This week’s episode of The Last Man on Earth is an improvement over the pointless “Find This Thing We Need To”, but only in that it deserves the right to exist as a complete episode of a network situation comedy.
This does not mean that “Point Person Knows Best” is good television. The main hook – the revelation of the child in the Yoda costume – is fine, as is its sweet ending. The episode’s flaws instead come from its plotting and characterization in the middle 15 minutes of the show, where Phil’s personality is ratcheted up to the most obnoxious it’s been since season 1.
Phil is borderline unwatchable for most of the episode as he tries, in desperation for this kid to like him. It wouldn’t be in character for Phil to leave him alone, but there is no reason for him to become this zany and pathetic. It even extends to the boy’s introduction. He refuses to speak and won’t tell the group his name, so Phil hatches a cockamamie word association based off of his JanSport backpack to come up with Jasper. It would have been a lot better if the name was revealed at the end or something, and Phil just blurting out feels anti-climactic.
Scene after scene of Phil trying to get Jasper to like him results in some incredibly grating television. But what lifts the episode out of the doldrums is that the writers remembered to give a sad meaning to Phil’s behavior. He’s anxious about whether or not he and Carol’s unborn child will like him, and he’s projecting those concerns onto Jasper in his failed attempts to become his buddy. It’s this short confession to Carol that makes Phil seem a lot more human than the wild cartoon we just wasted 15 minutes with.
Carol’s B-plot is a bit of a wash, but it also has a decent conclusion. By way of misunderstanding a gesture in the distance, Carol believes that Todd and Gail are seeing each other after Melissa’s mental collapse, and Carol balks at the idea. She confronts Gail a few times during the episode and you initially think this is going to be yet another waste-of-time plot that is stretched out over multiple episodes. Then Gail lets loose on Carol. She quiet accurately notes that there are only two men left in the entire world, and Carol is married to one of them. Todd is pretty much her only option and the end of the world, she can do whatever she likes.
It’s only two minutes long, but brings the show back to down to each for the first time in a while, and may set up for better interactions between these characters in the meantime.
Another great moment happens at the end of the main plotline, in which the group asks Jasper to pick his guardian from the adults in the group. Although Phil has spent all episode trying to get Jasper on his side, he instead immediately chooses Erica. It’s exciting that, at long last, the show has finally given Erica something to do other than sit in the background and say one line per episode. The character has long needed depth and a storyline (any storyline at all), and I’m hoping that looking after Jasper provides that.
It will also be interesting to see where Jasper goes from here. He’s not a Cousin Oliver type, and he provides a lot of questions (just how did a child survive? How old was he when the virus hit?) that should result in some good writing if done well. Hopefully they let him speak soon as well.
The Last Man on Earth is taking a two week break following this episode, and will return with the gang giving Jasper all the holidays at once, I guess. That either has the hallmarks of being something really lame or really funny depending on what tone and setup the writers use, and at this juncture, it’s difficult to tell which direction the show will date.