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This past winter, Fox debuted the weird, unique comedy The Last Man on Earth. Wonderfully and bizarrely, it actually lived up to its name for almost an entire episode. Will Forte’s Phil roamed the country before returning to his home in Tucson, Arizona, looking for any survivors of a mysterious virus that (cleanly) wiped out the rest of humanity. At first, Phil relished in the glee of crashing through storefronts, setting things on fire, and commandeering precious national artifacts that in the old world he could never have gotten near. But soon he began to crack under the weight of his loneliness, and the show started hinting at something deeper and more complex at play. By the end of the first episode, Phil was no longer alone — he had found Carol (Kristen Schaal), which at first relieves him and then begins to drive him crazier than when he was all by himself.
From there, The Last Man on Earth dropped its ambitious origins and started turning more and more into a traditional sitcom about a group of neighbors. As the cast grew (to include Mel Rodriguez, Cleopatra Coleman, Mary Steenburgen and Boris Kodjoe), Forte’s show continued to lose its edge. The focus on Phil, who was becoming unredeemable as an ashoole singularly obsessed over trying to have sex with January Jones’ Melissa, was increasingly tiresome, and the bed-hopping plots less than thrilling. This was the end of the world, and these were the stakes?
The first season ended with Phil being banished from Tucson and going to live on his own again, until Carol decides join him. And that is exactly where Season 2 finds things, with Phil and Carol in exile, and a return to the show’s initial exploration of isolation and loneliness. Phil’s brother Mike, played by Jason Sudeikis and teased in the Season 1 finale as being alone in the International Space Station, makes a return that feeds into this sense of abandonment. And over the course of the first two new episodes, Phil and Carol are involved in a variety of mishaps that increase their individual loneliness as well.
In some ways Season 2 feels like a retread of the first hour or so of Season 1, except with the reversal of Phil and Carol’s feelings for one another. They’re a pair now by choice, not obligation, and are more similar than Phil will ever acknowledge. Their interactions with the empty spaces around them (plus trips to the White House, using trains as messengers, talking to a collection of sports equipment, and more) recall the best moments of Season 1, and seem to suggest a reset that the show sorely needed.
But, Carol’s desire to meet back up with the Tucson crew eventually leads the pair back on the road to find them, and with it, the apprehension that the show might again lose its way as it introduces more and more survivors.
So for wary fans of early Season 1 who turned their backs on the second part of the season, there is hope, though this is potentially a “fool me twice shame on me” scenario. The Last Man on Earth has a lot going for it: a great cast, a cinematic presentation, a unique premise, and a dedication to weirdness. But it also doesn’t seem to have a great plan for what’s next in this casual Armageddon, especially regarding the revolving door of survivors who seem to only add to the group’s sexual politics.
The new season is hopeful, and occasionally very funny, and will likely pull viewers currently on the fence back in. But like Phil’s wariness over reconnecting with the Tucson crew, there’s still a reticence to return to territory that was filled with disappointment.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good … so far
The Last Man on Earth Season 2 debuts Sunday, September 27th at 9:30 p.m. on Fox.