Last Man on Earth: Alive in Tucson/The Elephant in the Room
March 2, 2015 6:15 AM - Season 1, Episode 1 - Subscribe

After a virus wipes out humanity, Phil Miller searches the country for survivors. The series was created by Will Forte (Saturday Night Live, MacGruber) and produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the creative team behind "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" and "The Lego Movie" based on their idea.

In the hourlong opener, Phil Miller (Will Forte) has spent the last year roaming the country searching for survivors. Finding no one, he leaves messages everywhere with the message "Alive in Tucson". Months later, he's reached the end of his rope, talking to various sports balls with magic marker faces and lusting after a mannequin in a shop window.

Right before he kills himself, he sees the smoke from a fire in the distance. The cause of the fire is Carol Pilbasian (Kristen Schaal) , a straight-laced rules follower who instantly clashes with the more freewheeling Phil.

Eventually, they find common ground when Phil fixes their water supply issue by connecting their McMansions to an old water tower. During this cooling of tensions, Carol says that their purpose is clear: they must repopulate the earth, but she insists on being married first. After initially balking, Phil proposes to Carol.
posted by inturnaround (35 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm in awe of a virus that wipes out people and animals and disintegrates their bodies cleanly. Also, the US is the entirety of the world--even Canada and Mexico are non-existent.

Also, dig a hole, poop in hole, fill in hole. Congratulations, you're now as advanced and sanitary as animals. Wait, you don't know to do that? Then by all means, shit in your uncovered pool. That won't start to smell or be disgusting.

This show is absurd without even talking about the insulting gender stereotypes.
posted by Ik ben afgesneden at 6:43 AM on March 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

This show is absurd without even talking about the insulting gender stereotypes.

Yyyeah, there's really no getting around that. The rest of the premise (no bodies, no feral animals, why would he choose to live in fucking Tucson, which doesn't even have a full-time river...) I could maybe come to suspend my disbelief of, but geez, Kristen, you're that hard-up for work that you sign on to be Harridan Prime?
posted by Etrigan at 7:18 AM on March 2, 2015

From a "constructing comedy" point of view, I'd say that what you have so far is the answer to "what would happen if the person at the end of the world with you is someone who you really can't live with" and then you go from there.

I think that for Phil and Carol, they've reacted to the same situation in different ways. For Phil, he's abandoned all hope. Depressed, he's at the point of suicide. For Carol, she clings to the rules established by the now-extinct society to keep her going. They both have to compromise going forward.

Still, for the first 20 minutes of the first episode, it was a really daring, claustrophobic show. Well done, Will Forte. I would have been curious to see how long they could have sustained that.
posted by inturnaround at 7:37 AM on March 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'll be interested to see how they market the show from here on out. The ads for the premiere basically had this billed as a post-apocalyptic Mr. Bean/Jackass mash-up, but now that it's gone from a one-man-show to a two-hander means that they might have to walk back the original premise a bit for the ads. A scene with two people arguing with each other, divorced of the show's context, looks very much like a lot of other sitcoms.
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:04 AM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm just hoping this turns into a soft reboot of Woops!
posted by drezdn at 9:00 AM on March 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

It was awful, but it did surprise me by not going full out with what it was advertised as. From the previews it looked to be a clear cut fantasy (that goes right along with many films and shows) and I thought they were going to run with it, unintentionally providing some prime commentary on themselves and american society. I figured it would get some good ratings and stick around. I wasn't expecting what it turned into, so I guess we'll see what happens or if it lasts.
posted by cashman at 9:17 AM on March 2, 2015

I didn't care so much about the liberties they took with survivalism for the sake of comedy. Shitting into a pool through a hole in the diving board is funnier than pooping in a hole and covering it up.

I can also understand living in Tuscon. There's a very limited amount of natural disasters that would kill you without emergency service, a human could probably survive for like five years on the non-perishable contents of a single grocery store, much less the combined might of a major suburban sprawl, and water is less of an issue if you're a slob who's given up on agriculture and is content to scavenge water bottles indefinitely. The nature of the virus also seems to have killed people nearly immediately, as it looks like stores were fairly well stocked and non-looted.

Anyway, my problems are more about the gender stereotypes (as others have mentioned). It seems like they're trying to show that both Phil and Carol have serious personal problems that are sort of stereotypical of sitcom men and women (Phil isn't just a lout and manchild, but a filthy cave-manchild with no respect for anything; "harridan prime" is a good way to describe Carol so far). If they can complicate these, or humanize the characters, or at least do something clever with them, then I'll keep watching. If it continues being a sort of aw-shucks he's a slob, but she's SUCH a shrew, like it was for a lot of last night, then I won't feel compelled to watch.

At a certain point it almost seems like they're going to have to bring in more people, either through flashback, or by revealing that there are more people left alive... Schall and Forte are great, but the choices are either that they enter into a live-and-let-live relationship, or they're constantly at each other's throats replaying pretty tired battle of the sexes stuff from basically every sitcom ever. Neither one of those sound super interesting.
posted by codacorolla at 9:24 AM on March 2, 2015

I thought this was a great premier- and paced well enough that as I got more and more tense about the thought that this man was going to flounder through the rest of his life totally alone, slowly going mad, there was a light at the end of the tunnel in the form of another person. Not the light he would have chosen on his own, but thank goodness for SOMEBODY else. The show would have been too depressing too fast, otherwise.

-The toilet pool didn't bother me. When that house is a smoking pile of trash, he can just move on to the next one. And then the next.

-I too wondered about the lack of bodies. Maybe it will get explained or maybe it would just be too dark otherwise? (Phil finds a nice house to live in but has to drag the decaying corpses out of the master bed? Or is lucky to find little Timmy's bed clean because he died in a hospital rather than at home? Ergh. Rough. Better that this virus just neatly and instantly dissolves everything)

-I doubt highly he is literally the last man on earth, but functionally? Sure, I buy that premise. With such a decimated population, doubtful he is going to make it to Canada or China to meet up with the other "last" men.

-I've got hope for Carol. She comes across a little shrill right now...but when the entire world has ended and everything and everyone you ever knew is gone... I think I can forgive her for holding onto some rules and trying to take back a little control over her life. And she can grow a mean toh-mah-toh.
posted by Bibliogeek at 9:29 AM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I was also looking around afterward, and found a thread on Straight Dope about how long you could live off of a single grocery store's stock. It's a pretty interesting discussion. Most of the answers are pre-supposing refrigeration and running water, but even without that, there's a huge amount of food in any given store. Likely enough to support a single person for years. If Phil was smart (he doesn't appear to be) canning, making a natural Earth freezer, some basic agriculture, and other preservation methods would keep you in decent quality food for a lifetime.
posted by codacorolla at 9:35 AM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I thought him living in Neuropolis Tucson was a nice touch. I could almost imagine the neighborhood he was in.

The rest of the show? Well, it wasn't bad, but also not good. Except that Kristen Schaal is simply awesome. I can't see this show going on for more than 6 episodes or so. It's going to have to get very Red Dwarf very quick if it wants to stay around longer.
posted by Catblack at 12:52 PM on March 2, 2015

I dunno, all of the fan reviews (outside of here) and official critical reviews are very positive. I think they've also shot the whole first season, so it's possible Fox will banish it to a Friday timeslot, or something, but I'm pretty sure we're at least getting the full run of 9 eps.

It also did really, really well with its timeslot. So even aside from critical reception it's a money maker at the moment.
posted by codacorolla at 1:07 PM on March 2, 2015

That it's doing well is kinda sad. The Dress levels of disturbing. Just to take one point: masturbation. He can't stop and loves porn and apparently she doesn't have a sex drive, hates porn, and only wants babies, babies, babies. The Shades of Grey phenomena would seem to imply that the show's view of men/women just isn't accurate.
posted by Ik ben afgesneden at 2:28 PM on March 2, 2015

Honestly, if no one else showed up, I wouldn't have even been able to make it past the first episode.
posted by smackfu at 6:25 PM on March 2, 2015

Hello, Hola, Bonjour, Chinese hello. I laughed a lot, which is a great start. I think the characters will develop. Phil wasn't a sex obsessed man-child to begin with. He collected great artifacts to enjoy them, he knows his Rembrandts, it was only months of loneliness that drove him to his hedonistic lifestyle. I get the feeling Carol has gone the other way, clinging to the idea of rules, even when she's wrong about them. I can't wait to see where they go with this. I just hope we haven't seen the last of Terrence, Trent, and Darby
posted by IanMorr at 7:31 PM on March 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm surprised that there's so much hate for this. I thought this was a good premiere, and I'm interested to see where it goes from here. The first twenty minutes of the show were pretty weird for a network series. For me, it's better than another animated show from the guy who does Family Guy.
posted by dogwalker at 7:43 PM on March 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

That it's doing well is kinda sad. The Dress levels of disturbing. Just to take one point: masturbation. He can't stop and loves porn and apparently she doesn't have a sex drive, hates porn, and only wants babies, babies, babies. The Shades of Grey phenomena would seem to imply that the show's view of men/women just isn't accurate.

I think this show takes the bold step of asking what if two people happened to exist who were just like incorrect sterotypes that we have about gender, and goes from there.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:58 PM on March 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

I thought this was funny as all hell. So did Comrade Doll. More out loud laughing than I can remember from anything in a long while.

I can understand what would make people see Phil and Carol as gender stereotypes, but that feels a bit knee jerk to me. There are already some indications that both of the characters are singular, deranged people, and given the actors paying them, it seems pretty likely they're going to get weirder and more idiosyncratic as the show goes on.

I think that when the entire universe of your show consists of two people of opposite gender, and you have minds like Miller, Lord, Forte, and Schaal behind the work, it's more likely they consciously picked these archetypes with the intent on commenting on and/or subverting them than that they are actually hewing to them out of some kind of backwards thinking.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:31 AM on March 3, 2015 [11 favorites]

Carol's pretty much exactly who I'd turn into if I'd been wandering the planet alone for that long: Sticking to rules and constructs, even if they're pointless or wrong, because without them there'd be the terrifying, churning abyss of chaos and the dizzying uncertainty that we're not sure what purpose we're living for. (For what we are living.)

I am looking forward to the next episodes. I want it to get weird.
posted by mochapickle at 1:45 PM on March 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

Well, the show certainly didn't pass the Bechdel Test. I think serious discourse about how gender is represented in culture can be interesting and important, I feel like maybe the discussion in this thread is a bit premature and actually not that rigorous. It is like discussing the treatment of gender in the first page of a book or first couplet of a poem. Also, I think some of the criticism may be coming from the ingrained stereotypes of the commenters. Carol is basically right about most stuff (except the stop signs and parking). Both characters are portrayed as being inept at survival stuff. Some things do fall along stereotypical gender lines, but there are only two people in the show. Someone has to be the straight man and it's not clear to me that they are presenting her as particularly shrill or annoying or whatever as a woman. But that's my two cents.

I thought it was pretty funny, especially for a first episode.
posted by snofoam at 6:02 AM on March 4, 2015

The gender-related element that got me a bit annoyed was this: when he thought he was the last human alive, what we see Phil miss were sex and women. He said things like, "Oh, I miss women!" and he asked God to send him a woman. And what he seemed to miss most wasn't just contact with people but instead specifically sexual contact.

I get that sexuality is an important part of human lives, but it just felt inauthentic to me. Given the amount of time that Phil has been alone by that point, I really doubt that sexual contact is what he would miss the most. That amount of loneliness would make him crave any sort of human touch--hugs, handshakes, cuddling, accidentally brushing against someone sitting next to you on the bus, etc. He should be desperately fantasizing about things like that, about getting any sort of physical interaction with humans, whether they're men or women. He should be desperate for companionship of any sort--not just for a woman.

Granted, it feels a little silly to be picking apart elements of the premise here. This isn't a show going for exact verisimilitude (note, the lack of rotting bodies everywhere). Given that it's a comedy, I certainly don't want it to delve too deeply into the desperation, the horror, the endless sorrow of his circumstance... But my complaint here about him missing women isn't just meant to poke holes in the show's accurate portrayal of apocalyptic psychological pain. Instead, my complaint is about what it tells us about Phil, about the sort of psychological creature he is, and about what value other people have for an individual.

Phil's very specific anguish about missing sex and wanting a woman, to me, really trivialized interpersonal relationships. It made it seem like the only sort of contact that matters is sexual contact, like the only reason a man would miss other people is because it means he no longer has access to vaginas and boobs. It meant that, when Carol was introduced, all there really was for us to care about was her as a potential sexual partner.

With that said, I appreciate that the show acknowledged that, in this situation, both would immediately recognize that sex with the other was probably going to happen pretty soon. And I'm glad they let Carol be the first to raise the subject, rather than Phil -- there are too many stupid jokes where men are all "Hey, babez, let's repopulate the planet, winkwink." I just wish the show hadn't made the prospect of sexuality be the primary reason Phil would want a woman (or anyone!) to still be alive.
posted by meese at 7:51 AM on March 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Phil's very specific anguish about missing sex and wanting a woman, to me, really trivialized interpersonal relationships. It made it seem like the only sort of contact that matters is sexual contact, like the only reason a man would miss other people is because it means he no longer has access to vaginas and boobs.

That was just part of the fantasy to me. Meaning that when I saw the previews for the show (before it was clear there'd be anybody else involved), it played to me as immature white man's fantasy world. You can drive where you want, let yourself go to shit, treat anything and any place as your personal potty, and not have to listen to anyone, while still considering yourself completely deserving of everything.

And that was before the show aired, so they hadn't yet shown him gathering up the world's treasures (from US places) and treating them like furniture. I was ready for that show, but should have figured that this fantasy would have to include some kind of sexual outlet. And to your comment, what would this person miss? Of course it would just be "vaginas and boobs". Hence when Phil first encounters her, she's immediately just nodding along to everything he says, kisses him, and is just a 'living doll'.

The original presentation from the pilot goes along with so many productions that go back in time, to white-only lands, create new white-only lands, or create fantasy lands so that no non-white people can be there. Even if it's orcs and other fictional creatures.
posted by cashman at 8:31 AM on March 4, 2015

meese: "Phil's very specific anguish about missing sex and wanting a woman, to me, really trivialized interpersonal relationships. "

To be fair, he's a pretty trivial person, so it does feel in character, to me at least.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:07 AM on March 4, 2015

We are very lucky they went with Kristen Schaal. She's amazing and that gives me a lot of faith in how the character of Carol will turn out.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:22 AM on March 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm in the camp that the commenting here is jumping the gun a bit. Except for the grammar stuff, Carol is being really forward thinking. She doesn't necessarily want babies, she wants civilization to survive, and babies are how you get there. She wants to be married, but she doesn't say why, it could be a defensive move to keep Phil in line. She has agency, she needs Phil to accomplish these goals and straight up tells him she's going to find the man in him that's up to this task. Contrast this to Phil who was ready to end it all, possibly taking humanity with him.

She probably has a sex drive but I'm gonna guess going into a dude's gross house with all his porn and stank is not something to get her in the mood. Plus I think to her there are bigger fish to fry, hierarchy of needs and all that. Phil's ignored all that stuff so he's free to jerk off all day. But that's not all he's interested in. In his fever dream after he faints, he and the dream girl first talk about how nice it is to hear another voice, and they joke around. People stuff, not sex stuff first.

Is woman-as-impetus-for-man's-drive a common trope? Sure. But she's not getting murdered and sending him on a murderous rampage, she hurts her ankle and this fills Phil with empathy, bringing him back a little to his pre-plague self.

My major hope for Carol is that she has a good arc of her own, and I expect some of her more annoying quirks are there so that they can subside over time. Seeing as she's played by outspoken feminist Kristin Schaal, I think there's a good chance.

Also why have issue with Phil being so bad at survivalism? Isn't that the point? The dude has fallen apart and is making a lot of decisions of convenience. His old hometown, premade everything, etc.
posted by JauntyFedora at 11:57 AM on March 4, 2015 [7 favorites]

The first I heard of this show was from seeing it here on Fanfare, and I'm sensitive to gender equality issues, and I was prepared to hate it based on the comments above, but...

I have no idea what you guys are talking about, that show was fucking hilarious. I can't wait for the next episode.
posted by malapropist at 8:57 PM on March 5, 2015 [8 favorites]

Super into the premise, but the Phil Miller character just doesn't do it for me, like how Will Ferrell ruins everything he's in for me. The character's the archetype that brings about Idiocracy; the kind of character that even people who the character is supposed to represent can feel superior to. It's infuriating and sucks away all the funny.

Kristen Schaal is awesome (in general and here)! She saves the pilot from when she makes her first appearance. I could be her character if confronted with a Phil Miller. She's totally normal and practical and... whut? Hangups with traffic ordinances? WTH.

Yes PTSD adaptations, yes driving character conflict in the story, no on normal and practical. The married/religion stuff gets a pass and I'm usually super pissy about that stuff.

Interesting that Will Forte is a producer/writer/lead-actor on this. I suspect he's someone who'd raise a lot of backpfeifengesicht in me if we ever met in person.

I wonder how a story with the genders reversed might work out?
posted by porpoise at 5:37 PM on March 8, 2015

I know that it's a comedy series, and it gets a pass. However, I wonder what proportion of the show's audience has even heard of minimum viable population.
posted by porpoise at 5:44 PM on March 8, 2015

I really only watched this show because it was on Fanfare.
I might have made the mistake of reading this whole discussion before watching, but I was left really kinda confused.
Were they playing the stereotypes for a laugh or because they are going to be bent?
Was this funny? I don't really remember laughing at all.
Where the hell is this show going now.
Is this a post-apocalyptic odd-couple? Are we going to explore the difficulties and idiosyncrasies of trying to survive in the aftermath of this odd apocalypse? The problems with untrained child-birthing? Inbreeding? What?!?!
As it stands, I think I am going to watch this show for at least another episode or two, but I can definitely see it petering off after that.
posted by Seamus at 8:12 AM on March 9, 2015

Also, the US is the entirety of the world--even Canada and Mexico are non-existent.

At the beginning he's crossing off states on a map. The final shot of the map shows about 15 X's on Canada (Alaska and the Yukon both get one in the inset!), and four X's on Mexico.

JUNE 17, 1980 -
posted by sylvanshine at 8:19 AM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I would just like to apologize to metafilter, and to Tom Hanks and the whole crew that put together castaway.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:54 AM on March 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm just hoping this turns into a soft reboot of Woops!
posted by drezdn

Last week, I remembered "Woops!" and tried to google it to see if I imagined that such a weird show actually existed. I couldn't find it.
This weekend someone told me about the premise of the new Pixar movie and it seemed familiar, like another show from the '90s.
Then I read this discussion and there was "Woops!" Thanks for that.
Reading about it led me to "Herman's Head" somehow and my second unnamed show had a name put to it.
This decade is feeling oddly similar to '90s.
posted by Seamus at 2:36 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Is anyone taking up the thread? The latest episode hasn't made me decide to ditch it or keep it.
posted by codacorolla at 8:36 AM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I know I'm late on this thread but...

immature white man's fantasy world. You can drive where you want, let yourself go to shit, treat anything and any place as your personal potty, and not have to listen to anyone, while still considering yourself completely deserving of everything

But ouch! Jesus, I know white men enslaved all of us all of the time but good god almighty, that is harsh as shit! The potty part was an especial jab.

(Note: I am not a white man)
posted by malapropist at 5:59 PM on March 20, 2015

I didn't think it was that harsh. Was it that harsh? I think a lot of these dudes feel so constrained by how life is now, they dream of this stuff. They long for the good old days when you could call an n word an n word and the good lord had white women barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. Look around and you see so many of these guys telling women they should not be talking, but instead making some man a sandwich. These dudes feel like everything should be available to them. There was a dude on here years ago that it just killed to not be "allowed" to say the N word. Like it hurt him to his core and he just protested oh so much about how unfair it was. Combine that with the wealth of video games out now where in a super realistic manner you can just roam about doing whatever you please, raping, killing, blowing things up, and doing it all with your friends, and this desire is quite alive.

So to create a show where it opens up with a guy having access to everything, being able to destroy things for fun, for the whim of it, to collect priceless artifacts and artwork and treat them like crayon drawings, to not really care about anything, to have a gigantic stash of porn that nobody can call you on, to go to a stadium and do what you please, to just pick out whatever large fantastic house you have and poop anyplace you want...well that would be heaven to these guys. Because they're "losing the country, man!", and so much of the commentary is about these evil feminists who demand such horrid things as equality and being able to appear in public and online wearing and doing what they please. The next group of people infringing on their territory is gay people, who have an "agenda" and these guys just feel like the walls are closing in. So yep, the instant I saw the preview for this show I recognized it for what it think it is.
posted by cashman at 7:07 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm watching this for the first time in real-life 2020, in the midst of a real-life global pandemic, and the first thing I thought was, "God, this is so unrealistic: where are all the dead bodies?". It felt like an overly morbid thought, so I'm strangely glad that the first comment on this thread (pre-corona) addresses it.

Also, that grocery store is not realistic: far too organized and well-stocked, too much toilet paper..
posted by chara at 11:04 AM on May 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

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