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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Last Man On Earth spins its wheels, but at least Jeremiah was a bullfrog

Illustration for article titled The Last Man On Earth spins its wheels, but at least Jeremiah was a bullfrog

There’s no other way to say it: “You’re All Going to Diet” is a wheel-spinning episode of The Last Man On Earth, a frustrating 22-minute pit stop that allows the gang a few more days to hang out in Malibu before inevitably deciding to leave their home. It’s overwhelmingly obvious where the episode is headed as soon as everyone confirms that Pat took off with his boat, but, Phil tries to assuage everyone’s fears but only ends up contributing to a culture of paranoia awakened by the preceding violence and terror. By the end, they all agree that the best decision is to leave and Phil leads them on a brand new adventure to find new shelter.

The problem with a plot-driven sitcom like LMOE is that episodes like these really drag, especially when most of it is spent just moving from one narrative beat to another, arriving at a preordained destination on schedule. In these cases, it’s easy to see the seams in the writing and it becomes a dull exercise in watching characters hit their lines and move around like chess pieces on a board. Of course, it helps if there are enough clever jokes to distract from the mechanical nature of the formula. Luckily, “You’re All Going to Diet” has a couple inspired ones to make the ride a little bit easier.

Let’s start with Phil’s Big Mouth Billy Bass alarm system. LMOE’s production design team has created many memorable visual gags, often the highlight of any given episode, and this one is no exception. The premise is simple: Phil makes an alarm system out of an entire hallway filled with Big Mouth Billy Basses, the animatronic singing prop that spews out the first couple versus of songs like Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” Al Green’s “Take Me To The River,” or in this case, Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World.” It’s a joke best viewed than explained, but there’s something about the staggered repetition of “Jeremiah was a bullfrog” that’s just amusing on face. Yet, hearing it ring out again and again, over Phil and Carol furiously making out, the terrified faces of the gang walking through the house, and then finally over the end credits adds a necessary “Rake gag” edge to it.

The other great joke involves Melissa’s increased paranoia and her commitment to violence and weaponry as the best and only policy for protection. January Jones has always been one of LMOE’s bullets in the chamber, and the series allows her to exercise comedic muscles that never saw the light of day on Mad Men. After Melissa killed one of Pat’s men, played by Jon Hamm, in the season premiere, Melissa has fallen deeper and deeper into a hostile mode that basically amounts to her running tactical drills to avoid dealing with the psychological effects of committing murder. In “You’re All Going to Diet,” it mostly amounts to her cheerily making a sniper’s nest and then showing it off to Lewis who listens nervously as she describes shooting someone in the brain stem. Oh, and it also means setting a bunch of landmines on the beach to stop the next wave of attacks, which predictably surprises Lewis and Phil while they’re playing football on the beach.

But Melissa didn’t think of what would happen when the pressure of the tides starts setting off the mines. This leads to the dynamite climactic scene when the house is under siege by what appears to be Pat and a new gang of cronies but is really just the waves setting off bombs and Melissa’s gunfire aimed at the “targets.” It allows the ensemble to freak out unnecessarily, complete with Gail throwing an axe in the direction of Lewis, the only person who knows exactly what’s going on. With an ensemble as talented and comfortable as this one, sometimes it’s just enough to get everyone in the room and yell indiscriminately at each other for it to work.

Unfortunately, the emotional content of the episode did little for me. It rests on the idea that the Malibu mansion is a home for the gang and that to abandon it is to abandon all the memories there too, which doesn’t really wash because the mansion was less of a communal location, like the Cheers bar or the Community study table, and more of a stronghold to get the ensemble in one place. The place was certainly specific, but it didn’t have much character to it, or at least not as much as the actual characters on the show. While it was touching to watch the gang say goodbye to the various graves and pack up their memories into their outlandish cars, it felt like the episode had no emotional center, again, contributing to the sense of spinning in place. But at least we have the Billy Bass gag to tide us over until next week.


Stray observations

  • Carol redecorating the house was another good joke, courtesy of both Kristen Schaal’s optimistic delivery and the production design team. She transformed all the bullet holes into daisies! She turned all of Phil’s painted threats into positive mantras, e.g. “See you in Hell” becomes “See you in Helsinki, Finland.”
  • Phil tases Lewis after going through the rhetorical rigmarole promising that he wouldn’t. It’s pretty funny.
  • Melissa has an axe station, which is self-explanatory.
  • “He’s a very fearful person…and he eats cat food.”