Meet Phil Miller (Will Forte), the last man on earth. He has a scraggly beard and probably hasn’t showered in months, because he can. He squirts Cheez Wiz into his $10,000 glass of wine, because he can. He takes million-dollar pieces of art from museums, because he can. No one’s around to enforce rules—the rules that say stealing expensive art and combining fake cheese with fancy alcohol are no-nos—so why shouldn’t he do whatever the hell he wants?
“How does he know no one—no one—is around?” you might ask. Well, because he spent two years traveling the country on the hunt for humans and found nothing. Although we only see a tiny bit of this journey around the U.S., it’s obvious this wasn’t the kind of road trip romanticized in country songs and Crossroads: America is a wasteland, emptied out by an unspecified virus that apparently wiped out most of humankind. Except for Phil.
We meet him two years after the virus, a title card says. Before, he was a thirtysomething temp. Before, he had a brother and mother and father—something revealed when he hangs up a photograph of his family in the Tucson mansion he decides to squat in after giving up on his tiny apartment. And, perhaps most notably, before, he had standards to live up to. Standards like picking up trash and waiting until the evening to drink beer. Not anymore.
The first half-hour episode is a look into Phil’s current life, which mostly consists of one-sided talks with God and experiments involving tennis balls and fast cars and fire that you’d expect to see coming from a reckless teenage boy, not a grown man. In any other situation, his behavior would be worrisome. But in the context, it’s easy to get used to his day-to-day-life because it’s difficult to argue against it. So what if he turns his diving board into a toilet and poops into the pool? It’s not like anyone’s planning on swimming in it.
But then he finally finds another human, and it happens to be one who does have arguments against breaking all the rules—even seemingly made-up grammatical ones. He makes this life-changing—and in his case, life-saving—discovery right as he’s about to drive his car into a rock to end his life: Phil notices smoke in the distance as he’s nearing the rock and immediately slams on his brakes, ultimately landing his car mere inches away from the Death Rock. After finding his way to the smoke, we’re treated to a dream-like scene involving Phil singing the Ghostbusters theme to a glamorous woman (Alexandra Daddario) who cradles his head in her lap before kissing him. Then he wakes up and finds Carol giving him mouth to mouth.
NEXT: Phil meets the last woman on earth.
This is not the same woman from his dreams. Once Phil wakes up, real Carol (Kristen Schaal) points a gun at him and right away begins correcting his totally fine grammar—after informing him that he wet his pants, because that’s what every sex-starved man wants his first impression to be with the first woman he’s seen in years.
Before this encounter, Phil was just a lonely guy looking for some lady lovin’—and that part, though seemingly frivolous, is important to this show: When Phil still believed he was the last person on earth, his desperation for sexual attention got so bad that he made out with a mannequin (and then tried to shake her hand, only for it to fall off and kill his fantasy). This is one of the more striking moments from a half-hour full of them because it encapsulates the show in just a couple minutes: As EW’s Jeff Jensen said in his review, “It’s hilarious and heartbreaking all at once.”
So it’s disappointing for Phil to meet a woman–seemingly the world’s only woman—only to find out that she is his polar opposite, and not in a cutesy way. He drives however he wants; she still follows stop signs. He scarfs up food with his hands; she eats on glass plates with proper silverware. He parks in the handicap spot despite being completely physically well; she insists on parking in a non-handicap spot. And the list goes on.
Her rule-following, though annoying, makes sense. On one hand, she might not to be accustomed to life without others yet and so hasn’t lost that nagging desire to conform to norms. Or doing things like obeying stop signs might be a coping mechanism, a way to convince herself that if she waits long enough things will return to how they were, that stop signs will have an actual purpose once again.
Before I get too psychoanalytical though: Carol and Phil are not meant to be, at least not right now. That’s all the better for us though, because their bickering and bantering are amusing and create tension in a world empty of it. But it’s not all sibling-like fighting: After many attempts to encourage Phil to help get their lives together, Carol tries to lure him into tending her garden by eating a fresh tomato in front of him. He responds by eating (and spitting out) whole peeled tomatoes from a can, then ravaging her tomato garden in the dark of night, unable to resist the appeal of fresh produce. Just like Carol is used to following rules, he’s used to breaking them—and just because he’s found another human doesn’t mean he can revert back to his socially acceptable self at a moment’s notice.
But he eats them all—and poops in her garden, she reveals—so Carol is left without fresh tomatoes and still no running water. So without motivation to get her live together anymore, Carol builds her own toilet fountain. Phil feels bad, so he works hard to figure out a way to get running water to her garden. After some time at a library and a lot of time at a water plant, he succeeds. This is the first sign that Phil can do more than lounge in his margarita pool and play Jenga, and he makes sure Carol knows how hard he worked.
She rewards him by having him over for dinner, where they talk about procreation and how she will not have sex until she’s married. What follows is a conversation about marriage–she says it matters, he says it doesn’t—and eventually a forced proposal. Phil’s got needs, man (and a sense of humor: “I was so nervous,” he jokes after getting down on one knee).
It’s not clear where the show is going, and that’s a good thing. Maybe we’ll find out what this mysterious virus that wiped out most of civilization was. Maybe the two will eventually find some other humans. Maybe they’ll rebuild Tucson, garden by garden. But the very fact that it’s not obvious what will happen is what makes this series premiere one of the more exciting in recent memory. As cheesy as it sounds, anything could really happen—and with actors as strong as Will Forte and Kristen Schaal taking the lead, that’s a good thing.