Cliffhangers are the worst. Between having to wait a year (or more) to find out how the sequel will untangle the mess left behind by a film’s uncertain ending to spending months waiting for a series to return and reveal how things fared for the characters, the experience of consuming entertainment can sometimes turn into a trying test of patience.
But the most frustrating thing about cliffhangers are the threads that will never be resolved. A sequel that will not materialize; a series that won’t be renewed; an ending that will never come.
That’s the fate that has befallen The Last Man on Earth. A huge cliffhanger right at the end of the season four finale … followed by a prompt cancellation.
Like I said, cliffhangers are the worst.
Set in a future where a deadly virus has swept the planet, the quirky series made its debut in 2015 (and originated from an idea by the great Phil Lord and Christopher Miller), telling the story of the last man on Earth, Phil Tandy Miller, who, it quickly turns out, isn’t the last man on Earth at all, as more survivors start to show up.
With its unusual premise and inventive outlook, the show offered a charming, amusing tale that could sometimes be a bit exasperating for a number of reasons, ranging from some of the more vexing tendencies of its characters to its reluctance to commit to the original premise and fully explore just what it would be like if Tandy really was the last survivor or at least the last “man” on Earth while all the other survivors were women.
But even though there were times when the series made decisions that removed some essential friction that could have been so entertaining – like its choice to neatly pair off characters into couples, for instance – or outright felt like it was struggling to come up with ways to keep going, the writers always made sure that the journey was amusing and there was enough warmth to keep viewers invested in the fate of its oddball characters.[Spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen the series at all, then you might want to skip the next paragraph as it contains some details from the previous seasons.]
By the fourth season, the group is in the midst of settling down and repopulating the world. Tandy and Carol (Kristen Schaal) are expecting twins, while Erica (Cleopatra Coleman) has given birth to a daughter, Dawn, and is in a relationship with Gail (Mary Steenburgen). Todd (Mel Rodriguez), too, is struggling with baby fever but his wife, Melissa (January Jones), doesn’t want to have children.
But it’s the recurring characters that, as always, come along to shake things up. Kristen Wiig’s spoiled socialite Pamela and Jason Sudeikis’s lonely astronaut Mike are both terrific, and it’s disappointing that the series keeps finding reasons to make them leave. Mike, in particular, is essential and Sudeikis is perfect whenever he shows up; his character’s relationship with his brother, Tandy, and his heart-breaking loneliness are among the show’s most affecting aspects.
As for the cast, Forte gives good performances from start to finish, and it is always rewarding when his character shows growth, especially towards the end of the series. The supporting cast is solid as well, even though Jones doesn’t have as much to do in the final season and her character feels underutilized much of the time. And the series’ ability to attract big name guest stars – even if only for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo – is always exciting.
But, ultimately, it all comes to an abrupt, unsatisfying end.
It may not have been perfect, but The Last Man on Earth was certainly nothing like your average sitcom. The series was most fascinating when it threw conventions aside and its take on love, loss, friendship, hope, disappointment, and loneliness was unique and interesting. Many viewers enjoyed the road it took navigating its post-apocalyptic setting, and while some of us wish it had dealt with its premise a bit differently, it was still one of the most original comedies with one of the quirkiest protagonists on television, and therein lay its biggest strength and strongest appeal. But now we’ll (probably?) never get to see how things turn out for Tandy and his friends. And that’s just a shame.