Steven S. Drachman: The Last Man on Earth, the TV Sitcom that Predicted the Coronavirus

You might remember that a few years ago, Fox aired a sitcom called The Last Man on Earth, presciently described thus:

The year is 2020, and after a deadly virus has swept the planet, only one man is left on earth: Phil Miller (Will Forte). He used to be just an average guy who loved his family and hated his job. Now, in his RV, Phil searches the country for other survivors. He has traveled to every city, every town and every outpost in the United States, Mexico and Canada, and has found no one. As he returns to his hometown of Tucson, Phil comes to the painful realization that he is almost certainly the last living being on the face of the earth. All he wants is for someone – anyone – to find him in Tucson – preferably a woman.

Even more prescient than that eerie year – 2020! – was an ironic plot point, as the show’s producer Jonathan Gabay pointed out yesterday: in the TV show’s fictional world, as in today’s real life, the first celebrity to contract the virus was … Tom Hanks.

The virus on the show was more deadly than (we hope) the coronavirus, but it was equally contagious, and while Phil Miller eventually turned out not to be the last man left alive, he was one of very very few, and hence a new sort of situation comedy was born. What kind of darkly humorous “situations” might one face upon surviving a catastrophe in which nearly the entire world’s population (of humans as well as animals) had succumbed?

Imagine the value of a cache of frozen bacon, stored in a house with a still-functioning solar panel and therefore a still-functioning freezer, in a world in which pigs have gone extinct.

Getting stuck in a malfunctioning elevator might mean the end of your life. If you accidentally left your girlfriend behind at the last gas station, you might never find her again.

If your spouse was in Japan on business just before the virus struck, you might never learn what happened to him.

And remember the astronaut, stuck in the space station as it orbited an Earth that was quickly turning dark?

I’ve always liked these kinds of stories, in which a virus wipes out almost everyone. The Last Man sitcom looked at it all differently. Even before the virus, I thought about this show a lot; now I think about it all the time.


Steven S. Drachman is the author of Watt O’Hugh and the Innocent Dead, which is available in trade paperback from your favorite local independent bookstore, from Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and on Kindle.