Ever since humanity has possessed the ability to tell stories, we’ve been fixated on the idea of the end of the world. We’ve constantly had questions concerning when it will end, how it will end, and what it will be like for those who survive. Will it be zombies? An asteroid? Climate change? The society we’ve built can be toppled in any number of ways, and TV and movies will always look to use this idea to entertain and educate.
CW’s The 100 shows us a planet ravaged by nuclear war, with the surviving humans reduced back to a warring tribal culture. TNT’s Falling Skies envisions a conquering of the human race at the hands of alien invaders. The list goes on and extends out into movies like 28 Days Later (zombies), Waterworld (global warming), and Mad Max (energy crisis). But what Fox’s newest show, The Last Man On Earth, does is something entirely different.
It’s set in a post-apocalypse world in which Will Forte is the last human being left standing following a vaguely described world-ending “virus.” From there, we see Forte spending much of his time alone as he wanders around the abandoned remnants of society. It’s naturally no huge surprise that in its first night on the air, it became something of a critical darling.
The pilot was written by Forte himself, and the series is directed by none other The Lego Movie visionaries Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. With an all-star creative team at the helm, The Last Man On Earth is tackling the apocalypse from a whole new angle.
What this show does that no one else has really taken advantage of is treat an abandoned human society as something to be explored and enjoyed, rather than a deathtrap of risk and peril. 2009’s Zombieland did this to a degree, but much of that movie was based around dodging the undead. For The Last Man On Earth, we see Forte squatting in the fanciest mansion he can find, playing with and destroying priceless collectibles, and taking advantage of an inflatable swimming pool. All the world is his comedic playground, making the possibilities endless despite the scarcity of fellow cast members.
Through this, it explores many of the practical questions a normal person would have if he or she were left alone on Earth. Forte balances comedy and emotional depth as he combats loneliness and embraces the chaos that goes hand-in-hand with his situation. But then something interesting happens (spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn’t watched yet) — Forte comes across a woman, played by Kristen Schaal, who is taking the opposite approach to his. She still clings to the order of the past-gone planet, stopping at stop signs and craving the organization of a pre-virus society. She acts as the perfect foil to Forte’s more chaos-centric approach, while also helping extend the premise of the show out past simply one character wandering around abandoned buildings.
While other movies and shows choose to treat the apocalypse as something to be survived, The Last Man On Earth chooses to make it something to be enjoyed. Thanks to clever writing and spot-on performances from Schaal and Forte, that feeling comes across crystal-clear, giving us a breath of fresh air among the more somber offerings of the apocalypse genre.