How The Last Man on Earth Got Me Through Pandemic (and Breakup) Depression
Like many people, I went through what has now been coined a “pandemic breakup.” This term so lovingly refers to couples that were unmarried but shacked up prior to or amid the COVID-19 outbreak. I fell into the latter. My (ex) boyfriend and I had been dating for a little over two years when the pandemic hit and things had been going quite well for us. At first, working from home and living apart during the pandemic allowed us more time together during the week and we got closer...initially.
Around this time last year, at the end of April 2020, things here in Los Angeles were looking up. The curve flattened and there was talk of the world reopening after Memorial Day at the end of May. Both my boyfriend and I’s jobs had even made it official that they were going to reopen offices June 1st. So, when his lease came to an end (and mine had been month-to-month for a while) we entertained the notion of moving in together. We found a two bed, two bath in our price range and we bit the bullet, took the leap, and whatever other cliche metaphor you can think of for a bad idea.
When we moved in together in mid-May 2020, we were under the guise of only working from home for two more weeks before life resumed. Then June happened. The killing of George Floyd happened. BLM happened. COVID cases spiking, happened. And the whole thing, going back to “normal” didn’t. Had we known at the time, we never would have moved in together. Adjusting to living with your partner amid not only a pandemic, but riots, curfews, and more tension in the world than anyone knew how to handle was a recipe for many couples to end.
Unfortunately, we had just signed our lease, and could not break it or afford to move out. So. We hung in there. Until January of 2021. I had been doing really well with my freelance writing the past few months and was at the point of being able to live alone. I bit the larger bullet (why are people biting bullets?) and chose to pay for that over-priced apartment by myself for the remainder of the lease in order to end the relationship and ask him to move out. You know your relationship is bad when that’s the better option. Once he was gone, I felt an overwhelming mix of relief and immense sadness.
Of course I was sad. I had just lost my partner of almost three years. The man I had envisioned marrying and having children with. Despite how bad things got, I loved him, and it sucked. Breakups always do. No matter what end you’re on, it’s painful and takes a lot of time to heal. What makes it even more difficult is remaining in the apartment you two shared together...alone. I couldn’t go in the spare bedroom anymore, which he had used for his music studio. I kept the door shut and blocked it out of my mind.
Seeing that we were (and are as of the writing of this) still deep in the pandemic and working from home, I had nowhere else to go. Aside from my daily jogs or occasional walk to a coffee shop, I spent 99% of my time in that f*cking apartment. Everywhere I looked there were memories. Good. Bad. Ugly. Happy. I needed something to ease my mind. Something that I could do alone, at home, that would cheer me up. My options were pretty limited. As a writer, my favorite way to relax and escape is through stories. Be it books, music, video games, or when I’m feeling especially blue and have zero energy to exert effort - watching a TV show.
My go-to for breakup depression has been The Office, but the show was also deeply loved by my ex and brought up far too many memories of watching it together. I needed something new. Something I hadn’t seen. Something that had no ties to him. Something with at least three seasons to keep me occupied for a while. Something that was the perfect mix of light and dark. Something easy to watch. Something comedic and original. Tall order, especially considering I’ve seen the majority of good TV already.
I opened Hulu one dreary day and scrolled through when I stumbled upon The Last Man on Earth. I’ll admit, I knew nothing about the show. I saw billboards for it years ago while driving around LA, and that was the extent of my knowledge. I clicked it and saw it had half hour episodes, four seasons, good ratings and was considered a dark comedy. I was interested, but what sealed the deal was the logline:
Almost a year after a deadly virus swept the world, Phil Miller (Will Forte) was seemingly the only human survivor in late 2020. As he searches for others and paints signs in every state saying he is alive in his hometown of Tucson, Arizona, he finds no one.
I had to re-read it. A deadly virus in 2020? I immediately looked up when the show aired: 2015. I was floored. How had I gone the whole pandemic and not heard about this show that was so accurately ahead of its time it’s scary? Why was everyone else not talking about the sitcom that literally ran around the premise of a virus in 2020? I needed to find out, so I started watching. Little did I know the wonderful, heart-breaking, comedic genius of a journey I was in for.
Not unlike The Walking Dead pilot, the first episode of The Last Man on Earth is a bottle-neck episode centered around our protagonist Phil Miller (Forte). I was instantly hooked, but my writer's brain had already jumped to conclusions of “how can they possibly fill four seasons of this? Are there no other characters? Won’t this get boring? Maybe this show isn’t so good…” but I had to find out. I’m happy to say I was proven wrong because each episode and each season I grew to love the show and the characters more.
It became my favorite activity of the day. I’d look forward to watching episodes every night when I got done with work and some days when I was really depressed, I’d stop working early and watch the show for a full afternoon. While the show ended back in 2018, I still don’t want to give any spoilers here, because I would have been bummed had I known any of the plot points prior to diving into this incredible gem of a show. For those purposes, I will keep my review broad.
The casting was phenomenal, and I was happy to see so many recurring characters long past the point where I thought they’d be killed off. The writing surprised me, being both slightly predictable and incredibly fresh. Each season had its own feel and theme, which kept the show realistic and edgy as opposed to becoming stale. I was equally surprised at the number of A-list comedian cameos throughout the seasons; Jason Sudekis, Kristen Wiig, Jon Hamm, Jack Black, Will Ferrell, and Fred Armisen to name a few.
The show had heart and a dark sense of humor that never got too heavy no matter how twisted it was. This is in part due to the beautiful casting and flushing out of the main characters. They became my family for a little while, in those dark moments of loneliness during my breakup and the pandemic. They knew what I was going through, but in their own fictional way. I laughed out loud far more times than I had during any other point in my breakup, and I shed a few tears, too.
One of my favorite running jokes was the accordion cover song Todd (Mel Rodriguez) would sing each time someone died. Or how when another character named Phil showed up in season one, Forte’s character was nicknamed Tandy, and that remained his name for the remainder of the series. The show reminded me that there are stories worth telling, relationships worth having, and lives worth living outside of work, outside of hustle and bustle, outside of social media and shopping. The entire premise of the show is based on people who find each other when they think no one else is left, and making a life for themselves with the bare minimum.
It was refreshing. It was funny. It was heartfelt and raw when you least expected it. I was sad at the way the show ended and waited until I finished it to research the cliffhanger of a series finale. FOX had canceled the show after season four, but Forte had plans to wrap it up in season 5. Seeing how relevant the show is now, I vote for a petition to allow these eclectic creators to come back and properly finish what they started. This show was so ahead of its time and that is the mark of truly masterful art. Thank you, Will Forte and all who had a hand in this show, for such a gift of a story that truly saw me through some of the darkest and loneliest times of my life. It will forever be tied to those moments for me in bittersweet (mostly sweet) nostalgia.
Sincerely, lifelong fan and advocate of The Last Man on Earth