‘Battle Creek’ vs ‘The Last Man on Earth:’ Which New Show Is Worth Your Sunday Night?

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Battle Creek v. The Last Man On Earth. (L: Monty Brinton/CBS, R: Jordin Althaus/FOX)

Two new shows are entering the already crowded television landscape this Sunday night. You’re intrigued … but wait, your life is hectic. You really only have time to commit to one. What should you do!?!

Well, that’s what I’m here for—to break them down and help you choose. So let’s compare and contrast to help you make the selection that’s best for you! (And, I’ll reveal which one I plan to stick with.)

Sunday night will see the debut of CBS’ Battle Creek and Fox’s The Last Man on Earth.

First off, one’s a cop ‘drama’ and the other’s a single camera comedy so that might help you decide right there which appeals to you. If you’ve already made your choice based on this, you have my permission to stop reading. If you’re still on the fence, feel free to continue perusing my analysis. Wait, that’s a big word for what we have here as there is no scientific foundation for any of this. Well, whatever it is, here’s some info about the shows and my thoughts.

Ok, let’s start with Battle Creek. The show comes from the creators of Breaking Bad and House, Vince Gilligan and David Shore, respectively, and stars Dean Winters and Josh Duhamel as law enforcement officers working in Battle Creek, Michigan.  Winters is grizzled, cynical Detective Russ Agnew and Duhamel is golden boy FBI Special Agent Milton Chamberlain. The show falls into that weird category of “dramedy,”—it’s serious, no it’s funny, no it’s both!

The Last Man on Earth stars Will Forte as, well, the last man on earth after an unknown and rarely mentioned virus has wiped out the rest of civilization. The series is from Phil Lord and Christopher Miller who are known for their work on How I Met Your Mother and The Lego Movie. This one isn’t a “dramedy” per se, it’s really a comedy but it seems like it will contain some underlying seriousness as the series moves forward.

If you want to add another cop show to your schedule, Battle Creek isn’t all bad, but given its pedigree, I so wanted it to be better and it might be in future episodes but the first one just wasn’t great, mostly because right now it’s nothing that we haven’t seen before. Winters name might be Russ Agnew in this series, but it feels like he’s still Brian Cassidy from Law & Order: SVU. In fact, that may have been a better foundation for this show—”New York SVU Detective moves to Michigan to fight injustice in the crime-ridden state!”

Duhamel’s character is clearly supposed be annoying (he annoys the hell outta Agnew) and really he is. But again, this is only the first installment, there’s room for this guy and his relationship with Agnew to grow and become more interesting. But will any of that happen in subsequent episodes? It’s hard to tell at this point.

As far as the comedy part of Last Man goes, there’s a lot, but it’s not a laugh a second, or even a laugh a minute. It’s a whole lotta Will Forte and I mean A LOT. I think he’s in every single scene of the pilot so you’d better at least like him if you’re going to watch this show. And be aware, he spends a lot of time in his underwear—or underpants as comedians always say because underpants is a funny word (and Forte in fact uses the word in the pilot!) Anyway, I guess there’s no reason to wear pants when there’s no one else around. Said underpants, and Forte in general, are also a soiled mess throughout the pilot which is a little bit of a turn off. (Good hygiene is apparently very challenging in a post-apocalyptic world.)

Having said that, there are some very funny moments in the pilot—let me just mention the phrases “pick-up truck bowling,” “jenga tower” and “margarita pool.” To get to these moments though some people will have a tough time moving through the first 15 minutes of the episode which are nearly dialogue free, feature a lot of destruction and often seem like a series of rather pointless scenarios, but many of these antics by Forte are quite funny if you really think about it and get into the spirit of this adventure.

Battle Creek hands down has a great opening that’s attention-grabbing and tension-filled. Those scenes show that the series does have some promise, if you’re a fan of improvised police work, run-and-gun action, and unexpected stun gun usage.

The look of the police drama is nothing stunning. If anything, it seems to carry that “CBS” look—you know the look that permeates every incarnation of the CSI franchise (except maybe the sun-soaked Miami version). It’s that semi-colorless palette that’s pleasing but nothing extraordinary.

On the other hand, Last Man does have a look that is reminiscent of something—oh, yeah, an Alexander Payne film. Forte must have learned some of Payne’s techniques having worked with him in 2013 on the Oscar-nominated film Nebraska and it clearly shows here.

The truth is neither of these two shows suck but after viewing just one episode neither is what you would call ‘stellar’ either. Both offer something entertaining, but in very different ways.

So which one should you pick? That I can’t tell you, but I can tell you which one I’ll give a second chance.

While I was a bit turned off by some of the (actual) toilet humor on The Last Man on Earth, I find the premise and the direction of the show interesting. A lot happens in the first episode, with an amazing surprise that I hope no one spoils for you and contains an ending that practically begs viewers to return. It’s not “can’t miss TV” but I’ll give it another go and if it continues to please me I’ll stay with it. (Funny I said that because ‘pleasing himself’ is a common theme for Forte on Last Man.)

So, no offense to Battle Creek, but in this “show” down (see what I did there?) I’m going with The Last Man on Earth. What you do is up to you. Weigh in when you make your choice and, just for fun, let the rest of us know why you’re dialing up one show over the other.

Side note—I’m well aware that you really don’t have to choose between the two shows, with that availability of DVRs and streaming, etc. I just thought this would be an interesting way to compare and contrast two vastly different shows. Hope you enjoyed this little exercise. It was fun for me!

Last Man on Earth airs Sunday at 9 p.m. EST on Fox.

Battle Creek airs Sunday at 10 p.m. EST on CBS.

‘Battle Creek’ vs ‘The Last Man on Earth:’ Which New Show Is Worth Your Sunday Night?