The Last Man on Earth, premiering Sunday on Fox, is a comedy, but it might as well be a drama. Set in 2020, after an unspecified "virus" has wiped out humanity, the show follows Phil Miller (Will Forte) as he attempts to settle down in a mansion in Tucson, having roamed the continent in an RV in a failed search for other survivors. Immediately, the show is taking on two basic comedic challenges: Can you wring laughs from a hopelessly depressing premise, and can it be done with only one character on screen? The answer to both is yes, but more impressively, The Last Man on Earth never tips into ludicrous pastiche. For its laughs and its light touch, this is an emotionally grounded tale, with all the drama and darkness that comes with that.
Although an apocalyptic comedy is rarer than an apocalyptic drama, it's hard to ignore just how many times the latter type of story has been told in television and film recently: The number of dystopias with their own specific backstories and rules is too vast to list in full (The Walking Dead, Revolution, and This is the End are recent examples that come to mind). Forte, who wrote the pilot, and directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (the wizards who made The Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street) wisely steer clear of gory details. The virus that scrubbed the earth of life isn't explained, and the streets of Tucson aren't littered with corpses or overrun by animals. None of the show’s comedy would work if viewers didn't accept the blank slate it's being projected onto, so the fewer details to nitpick at, the better.