Maybe, more than anything, The Last Man on Earth makes the case for the binge-release of a television show. I can’t think of any other program that debuted this season, even ones that actually were released all at once, that deserved the binge-viewing experience more than Last Man. 13 episodes is a pretty short season (and some of the episodes were burned off on Sunday nights two at at time) but at times it felt excruciatingly long, especially as it emphasized Phil’s awful, easy-to-hate qualities over everything else. Having a week in between episodes makes it much easier to give up, to unceremoniously delete the season pass, and to forget about Phil Miller. It’s a bit tougher when you can just keep hitting next, powering through the lesser episodes in order to get to what’s coming next, originally planning to kill an afternoon but soon realizing that The Last Man on Earth has had a plan all along, and has a full serialized story to tell.
Later in the season, the sitcom introduced a third male character: a devastatingly handsome, super charming, and very skillful man also named Phil Miller (Boris Kodjoe), forcing Phil to go by his middle name “Tandy.” Newcomer Phil immediately wins over the women. It’s a stealth but huge role reversal as Phil-turned-Tandy faces real competition and is being treated the same disposable way that he treated Carol. For both sexes, it’s a damning take on sexual politics and the gross ways people treat each other, as the women find themselves in a competition for New Phil. He’s so hot, in fact, that Carol has non-committal sex with him despite making a huge deal about needing to be married before having sex with Tandy. The dynamics within the cul-de-sac veers wildly and often as the show’s intentions seemingly do as their joy of finding other living people on earth dissipates slightly, leaving room for ugly territorial conflicts, endless competition, and exasperation at being in such close quarters with other humans. It’s a remarkable change from the pilot episode, but it’s done so in a way that’s ultimately smart and satisfying — so good, in fact, that the lesser episodes (ones that I actually loved, though understand why many people didn’t) are better in retrospect and the intention of the creators is much clearer.
The season finale, which aired last night, employed a bit of bookending — spoilers ahead. After New Phil tries to banish Phil/Tandy from Tucson (the place where, Tandy explains, is his home and is where his parents are buried), Tandy falls back into a deep, bachelor hell depression of locking himself in a filthy room and eating toilet paper. He’s then left in the desert with only two days worth of supplies, but Carol eventually comes to help him and, when Tandy lets his guard down a little to actually be nice and honest, the two end up embarking on a new little adventure where they leave Tucson behind — together.
It was sweet, somewhat surprising ending but everything landed (even the second big twist, in which we learn Tandy has a brother (Jason Sudeikis) who is alive in space and endlessly trying to make contact with Houston, which will surely make for a weird and interesting second season). It was a great reward for sticking with The Last Man on Earth and continued to make its case for the most original comedy on air.