The Last Man on Earth Season 1 Episode 4 Review: “Sweet Melissa”

The Last Man On Earth

After three episodes of unconventional storytelling, The Last Man on Earth slips into a very worn pair of narrative shoes with “Sweet Melissa,” an episode that adds a new character to the cast, but one that ultimately subtracts from the strongest qualities that show has had early on. There’s still plenty of promise to January Jones’ addition to the show as Melissa – but Last Man doesn’t do a great job introducing her character, and turns Phil into an absolutely pathetic human being for the sake of humor for nearly the entire episode.

The premise of the episode is abundantly familiar to sitcom fans: married man gets attracted to the hot new woman in the neighborhood, drooling over her until he subconsciously realizes he needs to be more mature and stay dedicated to the woman who put a ring on it. From beginning to end, “Sweet Melissa” hits every single beat we’d expect within that story, a huge turn from the first three episodes, which deconstructed masculinity in interesting, unique ways for network television: “Sweet Melissa” is the antithesis of that, both in script and performance.

To be funny, “Sweet Melissa” has to bring out the absolute ugliest, most awkward side of Phil – and in the process, completely overshadows any sense of Melissa as a character, more of a reactionary device in this episode than an actual entity. Her presence throws the new Pilbasian/Miller union into a tizzy, but does so at the cost of establishing Melissa as a character – there’s one scene with her talking about visiting coffee shops across the country, which doesn’t do much to nail down any kind of persona for the character. Instead, “Sweet Melissa” gives us the worst side of Phil, aggressive and embarrassing and thoroughly unlikable, played so heavily that it makes his sudden, begrudging transformation into the good husband at the end a little unconvincing. There’s not a great balance between the farce of Phil’s creepy, unbearded behavior and the reality of Melissa’s situation (after all, she hasn’t seen another human in two years), and that robs the episode of some much-needed pathos in the third act.

However, The Last Man on Earth continues to be a showcase for Kristen Schaal, who gets to tone down the wacky, domestication-seeking woman in this episode to be a quirky, cute woman excited to have a female in the world that can be her friend. Her innocence and goofy sensibilities are much more balanced in this episode than the previous three, moments like her “mouth-feel” enhanced dinners balanced out with her sheepish grin when Melissa tells her she’s a wonderful lady, or when Phil tells her he has diarrhea: where “Sweet Melissa” lacks in subtlety with Phil in this episode, it mostly makes up for with Carol’s endearing moments of gratitude to have a new friend (who compliments her, no less) living in the neighborhood.

The tonal shifts in the first four episodes have been fascinating, constantly evolving the show’s premise and universe, while also expanding on the characterizations of its two main characters. Adding a third energy into the mix may prove fruitful in the long run, but the traditional structure and rhythms of “Sweet Melissa” don’t really get to convey that in many fun ways, especially with Phil being a smiling creep during the dinner party. Separate her with either Phil or Carol, and the promise of “Sweet Melissa” shines through – unfortunately, these moments are fleeting, the lasting impression of the episode being Phil’s unpleasant turn of character, a dynamic I hope The Last Man on Earth discards rather quickly.

[Photo via FOX]

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