What happens when you stage a dramatic thriller, cast a bunch of comedians in it, then force them to improvise with the dramatic actors, and stop the action for comedy challenges to see who can answer story prompts with the funniest tales? It’s the latest TV import from Japan. Only the funniest survives, so to speak. Find out who’s the Last One Standing.
Opening Shot: Comedy duo Chidori stands outside a school, and Daigo says, “Thank you.” Nobu laughs. “That’s what you’re starting with?”
The Gist: Since we’re essentially dealing with a game show wrapped inside a reality TV competition, that’s itself wrapped inside a thrilling drama, we’re gonna need a few minutes of exposition, right? Right?
First we meet our two commentators. They are Nobu from Chidori, joined by Karen Takizawa. Nobu cracks another couple of jokes about his disbelief that he’s starring in a Netflix series. Then we see that they’ll actually be commenting on all of the action, including the filmed dramatic footage that initially seems wildly out of place for a comedy competition. That’s what she said. Takizawa, I mean. And Nobu, too. They express amazement upon seeing a student getting bullied outside of a school is actually actor Mamiya, then even more surprise to see Daigo enter the scene to save Mamiya from the bully. That’s all before the official opening credits.
Nobu asks: “Is this OK? I don’t think the comedy aspect is going to surpass the show.”
Daigo and Mamiya are back in a school classroom, now joined by several students, who we learn are the comedians officially competing on the show. Tanaka, Minegishi, Itakura, Tsukaji, Lio are identified by name by the commentators. A teacher enters, furious about a stolen painting, claiming the culprit is in the classroom. He’s played by Goto, from Netflix Japan’s The Naked Director. Whodunit? But first, it’s time for Survival 1 challenge: “That Time When I Was Hurt,” with seven contestant headshots displayed onscreen.
Lio was excited to get mic’d up for a big gig, only to have the tech mic his manager instead. Minegishi recalled enjoying her final concert so much she looked forward to sharing it on DVD with her kids in the future, only to learn they didn’t think it’d sell so they never even made a DVD. One guy got offered a Hollywood role, learned his lines in English, then somehow failed his audition that was only a formality. Tsukaji was on a TV show with Ryoko Shinohara, and she showed how she could flare her nostrils to mimic his look, only his look is natural. One guy was on a TV show where his co-star didn’t remember his name. Another guy said he chewed a girl’s gum after she was smoking just so he could stay at a party.
Then they begin one-upping each other. Lio counters with the time hospital workers played rock-paper-scissors to decide who’d remove his hemorrhoids. Minegishi revealed a book had been written about her, but she didn’t get the role when they made a movie about the book. Tsukaji remembered when a beautiful actress recoiled next to him on a TV show at the thought of finding him attractive.
And then there’s an official second-round of comedic confessionals, billed as Survival 2. At this point, they’re willing to break the fourth wall and make light of their acting, or the conditions on set, mock their fingers and toes, and then it completely goes into perversion with two different embarrassing stories by the guys about masturbation.
A woman bursts into the classroom to declare who actually stole the painting — and this is how they announce who’s eliminated — it’s Toshiyuki Itakura (and truth be told, from what they showed, he said the least amount of funny things during the challenge).
What Shows Will It Remind You Of?: Japan has a long tradition of outrageousness in game shows, but this one has a new twist or two up its sleeves. It’s almost as if an algorithm pitchbot looked at Squid Game, then saw Murderville, then added a hint of MST3K, and said, perhaps you’d like to see Last One Standing.
Our Take: The Squid Game comparison comes straight from Netflix’s marketing and publicity department. But this isn’t child’s play. And although the least funny players are eliminated in surprising and shocking ways, it’s never quite as blunt or violent as anything we saw in Netflix’s 2021 hit out of Korea.
Future comedy confessional challenges will include “A Secret I’ve Never Revealed,” “Best Tip-Offs,” “Words I’ve Been Shocked By,” and “Passionate Declarations: Scream out against the unjust evil of this world.” It feels as though the comedians will either run out of stories pretty quickly, or have to rely on their improvisational skills and their imagination. And that might be just as funny to watch, too.
Sex and Skin: Not yet. Although the participants tell more than one masturbation story in the first episode.
Parting Shot: We see inside a police station as voiceover narration declares the school incident would soon go global, and then our commentators react upon seeing someone in the station. “It’s Koba!”
Sleeper Star: Sh?tar? Mamiya may not seem like a sleeper, since he’s starred in Japanese TV shows and movies since he was a teen, but Mamiya is not one of the contestants, so his presence and acting grounds the dramatic elements of the series.
Most Pilot-y Line: The most notable thing about the first episode is how often the hosts comment on how notable it is that they’re on Netflix! Example: “I have never seen anything like this on Netflix before.”
Our Call: STREAM IT. It’s fun watching the contestants trying to one-up each other with their stories, and then it’s all counterbalanced by how serious and dramatic the overall plot is that’s going on when they’re not stopping for comedy challenges. I, for one, am intrigued to see how this turns out, and who ultimately is left standing. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
Sean L. McCarthy works the comedy beat for his own digital newspaper, The Comic’s Comic; before that, for actual newspapers. Based in NYC but will travel anywhere for the scoop: Ice cream or news. He also tweets @thecomicscomic and podcasts half-hour episodes with comedians revealing origin stories: The Comic’s Comic Presents Last Things First.