I've expressed my enthusiasm for FOX's new Sunday comedy "Last Man on Earth" in a number of different tweets and the responses tend to fall into a common mixed emotion that I'd describe as "excited skepticism."
It can be boiled down to, "It looks funny... But does it work as a series?"
On the eve of the Sunday, March 1 premiere of "Last Man on Earth," my own answer can now take one of two forms:
The first: I've seen three episodes -- or, rather, I've seen the hour-long block that will air on Sunday, plus an additional half-hour -- and "Last Man on Earth" works rather wonderfully for that duration, which is really all I can ask from a network TV show when I review it. I've reviewed comedies based on both more episodes and fewer episodes and while I can't say that I know that the 50th episode of "Last Man on Earth" will be funny, I also couldn't say that the 50th episode of "Fresh Off the Boat" would be funny, but I reviewed that off of three episodes as well and it has continued to be funny now for three subsequent episodes as well. TV shows are only funny until they're not, no matter how high the concept, and given how hard it is to hit the ground running with a sitcom, I'm not going to criticize a series that's this immediately and successfully inspired just because I don't know what Season 20 looks like.
The second: Go ahead and try telling Phil Lord and Chris Miller that you think the project they're working on is either a silly idea or an idea that seems better designed for a five-minute short than for long-form storytelling. At this point, the "21 Jump Street" and "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" and "The Lego Movie" directors ought to have earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to successful elongation of premises that seem merely one-joke, but ultimately yield many more.
Lord & Miller's direction of the opening "Last Man on Earth" hour is a textbook lesson in precision comic timing and humorous use of physical space for the small screen. The Mark Mothersbaugh score and clockwork editing and a lively soundtrack make this one of the most formally successful network comedy pilots, or comedy pilots of any sort, in recent years and I hope that many of these formal and technical aspects are remembered come Emmy time.
But don't get the impression that construction of "Last Man on Earth" supersedes its heart, which comes largely courtesy of series creator and star Will Forte, who wrote the opening installments -- Emily Spivey wrote the March 8 episode, with Jason Woliner directing -- and gives a performance which follows his "Nebraska" work in underlining just how versatile he can be, even within the same projects.
More after the break, but that's probably enough of a review without saying anything more, eh?