October 12th, 2011
03:13 PM ET
Tim Allen’s “Last Man Standing” was exactly what critics promised: a joke for joke, set design for set design, trope for trope revisit of the early ‘90s.
But while ABC's offering is reminiscent in oh-so-many ways of Allen’s former show, “Home Improvement,” it isn’t nearly as funny. There are laughs, but when you chuckle you’ll wonder how you could be so easy.
Allen plays Mike Baxter, a manly man who travels often for his job at an outdoor sporting goods store. He's also beyond cranky about the lack of real men in today’s world.
According to Mike, his gender has been co-opted by a bunch of AAA-reliant, scared-to-compete, dancing and tanning Internet punks.
To make matters worse, at home he’s surrounded by women and all of their tears, hair dryers and citrus-smelling products. Instead of three sons, as Allen’s "Home Improvement" character Tim "the Tool Man" Taylor had, Mike has three daughters as well as a grandson (his oldest is a single mom). His wife Vanessa, played by Nancy Travis, manages to put up with him - but she also knocks back some drinks. (As an aside: Isn't it about time we stopped with the "suburban mom who drinks glasses of chardonnay like water" stereotype?)
For some reason, Baxter is beyond incapable of communicating with any of his kids except his youngest daughter, “Justified’s” Kaitlyn Dever, who we know is a tomboy because she mutters about “being cooped up with hens” at home (just like dad!).
I get that the juxtaposition of hyper-masculine, old-school Mike with his more feminine, modern world is supposed to elicit jokes, and I think it could. But not the way it's currently written. There's no attempt to inspect gender and family dynamics in a fresh light, and instead of delivering Mike's intolerance with a wink, he comes across as simply intolerant.
Mike also seems to be vying for a crotchety sitcom dad of the year award; in the second episode, his oldest daughter admits even the family doesn't really know why Mike's so angry. But a dad who openly sneers when his middle daughter cries (even when it's about nothing more inconsequential than "Glee") and walks around huffing with hostility and impatience, I’m not particularly interested in watching.
It’s hinted that Mike will change over the course of the series – instead of flying off to distant locales for photo shoots, his boss (Hector Elizondo) tasks him with developing the sporting company’s Web presence. This is also how we learn about Mike's world view, since developing the Website means ranting into a video camera that men don’t hunt these days.
But by the second episode in last night's back-to-back premiere, we do get to see the softer side of Mike, when he trails after his daughter when she's delivering pizzas because he was worried about her safety. I took that as hope that he'll exhibit an ounce more sanity in episodes to come, but I likely won't stick around to see if that happens.
Frankly, "Last Man Standing" lost me with of the poorly played jokes as he dropped his grandson Boyd off at daycare. After learning that "Ruby’s two dads" were making pumpkin and flax muffins and that the kids were building a mosque out of pillows, Mike bolted, grandson in tow.
As he explained to his daughter later, Boyd wasn’t in danger with him at work, at least not as much danger as he would’ve been at daycare. “I just don’t think your kid should go to that school,” he tells her. “You know how that ends up – Boyd dancing on a float.” Yeah, no thanks.
So while I stuck around for the second half of this two-episode premiere, which focused on Mike’s objection to their family home being baby-proofed (real men don't baby proof, apparently), I didn’t need to watch it to know that this show wasn’t for me.
That’s not to say it won’t be for anyone else. As unlovable as Tim Allen’s Mike is, he still knows how to deliver a punchline, and the ratings so far are looking up: "Last Man Standing" was viewed by 13 million overall, according to Deadline.
If you watched it, what’d you think?
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