“There’s no wrong way to use a margarita pool.”
We all have a new life mantra thanks to Phil Miller, the resigned Everyman inhabited by Saturday Night Live vet Will Forte. Phil Miller is salting the rim of an inflatable kiddie pool filled with tequila so that he can bathe in it, drink out of it, or sometimes do both. Phil Miller, you see, is the last man on earth. And Forte is just about the perfect guy to play this lonely, drunk-and-sticky hero.
“He’s pretty close to what I’m like, pretty much, in my life,” Forte tells me. “There are a lot of similarities between me and the character—the good and the bad.”
Phil Miller, it turns out, is quite like the rest of us, too, which makes watching him both a cathartic and alarming experience. Last Man on Earth, the new Fox comedy from Forte and LEGO Movie masterminds Chris Miller and Phil Lord, explores the bliss, wanderlust, and indulgence—and the frustration, depression, and unimaginable horniness—that follows one man's realization that, in the year 2020, he is the sole survivor of a virus that appears to have wiped out the entire population.
Played with Forte's very specific talents—hilariously idiosyncratic and completely relatable, both at the same time—this is an apocalypse tale that's as quirky as it is bleak. The premise of the brilliant (seriously, check out these rave reviews) first episode is simple: how would a man behave if he was the last person on earth, and there are no laws, no one to offend with your behavior, and literally the entire world is yours for the taking?
For one, he would stop wearing pants.
He would, as mentioned before, bathe in a margarita pool that he also drinks from. Dinners consist of Spaghetti-O's and thousand-dollar bottles of red wine, consumed while wearing Hugh Hefner's robe, and his house would be decorated with a presidential seal from the Oval Office, Dorothy's ruby red slippers, and King Tut's tomb—all pillaged from an RV trip to D.C.
As for how he might behave? After a fascinating—and creatively daring—dialogue-free stretch at the beginning of the episode, the first line spoken by Forte sums that up, too. “Dear god,” he says. “Apologies for all the recent masturbation.”
“Oh geez!” Forte laughs. “I didn't even realize that was the first line, but you're right.”
The realization might be cause for more blushing, given what Forte had confessed earlier. Asked what his response has been to the question he'd grown most weary from answering on the Last Man on Earth press tour—“What would you do if you were the last man on Earth?”—Forte said that he's routinely been forced to admit that Phil Miller's behavior on the show nearly exactly mirrors his.
“Really, the stuff you see me doing in the pilot is pretty much the stuff I would do,” he says. So lots of driving your car into things, blowing things up, and brushing your teeth with beer? “As you can see by the things I do on the show, it doesn't take a lot to make me happy. It's simple stuff like getting to use a flamethrower and torch a bunch of toilet paper. And I get to roll over stuff in a steamroller. That's the kind of stuff that appeals to me: stupid, dumb, fun.”
While Phil's escapades mimic a veritable apocalyptic bachelor party—just without any other guests, and in lieu of a stripper is a female mannequin to lust over—his appearance becomes increasingly barbarian. It's interesting to think about. If you had no one to impress and not a soul was around to judge your appearance, would you still keep up your body and your hygiene and attempt to look smart? Or would you just let yourself go?
For Phil, it's caveman beard and no pants, all the way.
“I'm definitely not a big shaver, so that's already not part of my day-to-day routine,” says Forte of his Duck Dynasty-worthy beard, which took nine months to grow and reportedly scared small children. “And who would really wear pants? I feel like the character is based on what I would do in that situation, and if it wasn't cold I don't think I'd ever sleep in pants. And if I got up and it wasn't cold, and it probably wasn't cold too many days in Tucson [where Phil Miller lives], there was never a need to put on anything but underpants.”
Hard to argue that.
If it seems fortuitous that so much of Phil Miller's vices and rules of living echo Forte's own, it's by design. He created the show and wrote the pilot, conceiving the premise with Lord and Miller, who he’s been friends with for over 20 years. (In fact, it was the duo that gave Forte his first acting break, a role on the series Clone High.)
As Forte tells it, the idea for Last Man on Earth came up early on in a series of days-long meetings he had with Lord and Miller, but was quickly dismissed for being, well, dumb. In fact, the trio had already settled on another idea for a show and were about to run with it—Miller already had his jacket on and was on his way out the door—when someone brought up the Last Man idea one last time.
“I forget who said it, but somebody brought it up again,” he says. “We adjusted one little element of it and the whole season just started pouring out. I don't even remember whose initial idea it was. Probably mine.” (He chuckles at that, obviously kidding.)
The very existence of Last Man on Earth, a very inspired but very non-traditional comedy, is an unlikely one. And that it calls Forte, best remembered for playing fringe weirdos like MacGruber and deplorable racist Hamilton on SNL and a drag queen Jane Krakowski impersonator-lover on 30 Rock, its leading man is even more unlikely.
Chalk it all up to two things: the very specific brand of humor Lord and Miller have built their diverse comedy empire on, and a changing television climate that embraces quirkiness and weirdos more than ever before.
“They have this gift that I don't have,” says Forte about Lord and Miller. It's a talent that shouldn't make any sense at all, that allows Lord and Miller to create such poignant, outlandish comedy aimed at adults like Last Man on Earth and the 21 Jump Street franchise as well as their spectacularly whimsical, kids-friendly animated blockbusters Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and The LEGO Movie.
“I have the weirdness part of it,” Forte continues. “I am very set in my way and have my own sensibility. A lot of times it's stuff that a certain smaller section of the population might enjoy, but it's never been a mass appreciation, to be sure. Chris and Phil have this gift of being able to do stuff that doesn't compromise any of the weirdness, but they somehow can make it accessible. Usually you have to sacrifice some of the intelligence of the piece or some of the weirdness to make it translate, but they know how to succeed without doing that.”
It's still remarkable, however, that an actor as interesting as Forte, who honed his eccentric comedy chops in the famed TV funhouse of Studio 8H and most recently starred in a black-and-white Oscar-nominated film from Alexander Payne (Nebraska), finds himself in his first regular TV role since SNL. Not even 10 years ago, his only recourse would have been to star in a broad, laugh track comedy in which he plays a hapless husband with a bitter eye-rolling wife, not on a series like Last Man on Earth that so unabashedly embraces his unusual talents.
“It probably would've been a completely different situation if Phil and Chris weren't involved,” Forte stresses. “But they've been doing so well that they can really get behind things and their opinions matter.” But as series creator, Forte was understandably worried at first. “My nightmare scenario was, ‘Oh, Fox is going to make these promises that they want to do something different, but then once we commit to doing it with them, they're just going to make us change it all around.’”
But they didn't. And so we're gifted with Last Man on Earth, Forte's Phil Miller, and a running gag about a toilet pool that may end up being the highlight of TV comedy this year.
What's a toilet pool, you may ask? It's that thing where, when you're the last man on earth and water stops running in your house, you cut a whole in your diving board and start pooping into your pool.
Forte giggles when I bring up the toilet pool. Then, proving the genius of the creative minds behind this show, perfectly sums up why it's more than just cheap poop humor—literally. “The pool situation was a great way to shim going from giving it a go to just giving up,” Forte says. “When you really try to put yourself in that headspace, you realize that there is just so much stuff you wouldn't know how to do.”
“I wouldn't know how to do anything!” he continues. “Even the simplest of things you take for granted. I probably couldn't even start a fire. So trying to guess, for most people, what their steps would be to conquer all of these little problems, this seemed like the appropriate thing for Phil Miller to do: build a toilet pool.”
Toilet pools and margarita pools: how terrifying and how glorious to be the last man on earth.