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OMD's Pop-culture corner: Last Man on Earth

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What a strong pilot can do for a show.

Messrs. Lord, Forte, and Miller
Messrs. Lord, Forte, and Miller
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

With zombies digging in as this decade's vampires, it's safe to say that post-apocalyptic fare is very much in fashion. Perhaps it is just a trend that will run its course in due time, or maybe it is a reflection of the global-climate-change/nuclear-age-fueled world in which we find ourselves, but regardless of the reasons, we seem to be obsessed with seeing protagonists in a world in which the human race is mostly wiped out and a select few have to scrape by to survive.

That Last Man on Earth would succeed probably comes as no surprise to its creative team of Will Forte, Chris Miller, and Phil Lord (the latter two of Lego Movie and 21 and 22 Jump Street fame) nor would its success surprise anyone concerned with how it does in the key demo. Where its success may have surprised is in the deftness with which it grabbed hold of its viewers.

To say the pilot episode of Last Man on Earth was near-perfection would be apropos. In this era in which comedies by and large have needed sometimes full seasons to figure out what they are doing, Last Man on Earth came roaring out of the gate with a brilliant pilot that hearkened back to the silent film era with a 21st Century man-child thrust into the role in which we all secretly fantasize about. Phil Miller has no qualities that set him apart as someone who would be likely to survive the apocalypse other than the presumed immunity to a virus that eradicated mankind. The shoes of such a character are easy for the average viewer to step into and inhabit at 22-minute intervals.

Where the success of the pilot shines through, though, is in the titular implication playing out on screen that Phil Miller is, in fact, the last man on earth. In only having to worry about introducing one character--unless we count the bevy of sports balls who stand in as a chorus of silent Wilsons--Forte, Miller, and Lord didn't have to worry about how to establish six characters and their relationships with one another. Furthermore, with that solitary introduction, the viewing audience--regardless of sex--is going to start from a point of empathy with that character going forward. So as long as they don't push Phil Miller past the point of likability--a precipice they thankfully stepped back from last week in the final minutes of the second episode that aired this past Sunday--the audience will remain empathetic to the lead. In introducing any new characters in subsequent episodes, everything always comes back to that character with whom the show began.

Of course it doesn't hurt to have gems like the margarita pool, getting shot with a tennis ball cannon in a suit of armor, or wanton destruction of ownerless property and objects for the point of idle amusement in Last Man on Earth's back pocket either, but it is hard to remember a show that started as strongly as this one did. When a show starts off that great, it's easy to forgive later missteps because the taste washes away from your palette when you remember Phil salting the rim of the pool or playing racquetball in the foyer.