The Last Man on Earth – Hybrid Comedy

Unlike some critics, I enjoyed the first season of The Last Man on Earth.  The pilot was incredible, following Phil, as played by Will Forte with such gusto, around a desolate, unpopulated, post-apocalyptic America.  That first episode was truly original and hilarious.  I cracked up at witnessing the margarita pool for the first time (and still do).  And I enjoyed the season as it continued to add characters and continued to make Phil an ass-hole that had to start to redeem himself for his selfish last man on earth actions, even when the hilarity that was so prevalent in the pilot became more uneven in the later episodes.  The first season wasn’t perfect.  It had moments of greatness, but wasn’t great.  Then the second season premiered.

The Last Man on Earth became something so few sitcoms are able to handle successfully, a hybrid of hysterical comedy and moments of true drama.   The show evolved into greatness by balancing varying tones and embracing the humor that can be found in otherwise dramatic situations.  Without spoiling the season finale that aired this past Sunday, LMOE had a scene that made me want to cry (for those who have, it was the scene with a bag of balls), which goes to show how great the drama in this series is handled.  A half hour network sitcom on Fox normally wouldn’t be able to handle this scene with such beauty and care, but it does through a poignant hug and great performances from Will Forte and Jason Sudeikis.  This show, created by Will Forte, aspires to something more than just being a communal comedy.  It never forgets its end of the world setting, no matter how many silly antics Phil finds himself.

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And that balance of tone makes this show special.  It can feature a scene where a character wakes up to find himself completely half shaven (see above) to great shock and humor, and also have a scene in a few episodes prior where a character must learn how to perform surgery to save one of the members of the group in a scene filled with dramatic tension.  The writing and performances are strong enough to never make the tonal shifts jarring or unwarranted.  The structure of the episodes allow the intimate dramatic aspects grow to the forefront of the show naturally.

I don’t think the show would work as well as it does in balancing its smaller dramatic scenes with its uproarious comedic scenes if it weren’t for Will Forte’s workmanship and commitment to the role.  How many actors will debate himself about the merits of not eating cheese while gorging on said cheese in one long take or shave half of his entire body, including arm and chest hair, for one role, while also making the audience feel his loneliness and empathizing with his plight.  Forte brings a nuance to the character, even when the antics on screen are so broad and so strange.

But that’s what this show is, at times a massively funny sitcom, that isn’t afraid to bring some subtlety and some nuanced underlying dramatic stakes to its comedic premise.  The show is funny.  The show can be dramatic.  It has found amazing storytelling success in its hybrid of tones and comedy and subtlety.  Hell this show not only uses the song “Falling Slowly” for typical dramatic purposes, but also for humor, which I would never expect for the great song from Once.  LMOE’s humor is fused with nuanced character and drama that never feels preachy, melodramatic, or preposterous.  The characters, humor, performances, and drama all stem from the premise, to be the last of this world.  This show could be a straight drama, but fortunately for us, it has Will Forte and some seriously bizarre hilarity.

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