Last week, Last Man On Earth unceremoniously sent Pamela and Glenn back to the mainland to search for Glenn’s likely deceased children. Thus, “Wisconsin” is the first episode this season just to feature the core ensemble (plus Jasper, who wanders in and out of frame depending on the needs of any given scene). The result is probably the best type of episode that LMOE can accomplish at this stage in its run. It’s pretty funny with a sentimental core, it features a surprise twist, and its narrative strongly relies on well-established characterizations. Most of all, it once again reaffirms the thematic thrust of the series—calamitous situations inevitably inspire makeshift communities that eventually become families—after three episodes of general wackiness.

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If that sounds at all half-hearted, it’s only because the series has gone to this same well more than a few times. LMOE has always maintained a tricky tonal balance between utter silliness and unbridled melancholy. Oftentimes, the show leans on the former to avoid constantly dealing with the bleak reality of the characters’ situation, but then eventually it tips the scales back towards the latter so it doesn’t lose its tenuous connection to realism. It’s not that this strategy doesn’t work, hence a very good episode like “Wisconsin,” and yet it can’t help but feel a little warmed over at this point. It’s just a little too familiar.

The episode follows the old Malibu Crew adjusting to their new life in Zihuatanejo, Mexico. Carol and Tandy have cleaned up the broken down medical clinic and offered everyone their own room inside. Naturally, everyone politely declines this invitation since they want their own space. Though hurt by the groups’ unwillingness to live together, Carol tries to take this in stride, even though she really believes that she’ll miss many precious family milestones if everyone doesn’t live within the same complex.

It’s classic Carol for her to take a mild display of independence as a personal affront, but it initially seems a tad dramatic even for the character. Nonetheless, Carol’s feelings of exclusion are only compounded when she discovers that Gail and Erica threw a dinner party with only Todd and Melissa. Though it was a legitimate oversight (Todd and Melissa came over to grab some coconut oil and stayed for dinner; Gail had “wine legs” and didn’t walk the mile to the clinic), Carol takes this as a sign that she’s falling out from the group.

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So how do Tandy and Carol handle this social development? They play a pretty nasty prank on Gail and the rest of the group by faking an early labor over the radio. Gail rushes over to the clinic where she finds Tandy posing as Carol’s baby. Neither she nor the rest of the group is at all amused, especially Todd, who, after 36 hours of sex, sleeplessness, and energy drinks, is completely depleted. But when the gang gets back at Carol by faking grievous injuries over the radio, they fail to take seriously Todd’s honest cries for help. Amidst the others’ jokes, he has a heart attack in the grocery store.

For what it’s worth, the Todd twist caught me by mild surprise, especially after Carol’s obvious ruse. It’s possible that LMOE would kill a main character so suddenly, as they’ve done the same with guest stars all the time, but it became clear that they weren’t going to send off Todd in such an abrupt manner (though it would’ve been more powerful if they had). Instead, it turns into a testament to the group’s teamwork and resolve. They hook Todd up to a heart monitor and he slowly wakes up on his own. Crisis averted.

By the end, Gail tells Carol that the group functions better together than apart, so the group agrees once again to live under the same roof, just not in the medical clinic. It’s a nice sentiment, though it’s slightly undercut by the fact that the series has repeated this more than a few times. Yet, on its journey to that belabored point, the episode has a few nice grace notes: Todd whispering “Wisconsin” to Melissa over the radio; director Jennifer Arnold shooting Todd’s unconscious body in a long shot; Gail telling the gang that Todd’s heart attack “just is,” rather than an event directly caused by anyone. LMOE can still pull off these moments, so it’s certainly possible it could still pull of a whole new kind of episode. On the other hand, sometimes the formula works. When The Kink’s “Strangers” kicks in on the soundtrack, it’s easy to get swept up in the glorious moment.

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Stray observations

  • Some of Tandy’s goody behavior this week was a little too forced. The “Closure” song feels like an extended rake gag on the downslope at this point, and the junkyard magnet stuff went on a little too long, even if the hammer erection sight gag inspired a laugh.
  • Todd and Melissa’s role-play extravaganza is pretty funny, especially when Todd’s just worn out but goes along with Melissa’s schoolyard bully routine.
  • Carol writes another edition of her newspaper just for Gail. Headlines include: “Shun in the Oven: Pregnant Woman Scorned” and “Study Finds Walking A Mile Not That Hard.”
  • “I was teaching Jasper some junkyard science and then Gail came by and taught me about medieval gravity.”
  • “You know, we have coconut oil, too. We have it, too.”
  • “Faking a birth is one thing, but falling down a snake well and getting caught in a bear trap respectively is no laughing matter.”
  • “Life really goes on, doesn’t it?” “Well, generally yes…”

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