Tuesday, April 07, 2015

COLUMN: Last Man on Earth

Last weekend, I was home in time to watch the premiere of the new sitcom, "The Last Man on Earth." The Fox network has been running teasers for this show for months now, so I was kind of excited to check it out. Of course, whenever any network describes their own show as "quirky," it's a red flag. Sometimes it pans out, and quirky means just that. But more often than not, "quirky" just means "weird" and "not funny."

In this case, the quirkiness comes directly from the plot itself. "The Last Man on Earth" is exactly that -- a show about the last guy left after a virus has wiped out everyone else on the planet. That qualifies as quirky in my book. Better yet, the show ended up having some truly funny bits and I'm curious enough to see where it goes from here.

I have a friend who has a hard time watching any show that isn't "believable." I have no such problem. I'm not looking for some divine truth out of my television habits. TV shows are meant to entertain -- and let's face it, real life is hardly ever entertaining. If they put out a show called "Guy Eats Cereal for Breakfast, Sometimes With a Banana," it would be entirely believable -- and entirely unwatchable. As long as it makes for an entertaining plotline, I'm fully willing to suspend disbelief and watch even the most implausible of shows.

At least, I thought I was. But when I was watching "The Last Man on Earth," I couldn't help but get hung up on a few little holes in the plotline that make no sense.

First off, we're given no real specifics as to the end-of-the-world event that caused this near extinction of the human race. The show simply starts with a message "The Year 2020 (One Year After The Virus)." We meet our Last Guy, Phil (played expertly by SNL vet Will Forte.) Phil is driving around the country in a tour bus looking for other survivors, ticking states off his map, and gathering an impressive menagerie of souvenirs from his travels.

Phil's Earth is entirely empty. We see him driving down lonely highways, abandoned downtowns, and vacant shopping malls. It's as if the rest of the human race just *poof* disappeared. But they didn't -- there was a "virus" of some kind. But unless this was a virus whose only symptom is that it instantly evaporates you into dust (like the majestically awful 80s movie "Night of the Comet,") this just doesn't make sense.

In the real world, if everyone were to suddenly die of a fast-moving virus, the streets and buildings would be riddled with corpses, no? The stench of decay would make it nearly impossible to enter a city, let alone live there. But I'm okay with this Fox fallacy -- "the stench of decay" is just not a phrase that works with any kind of sitcom, so I'll suspend disbelief and just assume that in THIS show, every infected person's final act was to politely and hygenically dispose of their own bodies in the earth-friendly manner of their choice.

But did this mysterious apocalyptic virus ONLY affect humans? Most viruses tend not to jump from mammal to mammal, which means most animals should still be around. And remember, the show tells us it's been a YEAR since the virus broke out -- by now, city streets should be overrun by packs of marauding wolves and feral dogs. The cow population alone would have grown exponentially. The skies should be rife with vultures. This is about as nice and stress-free an apocalypse as you can imagine. Phil's got it fairly good.

And that's an understatement, considering that Phil can magically drive a tour bus across the country and back again without seeming to worry one bit about gasoline. Sure, there's a kajillion gas stations along the way with full tanks to fill up at, but I would assume that the end of the world would likely mean no power anywhere, including at the gas pumps. It's never explained just how Phil fills up the tanks of his tour bus -- maybe he's some kind of petroleum expert or a former Texaco employee who knows how to circumvent powered pumps to get his own fuel. After all, this IS the same guy who played MacGruber, so he's a smart cookie.

But even if he knew how to manually fill a gas tank, the process would have to be arduous and time-consuming at best. So why on Earth would you choose a gas-guzzling tour bus to travel across the country in? Methinks a Prius or perhaps a bicycle would have been a far better choice.

Faults aside, the show got me thinking, though. What if a world-ending virus really DID occur, and what if I were Phil? What if I were the last man on Earth? How would I handle things? And for this end of days theoretical, I prefer to choose an apocalypse FREE of zombie hordes, if that's okay with you. Zombies are just kind of a drag, and let's be realistic here: I move way too slow to outrun most anything, and I'd be zombie chow by first nightfall. That said, I read an interesting article this week where a group of Cornell researchers tried to use statistic mechanics to determine the safest spot in America to hide from a zombie plague, and their answer was high in the Northern Rockies. Makes sense, but if I had to choose between living like Grizzly Adams or dying like zombie chum, I think I'd fare better as a member of the undead.

In a lonely world sans zombies, though, I'm pretty sure Phil had the best idea: travel as much as possible. I would want to make sure I was good and truly alone. Plus, imagine the fun things you could do. I could go to Charlotte and drive Jeff Gordon's car. Go to the White House and sit in the Oval Office. The first place I'd head would have to be Area 51 to see what all the fuss is about. Plus hey, maybe the aliens we've been keeping out there know how to stop the virus.

Eventually, though, I'm sure I'd want to settle down. Phil chooses his hometown of Tuscon. I'd pick somewhere a little smarter... and higher up. I'm thinking the visitor's center just above the tundra line at the top of Pikes Peak. It's not the Northern Rockies, but that'd still be one heck of a climb for a zombie to make. Same goes for feral dog packs or murderous cow herds. Plus I was there on vacation once, and the view was pretty epic, so I could spot any campfire for miles.  

And when Katie Holmes shows up as the last WOMAN on Earth, we can begin our destiny of repopulating the Earth. Sure, it might take some stamina (and the complete and total suspension of all disbelief ever,) but I think I'm up for the challenge.

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