Tandy Miller is “Last Man on Earth’s” symbol of childlike hope in a destroyed world. The truth behind that statement may be met with some resistance from those who find Will Forte’s performance outlandish and annoying, but as a man-child who lost his entire family, seeing this new world through his eyes begins to make sense. And from what we’ve seen, the various masks he has donned throughout the show’s three-season run has found him, in one way or another, hiding from that difficult reality.
In Sunday’s (Nov. 13) episode, “The Open-Ended Nature of Unwitnessed Deaths,” Louis (Kenneth Choi) got a glimpse of the real man behind the clownish facade. When Tandy learned of Louis’ anniversary, and the unconfirmed death of his partner Mark, he took it upon himself to force Louis to face a difficult possibility: Mark might still be alive. Sure it’s possible he isn’t, but in the world of “Last Man on Earth,” the one thing each survivor has going for them are glimmers of hope against a world filled with loss and emptiness.
Dropping his own guard to admit his attempted suicide back in the series opener, Tandy succeeded at getting Louis to the old home he shared with his partner. And through a difficult process in letting go, Louis opened up his heart to hope, and left Mark a note on their front door. That right there was a big step for Louis, as he not only faced his own demons, but saw — even if just for a split second — the man that Tandy really is: Phil Miller.
But it doesn’t look like Tandy is yet ready to face himself, or the truths that got him to this point. Taking a trip back to his Tuscon home, he couldn’t bring himself to visually confirm his brother Mike’s (Jason Sudeikis) death. Once again holding onto hope — while sidestepping an opportunity to fully grieve all he has lost — Tandy leaves Mike his own note. And while he may not have taken the big step of accepting his past to embrace his future — he is a dad-to-be, after all — the moment Tandy left that note for his brother, Louis let his guard down, and let Tandy in.
In Season 1 of “Last Man on Earth,” the man we then knew as Phil hid behind a scraggly beard — even through multiple grooming opportunities. Season 2, the beard remained as he further evolved into a caricature of himself, “Tandy,” and when his brother played the ultimate prank on our unlikely hero, Tandy proceeded to keep the new look of a half shaved head and face through the duration of those episodes — instead of simply shaving the other side of his head to match.
Now, in Season 3, Tandy wears a pair of fake eyebrows to help Carol (Kristen Schaal) ascertain his different emotional states. And while, to an unfamiliar viewer, these details may come off as silly, and maybe even unnecessary, it seems that Tandy is getting closer to dealing with the loss and grief he has held deep down since the series’ opening episode, which saw him try to end it all.
To say that “Last Man on Earth” is simply an oddball comedy would be a disservice to the series. Yes, there are comedic elements in every episode — it can be tough to remember that the community Tandy has brought together are doing their best to survive, while the rest of the world’s population has perished. There’s a fine line between comedy and drama and, week in and week out, the Chris Miller & Phil Lord series balances both genres with wacky brilliance and grounded grace.
If the show is lucky enough to find its endgame, we’re hoping Tandy will finally have the courage to meet his demons head-on, and make peace with his past. Because while he’s provided some silly comedic moments throughout the show’s three-season run, the one thing we’ve not fully witnessed is Tandy’s own progression and growth into reclaiming the man he once was before civilization crumbled. We’re all rooting for you, Tandy… Or should we say, Phil?
“Last Man on Earth” airs Sundays at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT on FOX.