I must confess, I did not expect the makers of The Lego Movie to get dark.
It doesn’t surprise me that they created something with deeper meaning, because in general, they’ve always done that. But while I expected The Last Man on Earth, which debuted on Fox last night, to be satirical, I didn’t expect it to hit me where it did. I may be married now, but I was the lone, undateable nerd for a good decade or so, and in concocting a post-apocalyptic scenario, Chris Miller and Phil Lord have perfectly encapsulated what it feels like to be there, to the point of giving me flashbacks. For when you feel undateable, you might as well be the last man on earth.
Here are the ways the essential truths of the solo-nerd life are conveyed by the show.
1. Freedom to Do Whatever You Want Is Fun as Fuck…Until It Isn’t.
Once you have your own place and your own income, you have unlocked a life achievement that is as awesome as everything in a Lego theme song. Meet whatever work responsibilities you yourself have set, and the rest of the time you can party, and spend the remainder of your salary on whatever you want. But that never lasts, for many reasons. I used to buy Sideshow toys when their figures were $60 a pop. Now they’re $200. That’s a superficial example, but it’s also a metaphor.
The truth is that doing what you want all the time, paradoxically, won’t give you what you want all the time. Before meeting each other, my wife and I both, individually, used to use shopping as a way to kill the blues. I’d go out, buy some toys, get some ice cream, an wind up in a bar. It was fun while it lasted, but at the end of the day I’d be just as depressed. The unpredictable element somebody else brings is essential, and is ultimately the same reason that the Star Wars movies in which George Lucas was forced to collaborate are better than the ones where he had total control.
2. Messes Are Fantastic…Until You Have Guests.
After the apocalypse, Will Forte’s Phil Miller does what many of us men do anyway when single (and some even do after marriage – Shhhh!) – he throws bottles and cans on the floor, gets drunk whenever things frustrate him, and turns his diving board into a toilet because nobody’s there to tell him not to. In what sounds like a masterstroke until you actually think about it, he fills a kiddie pool full of margarita and bathes in it as he drinks it. So he’s getting wasted while downing his own ball-sweat.
In real-life, nobody’s going to participate in that with you. You can come up with ice slides and multiple straws, but if you ever hope to have company again, nobody is drinking margaritas that might have your ass hairs in them. And frankly, that will include you after a while.
Phil may not have to impress others – but you live in a society, and if you don’t want to be friendless, thinking about fresh fruit-blended margaritas might be to your benefit.
3. Collecting Stuff Rules…But Who Are You Impressing?
One of the things I’ve learned being a long-time single and part of a couple years married is that people need to love, and that love finds a way. If it doesn’t find a person, it finds a thing; be it model train sets, sports-team super fandom, or collecting toys and comic books, folks will have their passions. Other people might tell you you have to give up your passions in order to connect with somebody else, but that’s a simplistic take – it’s true that your vehemence with an interest may be off-putting, but it’s also true that if and when you do connect with someone, they will matter more to you than that hobby, and you might wonder how said hobby could have so dominated your thoughts. But the fact is, you needed it then.
At the beginning of The Last Man on Earth, Phil drives through every state to see if anyone is left alive. By the time he has ruled out all 50, he owns the Declaration of Independence, dinosaur fossils, and paintings by Rembrandt and Monet. He has officially pwned even those of us who have scraped together enough to buy a Hot Toys figure or two. But does any of that matter to the Last Woman on Earth? Not really. She is less than impressed with his cavalier treatment of them. Moral: who you are is more important than what you have. Even when a woman is grudgingly willing to have sex with you anyway because you need to repopulate the human race.
4. Women Have Weird Quirks Too.
There’s a tendency to think that when you’re otherwise a fairly together dude, but alone, that finding the right woman will be the thing to save you. And let’s not limit this to guys – women who are searching can place an equal burden on finding the right Prince Charming or “partner in crime” – online dating seemingly offers choices so vast that any imperfections can be checked off on some imaginary scorecard as the pursuit continues.
What Phil and Carol (Schaal) go through is no different than what most actual, mature people who have stopped moving through the apparent menu options of Internet profiles do – understanding that real people invariably have real flaws. And for those of us raised on media depictions of romance, that can be a super-tough realization.
The parking-spot issue is such a perfect example that I applaud the creators. For years, in rebellion against my father’s endless circling of lots to find “somethin’ a little closer,” I would park anywhere I liked and walk with big strides toward the store. Fate then gave me a wife with a back injury who can’t walk far, to the point where major arguments have erupted over matters of feet from the stairwell in terms of parking.
Her baggage trumps my baggage by far on this issue. But long stretches of being alone can make you fail to see how important realizations like that are.
5. I’m Messed up, You’re Messed up.
As a follow-up to that last point, acknowledgment of eccentricities on BOTH sides matters. Phil likes his Jenga tower. Carol likes sentences not to end in prepositions. Is it more important to make a human connection, or for both to refuse to humor those weird quirks that don’t actually hurt anybody?
So far, it feels like Carol is classic OCD while Phil is a sociopath, and I haven’t studied psychology enough to know if that’s a super-great match. But I like that by the end, both seem to have some idea that acknowledging the other’s needs matters. In real life, I think a lot of people bail rather than understanding that point.
6. When It Comes to Relationships, Tom Hanks Is Right About Fucking Everything.
Figuratively, of course – Tom Hanks does not actually advocate gonzo porn.
In The Last Man on Earth, Phil mocks Cast Away over the creation of Wilson, Hanks’ volleyball pal with a face – then, days later, creates several faces-on-balls to be his buddies. But that’s not the only thing he – or the rest of us – could stand to learn from Tom Hanks movies. Like…
-Be willing to give up everything for a true love even if she’s really weird (Splash)
-Terrible haircuts are irrelevant if you’re super-good at what you do (The Da Vinci Code and its sequels).
-You can be a total moron and still save the day if you always clearly mean well and stay honest (Forrest Gump)
-However perfect Meg Ryan seems, she will always have issues, and you just need to be okay with that (Sleepless in Seattle, Joe Versus The Volcano, You’ve Got Mail)
-If you try to be everything and play every role, you will come off creepy (The Polar Express)
-Your obsession with D&D is best put on the back-burner (Mazes and Monsters)
-Potential mates are cool with you being a big kid…AS LONG AS you have a great job and an amazing apartment (Big).
-Don’t try to be someone you’re not (Dragnet).
7. Taking a Shit in your Water Supply Is Really Stupid. Metaphorically and Literally.
Are we really so hung up on the splashing sound that it matters above all else? Let’s review: You live in Arizona, in the desert. Your water may be limited. You have a pool and/or a fountain containing a finite amount of H2O.
Do you forget all of a sudden that sandboxes work very well for most animals, or do you poison your water supply for the sake of a splash (and, admittedly, two cheap sight-gags)?
How you answer will determine whether or not you are smarter than the leads.
Luke Y. Thompson has been writing professionally about movies and pop-culture since 1999, and has also been an actor in some extremely cheap culty and horror movies you will probably never hear much about (he is nonetheless mostly proud of them, as he met his wife on one). As editor of The Robot's Voice since 2012, he can take the blame for the majority of the site's content, all of which he creates because he loves you very, very much. (Although he loves nachos more. Sorry.)
Prior to TRV, Luke wrote for publications that include the New Times LA, Los Angeles CityBeat, E! Online, OC Weekly, Geekweek, GeekChicDaily, The L.A. Times, The Village Voice, LA Weekly, and Nerdist