Well, they really can't all be winners, can they? Right outta the gate, Last Man on Earth was one of the more consistent comedies on television, with a lot of its appeal stemming from co-creator/writer/star Will Forte's ability to dip his toes into some pretty dark dramatic territory without ever betraying the series' full-on comedy roots. When neither aspect of the show is working, though, it's painfully apparent.
"Find This Thing We Need To" is a full twenty minutes that could have easily been compressed into the first ten or eleven of a much more lively episode, not to mention a more dramatically satisfying one. Last Man has been leaning heavy on the narrative tension this season, and with the Mystery of the Wayward Gail it mostly worked. Waiting to figure out whether or not she'd be found, and then to learn whether or not she'd killed herself (Jesus, remember when this was show about a dude who filled kiddie pools with margarita?) worked because it had some serious narrative stakes with a beloved character's fate at their center. This episode, though, hangs on the mystery of the Yoda mask-wearing figure who popped up in Carol & Gail's mommy/daughter photo op last week. It's a relatively uninteresting mystery for a number of reasons, chief among them the fact just a few weeks ago we were introduced to a new character who hasn't bumped into the main yet. So being that we know there is a stray Kristin Wiig somewhere out there, having Yoda Mask turn out to be an actual small boy might be an interesting narrative twist, but it'll still amount to an out-of-nowhere plot contrivance, and definitely not one that warranted being dragged out for an entire episode. (Seriously, if it turns out we waited an entire week to find out that it's some random kid tooling about in the woods, I'm not going to be stoked.)
Tandy's search for Yoda Mask ultimately just goes nowhere, and makes the episode feel like little more than filler. As mentioned, this reveal could have come at the episode's halfway point and the result would have been a much more interesting, much less stagnant episode of TV. Instead, Tandy, Erica, and Carol tread water for 20 minutes (the latter two even just disappear for a bit and don't really remark as to where they were) and don't even have a lot of good jokes to fill in the time.
Back at the office building, Gail and Todd work hard to figure out why Melissa keeps talking about Santa's penis, a marginally-funny thing for someone to say, but one that gets less funny every time someone says it. Mel Rodrigues gets a chance to do that thing where he deconstructs some kind of joke to comedic effect, and as usual it's perfect, but this B-plot doesn't have much to offer in the way of urgency or jokes, either. Todd and Gail get a little closer as Todd learns a bit more about what Gail went through while she was trapped in the elevator, but their storyline for this episode amounts to little more than "they figure out that Melissa was talking Clozapine." Which is why she was saying "Santa's penis." Because "Claus-o-peen."
Yeah, I don't really think it tracks, either.
Not every great show is without its fair share of lackluster episodes, and this isn't a terrible episode of television by any stretch of the imagination. It just has the unfortunate (or fortunate? I don't know) distinction of belonging to an otherwise superb show, and is therefore judged against a higher standard. When you're having a season as consistent as Last Man on Earth is currently having, it's easier to overlook an episode like this one, even if only by virtue of the fact that it's so nice to spend a half hour with these characters each week. At any rate, next week's promo seems to promise a good amount of forward plot momentum, which ought to jolt things back to life. Luforwatoot.
Oh, and also...
• "Did you see that? I did a little roll out." I need to know whether that little Kristen Schaal moment towards the end was scripted or not, because it was sublimely perfect.
• Gail's curious "What'd she say about it?" made me so glad this show didn't kill her off.
• "Tandy, I thought it was an obese acorn, myself..."