The conceit of The Last Man on Earth is that Phil and Carol's relationship is a microcosm of male-female relations, taking a lot of sitcom tropes and adding a hefty dose of insanity. In the latest episode, Phil takes the idea of the sitcom male to the extreme — and makes us squirm in the process.
On the surface, The Last Man on Earth has traded in gender stereotyping: Phil is the freewheeling slob while Carol is the uptight pragmatist who wants to get married. But underneath, there's a lot more to these characters. Carol's presence saved Phil's life, and she's well aware that the marriage thing is a little bit weird. Phil's slovenliness is due mostly to aimlessness; when he finds something he cares about, he can be quite creative and resourceful. But one thing that Carol and Phil have in common is that when they feel uncomfortable, they tend to sink into the worst, most cliched versions of themselves.
When January Jones' character, "Sweet Melissa," steps out of that limousine, Phil's world falls away. When he was willing to accept his marriage to Carol, he became a better, nicer person. Now, however, he feels trapped in that marriage. It's even worse when he realizes that Melissa has been in Tucson longer than Carol has been. He's only married to Carol because he met her first. All these realizations send Phil into a spiral, and transform him into Sitcom Man.
Sitcom Man is not like normal male humans. Sitcom Man throws reason, logic, and self-awareness out the window. It doesn't matter that Sitcom Man just had a perfectly lovely day with Carol, or that he's emotionally invested in her well being — because Sitcom Man was the victim of a sitcom situation. Fate tricked him into marrying Carol! And now that sweet, ordinary, pretty Melissa is here, Sitcom Man wants into her skinny jeans.
I really hope we don't see more of Sitcom Man after this episode. When Carol and Phil butt heads, there's an incredible magic. These are people who aren't afraid to hurl insults at each other, because they know the other person has nowhere else to go. When Phil tries to flirt with Melissa, he's not just a jerk; he's actually boring. The Last Man on Earth made Will Forte boring for a few minutes and it was painful to watch. I get that this is kind of the point, that Phil has to be terrible for part of an episode so that he can move forward, but I hope this is it. Phil's so much more fun when he's honest.
The women, to the show's credit, don't fall into the Sitcom Women pit. Carol is delighted to learn that there's another human being on Earth, and she's very upfront with Melissa about her relationship with Phil and her own craziness. Melissa recognizes that, like her, Carol is just doing the best she can. And the fact that Carol speaks so warmly about Phil makes Melissa feel a little better about her neighbor, even if she's only seen the Sitcom Man version of him.
Eventually, Sitcom Man turns back into Phil, but in a moment that's a little too reminiscent of last week's Carol-Phil reconciliation. We get a moment where Phil realizes that Carol is home and that their marriage isn't a stupid, random thing, and he commits to her. There are, however, two nice things about this moment. One is that it depends on Carol's emotional intelligence. Despite Phil's denials, Carol seems to realize that Phil is attracted to Melissa, but she's not threatened by it. She gets it, and Phil isn't exactly Melissa's type anyway. The other nice thing is that, when Carol holds up her newly crafted door sign with her new hyphenated last name, we realize that Carol is right: symbols and traditions really do matter. They even matter to Phil.
Carol's door (and their marriage) is still a mess, but at least Phil hasn't given up on it. I just hope that we don't fall into too many more sitcom cliches, especially if it turns out that Melissa and Carol aren't the last two women on Earth.