Over the past few episodes, The Last Man on Earth has taken a turn for the worse. The scripts have been mediocre or outright bad due to questionable plot choices that have turned the show’s vivid characters into pale caricatures.
“Name 20 Picnics…Now!” sadly follows that trend. All episodes like the past few have done is amplify how important of a late addition Lewis was. That character kept the show granted in reality and stood as a contrast to some of its zanier aspects, allowing those to hit better.
A show with this great of an ensemble should have been able to keep it together with the removal of its newest member, but just a few weeks after Lewis’ death, The Last Man on Earth is falling apart.
This week’s episode has a premise that feels more like it came out of an early 90s sitcom than one from 2017 set during the post-apocalypse. The gang decides to throw Jasper a party that rolls every single holiday into one, under the assumption that the kid has never experienced any of them before, having been presumably very young when the virus hit.
Meanwhile, Tandy and Todd have a falling out over Mellisa, whom Tandy wants to keep away from Jasper. In this B-plot, Will Forte brings his character back to the petty, selfish, histrionic depths that made him an unbearable watch in the middle of the first season. Tandy’s behavior is at the heart of why this episode isn’t a good one. Whatever intentions he may have, it’s not fun television to watch an irritating manchild belittle of his friends for no reason and with no consequences.
There are a handful of good points about the episode. At long last, Cleopatra Coleman is given something to do in a B-plot, but it doesn’t particularly revolve around Erica per se. Instead, Erica’s advancing pregnancy is concerning Carol, who is supposedly only a few weeks behind her, but has had no real symptoms of her pregnancy since she saw that test back in Malibu. The major problem with it, however, is that it feels incredibly rushed, and is largely confined to just three short scenes. It would have worked a whole lot better if it was the focus of the episode instead of Tandy’s petty fight with Todd.
Additionally, the actual set-up of the party of itself is pretty funny. It looks less like the multi-holiday celebration they intended and more like the interior of a condemned house that a hoarder died in. It’s also pretty funny that the first holiday that Carol insists Jasper celebrate is Arbor Day, and all she does for it is sing the names of trees to the tune of “Get Ready for This.”
The ending is also very sweet, in which it’s revealed that Tandy alienated and argued with his closest friend over absolutely nothing: Melissa and Jasper get along great. The tag, where a satellite smashes into the Party City knockoff that the gang were at earlier in the day, is also a nice touch brings some foreboding to the remainder of the season.
Despite these few solid moments, “Name 20 Picnics…Now!” is a chore to watch because of the cloud of meanness that hangs over it due to Tandy’s decision to exclude one person and alienate another for almost no reason. Despite the ending of the episode, Tandy’s irrational and cruel behavior completely changes tone of so many scenes in viciously negative ways. In particular, the shouting match that they have at the end of the episode is more pathetically sad than funny. If the writers intended both characters to be sympathetic in this scene, they failed.
Hopefully The Last Man on Earth turns itself around in the last few episodes of this season, to rebuild good will for a period of uncertainty. It hasn’t been renewed for its fourth season, and there’s the looming threat of a writer’s strike on the horizon. Low-rated, high concept shows are usually cancellation targets to begin with, and the strike might give Fox a reason to end Last Man for good. If that happens and the show keeps going the way it has, it would be a sad end to one of the most intriguing shows of the 2010s.