At last, the apocalypse has acquired a sense of humor — and not the kind of humor you sometimes see in one of those zombie movies where catchphrases and snark alleviate the violence and gore.
Creator and actor Will Forte’s instantly engaging new half-hour comedy, “The Last Man on Earth” (premiering Sunday night on Fox), is a charming and intelligent sendup of pop culture’s obsession with the end of everything. Finally, here is a man willing to take full advantage of an abandoned world, where, as he notes, everything is now a parking space.
Forte stars as Phil Miller, a mild-mannered 40-something temp employee from Tucson who winds up being — as far as he can tell — the lone survivor of a viral epidemic. Days turn to weeks and, after two years, Phil sets off in a luxury tour bus for a cross-country road trip to see if anyone else is still alive. As he Sharpies an X through each state on the map (and helps himself to precious artworks and memorabilia), he spray-paints a message on interstate signs — “ALIVE IN TUCSON” — hoping someone might see it.
“The Last Man on Earth” is most brilliant when it plays like a quasi-silent movie, following an increasingly hirsute Phil during his antic attempts to keep himself entertained with stunt after stunt. In one montage, what starts as a bowling game in a parking lot escalates into pushing one car down a parking ramp toward another, with explosive results.
Phil moves into the poshest McMansion he can find in a gated community, initiating a long period of slothful solitude. While watching the 2000 film “Cast Away” on a generator-powered flat-screen TV, Phil mocks key plot points.
“I got news for you, Tom Hanks — I will never, ever talk to a volleyball. Balls aren’t people, dude,” he jeers. “Balls are for fun.”
Soon and sure enough, Phil has drawn faces on every possible piece of sports equipment — including a badminton birdie — to create a group of regular friends at his favorite local dive bar. By now, he’s living in squalor, even converting the McMansion’s pool into his giant toilet. And just when he’s given up hope and decided to take his own life . . .
Well, I’m reluctant to tell you. Although the show is titled “The Last Man on Earth,” the word is already out there that Forte is not the only cast member, and by Episode 2 (also airing Sunday), the show’s premise significantly changes — to say the least.
“The Last Man on Earth,” which is co-produced by the two guys who brought us “The Lego Movie” and the “21 Jump Street” satires, is certainly the best and most easily enjoyable network comedy I’ve reviewed in a while. Discerning fans of “Saturday Night Live” have long enjoyed Forte’s work (he was on the show from 2002 to 2010), and filmgoers admired his performance in 2013’s “Nebraska.”
Forte’s talents (and quite a bit of his physique, such as it is) are on full display; my only regret about “The Last Man on Earth” is that it acts too quickly on its inclinations to turn this into an Adam-and-Eve story. I would be happy to just let Phil be Phil for several more episodes, completely alone in his whacked-out thoughts.
The Last Man on Earth (one hour; two episodes) premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. on Fox.