Spring has barely even sprung yet, and television has already started rolling out a string of warm weather pilots to perk up a repeat-addled audience, including Fox’s The Last Man on Earth and Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Both shows come from solid comedic pedigrees – Last Man is brought to us by Will Forte, Chris Miller, and Phil Lord, while Kimmy Schmidt is the brainchild of Tina Fey and Robert Carlock and is toplined by the ever-peppy Ellie Kemper, whose optimism is perfectly suited to this material – but that doesn’t mean that either of them are afraid of embracing the kind of darkness one typically finds scrawled in an angsty goth teen’s journal.
After all, both shows are about the end of the world. But they’re also both deeply, cuttingly funny.
(Spoilers ahead for The Last Man on Earth and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.)
Both The Last Man on Earth and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt embrace the idea of the apocalypse in different – and still comedic – ways. Three episodes in, and Last Man appears to be staying true to its word: Will Forte’s Phil Miller (get it?) is the last man on Earth. So far, Phil has found himself two different women, Kristen Schaal’s Carol (his new wife!) and January Jones’ new character Melissa (who Phil and Carol literally ran into at the end of this week’s show), and although it seems clear that we will meet a new person (woman?) every week, the planet is still mostly free of other life, thanks to some sort of nameless virus that felled everyone (including, it seems, animals –we haven’t seen a pet or wild animal yet, and Carol made reference to “no more” meatballs during this week’s episode).
The apocalypse of Last Man is real, and Forte, Lord, and Miller aren’t afraid to show the toll it’s taken on both Phil and Carol (Melissa, who appears to be both very put together and glamorous enough to cruise the ruined United States in a limo, will surely expose her own scars soon enough) in vastly different ways. Phil was a crumbled, dirty, slightly deranged husk of a man who was literally in the process of killing himself before Carol showed up. And although Carol exhibits plenty of solid life skills (gardening! cooking! pipe repair! general cleanliness!), she’s not immune to stress. She also has a strong desire to normalize things, which is partially to blame for her eagerness to get Phil to marry her in a ceremony ripped right out of any bridal magazine. The corollary is there: this seems like a normal thing that people in the non-apocalyptic world would do, perhaps if we do it, the world will feel slightly less foreign.
It probably won’t work, but it’s a game try from Carol. (Is it any better or worse than Phil’s cross-country journey to find pals and steal cool stuff? It’s not, and the show puts these different quests on equal footing – anything is fair game in Last Man, especially if it makes its characters feel even temporarily better.)
Like Carol, the so-called unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt struggles to make her life feel both recognizable and “normal” after her own apocalypse. Sure, the crazed madman (haven’t binge-watched the show enough to discover who plays Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne? catch up now) who trapped her and three other women in a bunker for fifteen years told them the world had ended and, yeah, that wasn’t really true, but even when that ordeal is over, Kimmy still has to contend with an entirely new existence. The life she knew is gone – it’s her own personal apocalypse, even if the “real world” is still there – and while Phil might also have the weight of a world apocalypse on his shoulders, these two are birds of a (very funny) feather.
Starting over is hardly a new sitcom concept, and doing the ol “fish out of water” thing is a classic trope of the genre, but both The Last Man on Earth and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt energetically embrace the idea that their main characters are the only fish in a frighteningly vast desert. It’s a big concept for any series to work with, but in their first seasons (and, in the case of The Last Man on Earth, in its first three episodes), both shows have used what could be phenomenally isolating ideas to make warm, funny, and rich shows. It’s the end of the world, but it’s also just the beginning.