Sunday, October 23, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Last Man on Earth' - Phil Leads the Gang in the Search for a New Home in 'Five Hoda Kotbs'

FOX's The Last Man on Earth - Episode 3.04 "Five Hoda Kotbs"

A post-apocalyptic road trip has everyone at war with each other. Gail is really pushed to her breaking point.

Episodes of The Last Man on Earth that primarily focus on Phil's weirdness and how that annoys the rest of the group usually aren't the show at its absolute best. He has grown a lot since his off putting ways of the first season. He genuinely cares about his fellow survivors. He has formed some real friendships with them. And yet, it's still so easy for the show to revert back to Phil being an annoying person in order to define a story for an episode. That's essentially what "Five Hoda Kotbs" does. It's yet another wheel-spinning episode where the gang struggles to find a new home for themselves. It's basically a road trip episode. Road trip concepts can be a ton of fun. In the context of this show though, it just relies too heavily on Phil annoying the rest of the group. That's a dynamic that has been played out and is no longer as effective as it was once. Even Lewis knows that Phil can be an irritating person to be around for a long period of time. Big moments happen in this episode but they do get lost a little bit.

Of course, Phil isn't the only person who is annoying on this journey. "Five Hoda Kotbs" tries to highlight how the entire group can get on each other's nerves. Some of those stories are effective. But again, so much of it ultimately comes back to Phil. His frustrating personality is way more defined than everyone else's. The rest of the group may be just as annoying as Phil but they at least know when to shut up. Phil largely doesn't no matter how much his fellow survivors yell at him. He's the reason behind so much misery for the group right now. They were all determined to live in San Francisco. It was a destination they could all agree on. In the beginning, they were still unified because they had this collective goal they were all heading towards. Yes, they lost cars along the way. But things weren't that bad yet. And then, it's revealed Phil actually burned the entire city down two years ago when he was putting up all the signs across the country. It's understandable and completely absurd. More importantly, it sets up the frustrations within the group for the rest of the episode.

This is a story of the gang on the road slowly losing every vehicle they have. It's funny to watch as Gail's self-driving car just drives away on her. That's an amazing visual. Plus, it's great to see her try to get it to stop like it's an animal or something. It even has a great callback later in the episode when the car reappears and drives straight past the group yet again. That's an amusing moment. It's a comedic highlight in this episode. The loss of the other cars are a little more lackluster comparatively speaking. Lewis and Erica's original car simply overheats. And then, Erica and Carol's car does the same thing because Carol needs the air conditioning on full blast. It is fun to see Carol over act like a pregnant woman. It's this massive change in her life that she embraces full-heartedly. She accepts all of the changes to her body despite how annoying they can be to the rest of the group. Erica isn't being asked to be seen that way. She's pregnant too but doesn't need that kind of attention. It's interesting to see their two different perspectives. But it's such a small part of the overall episode. It feels too truncated to have anything of value. Meanwhile, the A-team van just stalls and it's funny because it means the rest of the group will have to finish the trip in the prison bus with Phil. That's something they just said they didn't want to do. And ultimately, the prison bus stops because Phil didn't fill it up with gas. These are realistic concerns in the post-apocalyptic world. But again, too many of them are defined by how the story can ramp up the awkward and annoying tension amongst the group.

Phil really turns the dial up on his frustrating tendencies. He's more than a capable leader when it comes to going to San Francisco. Sure, he's taken aback by Lewis revealing that he's gay. That then becomes the only thing Phil thinks about. He's giddy with how diverse his new society is becoming. But then, things just take a turn for the worse with him focusing on the Noah's arc nature of this trip. He just wants to follow the road and let the new home pick the group and not the other way around. He wants to lead his fellow survivors to the promised land of sorts. Of course, that only fuels the tension amongst the group. It gets to the point where no one wants to be in the same vehicle as him - including Carol. And yet, they are all forced onto that prison bus where he annoys them through song. Seriously though, it's as if Phil has no off switch and doesn't realize how frustrating he is becoming to the rest of the group. He just wants to have a fun and awesome road trip. The realities of the situation haven't fully set in for him. The situation for the group is dire. They are walking on the side of the road with no city in sight. This isn't the time for fun and jokes. But there's Phil still providing them for no reason whatsoever. It really lessons the episode overall.

Of course, the group does find sanctuary for the night with an outdoor patio store in the middle of nowhere. It's amusing that they question why this kind of store would be at this specific location. But it also forces all of them to come together and actually make a plan. It's something they agree must be done. They need to know where they are going before they fall asleep. After the day they've had though, it's very difficult for them to agree on anything. It's amusing to see all the potential destinations the group throws out. Todd wants Tampa. Erica wants Vancouver. Carol wants to be close to Dollywood. Gail wants Napa. Gail's opinion matters because she is pushed to her breaking point. She's had enough of this group. Things with Todd have turned sour ever since Melissa shot Daryl in the premiere. She's demanding all of his attention because she has taken a turn for the crazy. Meanwhile, Todd doesn't trust Gail because she brought Gordon on the trip as well. Gail feels like an outsider now. Everyone is engaged in this conversation about where to live and Gail just wants out. It's a pretty dramatic and emotional moment for this episode to build towards. It doesn't fully earn it but it is so satisfying to watch because Mary Steenburgen nails the delivery. She no longer sees the survivors as a family. She's done with these people she met at the end of the world. And now, she's going after what will make her the happiest - an easy life in Napa.

And yet, the show isn't actually breaking up the group of survivors. That could be a very interesting story decision. It would be fun to see the group break into two and see which society is able to make something in this world. Of course, the ensemble is always at its best when they're playing off of each other. So, unity needs to be an important part of this world. A miracle shows up in the end that presents a new opportunity for the gang. Melissa spots lights in the distance and the whole group walks towards it. They arrive at a facility that still has full power. It's a cliffhanger ending for the show. The audience doesn't know what's waiting for the group inside. Is it another survivor who has made the most of the apocalypse? Is there simply another power source that has kept this place functional all of this time? Whatever it ultimately turns out to be, it should be a fascinating new location for the show. This is the group's third home in as many seasons. Their actions have forced them to leave the other two places. Home is important for this community. It's where they can continue to develop and build this new society. But each new location has its own challenges. So, it should be fascinating to see what's happening in this new building.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Five Hoda Kotbs" was written by Emily Spivey and directed by David Noel.
  • It's great that Carol makes a replica of the Golden Gate bridge out of Twizzlers to excite her fellow survivors before they arrive at the location. But it's also hilarious when she shows the reality of it being the number one suicide spot for bridge jumpers.
  • When the self-driving car drives away, Gail loses her accordion. That's the only possession explicitly lost during this road trip. That accordion has provided a ton of value over the seasons. But it should be great to see the show find a new comedic and amusing detail for Gail.
  • Of course, it's likely that the group loses everything of value to them during this road trip. All of the vehicles break down and they simply can't carry everything with them. They have their basic supplies and the cow but that's about it. Will they go back and get their stuff once they refresh and find new vehicles?
  • The song that Phil makes up that gives this episode its title really isn't that great. It's Phil at his peak annoying during this trip. But it's mostly just amusing that Lewis doesn't see how the various people are connected.
  • This turn for the crazy has given January Jones a lot of fun material to play as Melissa. Now, she's just running around at random times preparing for whatever may happen. She has no feelings about Gail leaving the group. But she's also the person who discovers the glowing lights in the distance.