “The Last Man on Earth” has long thrived by running contradictory to its title. Each new cast member has brought depth and excitement to the series, from Carol saving Phil’s life from the edge of suicide to Mike (Jason Sudeikis) bringing nuanced familial conflict to the survivors’ dynamic. So there’s little doubt whoever’s out there on the island will mix things up for the better. But the premiere, on its own, did little shaking itself.
Perhaps the best little shimmy came from the ever-enthusiastic Wiig. A treat since her breakout standalone episode last season, Wiig’s Pamela is a jolt of life even when she’s trying to kill everyone. Well, everyone but Tandy. Pamela marks the first character in “The Last Man on Earth” to be smitten with Tandy’s bad jokes, his oddball behavior, and his tasteless acts. (Though it’s worth noting even she was disgusted when Tandy decapitated Pat, which perhaps could’ve tipped off the writers that the value of the joke and the act’s disconcerting logic were off-kilter.)
Pamela likes Tandy so much, in fact, she kidnaps him, and even though that, too, was an obvious turn of events, the promise of a Forte v. Wiig back-and-forth is more than enough to get on board next week. Pamela, as evidenced by her series of relationships with strange, bearded men, is unpredictable and self-serving. Tandy, as evidenced by every single thing he’s done leading up to this point, is inventive and loyal. How they reach an accord (or don’t) should set the boat back on course. That’s the kind of inevitable collision worth waiting for.
“The Last Man on Earth” Season 4 airs new episodes Sundays at 9:30 p.m. ET on Fox.