‘The Last Man On Earth’ Finds Motivation And Loneliness In Its Season Opener

When the first season of The Last Man on Earth wrapped back in May, many were split on how the series turned out. Some, like myself, enjoyed the likable unlikability of Philip Tandy Miller. The opposing camp did not, and did not enjoy how each week painted Phil (Will Forte) as the worst person around and a deserving punching bag to his fellow residents in Tucson. For me, Phil (or Tandy) was there first and the rest could go screw.

I could not have been happier when Last Man ended its first season with Phil back at square-one, on the road with Carol (Kristen Schaal) and moving away from the poisoned well of his hometown. Melissa (January Jones) and the other intruders on Phil’s territory seemed at first like welcome additions to a show that could sometimes seem thin on premise. But when they transformed into foils, I felt bad for Phil. Selfish, conniving, oafish Phil who got what he wanted until he realized he didn’t want it anymore: That’s something I can relate to, and the end of season one showed Carol accepting Phil and running off with him to find a new place away from Tucson.

That’s where season two picks up, following Carol and Phil in their search for a new home. The twist from last season’s final moments, which revealed that Phil’s astronaut brother Mike (Jason Sudeikis) was still alive and in orbit, makes a return, too, but not in a predictable way. Instead of suddenly returning to Earth and back into Phil’s life, we’re given a tease for a way home and a personal obstacle for Sudeikis to overcome in order to get there. A pilot might have no trouble navigating back, but he’s a scientist, not a pilot. Logic wins out, and he’s kept in space for a while longer.

This gives Phil and Carol time to pal around and share a couple of season one’s early fun with each other, including the return of the margarita pool in the opening scenes (this time with room for two). Our first introduction is the two driving a stealth bomber around Washington, D.C., breaking into a store for supplies, and living in the White House. It’s nice to get back to that sort of humor for a bit.

But the best part of The Last Man on Earth‘s first season was the way it portrayed our need for companionship. Phil went full circle with Carol in season one, happily accepting her when he thought she was the only woman on Earth, putting up with her when he found out she wasn’t, rebelling against her to reclaim what he had at the start, and then finally accepting that he enjoyed her company. It also helped that she accepted him in the end. They’re a fairly happy couple as season two begins.

That acceptance seems like it will be the driving force behind season two, as Carol and Phil get separated on their way back to Tucson. There’s really no indicator that the Phil Miller we met in the first episode of the series would have turned around to search for Carol once she was left behind at a gas station. Now, it’s a requirement, not only for the comedy created by the search, but for his character.

The best part about this show is how it manages to blend in familiar sitcom techniques and plots against the backdrop of an empty world that’s seen a lot of pain. We lose people in life, but we keep on laughing. Even in this post-apocalyptic world, the show’s characters still have familiar relationship issues and argue over travel. They’re ordinary people pushed into extraordinary circumstances. Even Mike Miller up on the space station, desperate to get home, finds the time to give a little time to himself. He even asks his worm companions for a little privacy in the moment.

The kicker comes at the end of the episode when Phil can’t find Carol and stumbles on her book of drawings, showcasing her favorite moments with Phil and her friends from back in Tucson. This leads Phil into believing Carol is back in Tucson already (an insane thought because she’d only been missing two days and it was more than 300 miles away), and he rushes off to find her. Instead, he finds the cul-de-sac they lived in empty and his childhood home burned to a crisp. The final moments find Phil sitting alone on the couches from season one, Carol waiting at the gas station, and Mike continuing to stare down at the planet. Everyone now has a motivation to propel the narrative forward, suggesting season two won’t just play the “Phil is a dirtbag” game. That should lead to a better show, and I look forward to seeing how it develops.