Is It Really That Bad? Watching ‘Last Man Standing’

After taking a break from bad sitcoms to check out TNT’s thoroughly mediocre ‘Rizzoli & Isles‘, I’m back to subject myself to another seemingly unworthy half hour comedy that somehow remains on the airwaves. This time, I look at ABC’s ‘Last Man Standing’. Once again, I’ll ask some pretty hard hitting questions.

What Is It?

‘Last Man Standing’ is a sitcom that airs Friday nights on ABC. Unlike some of the network’s far superior offerings (‘Modern Family’, ‘Suburgatory’), the show is shot using the increasingly outdated multi-camera setup (laugh track and all). Starring Tim Allen in his allegedly triumphant return to TV, the series follows the exploits of Mike Baxter, his wife Vanessa (Nancy Travis), and their three daughters (Molly Ephraim, Kaitlyn Dever and Amanda Fuller). Baxter is the marketing director of a sporting goods store in Colorado. Considering the show’s exceedingly clever title, I have to assume that most episodes somehow emphasize his status as the only male in the family. And… that’s pretty much all there is to the concept. Wow, how the hell did a thin premise like that make it past a pitch meeting?

The episode I watched, titled ‘High Expectations’, is from the show’s current second season. In this installment, Mike’s youngest daughters run into trouble as they struggle to overcome their father’s (and the writers’) limited perception of them. One is a tomboy who skips soccer practice so she can go to a party, and the other is a seemingly superficial diva who wants her parents to recognize her hard work and talent. Meanwhile, after the family’s new African American neighbors, the Larabees, have their car egged, Vanessa becomes worried that they’ll think the incident was racially motivated. Hoping to make them feel welcome, she invites the couple over for dinner, but apparently unaccustomed to such diverse company, she grows uncomfortable. And by uncomfortable, I mean she acts like she’s never seen a black person before and gets continually tongue twisted from trying too hard to not seem racist. Yes, you read that correctly. And no, I assure you that you’re not caught in some kind of time warp. That’s an actual plot point from a sitcom produced and set in 2012.

Is It Really That Bad?

The core of the episode’s humor revolves around a black family moving into a white neighborhood. If the show were made thirty years ago, this might be cutting edge, sharp, witty material. Unfortunately, unlike the writers, I choose not to ignore the passage of time. The racial comedy found here is so painfully outdated that I almost thought I was watching some kind of ironic parody. Don’t get me wrong, I’m aware that racially awkward situations like this (and unfortunately much worse) are still common, but the writers handle the topic in the most hackneyed way possible, and the supposedly humorous politically correct tip-toeing couldn’t be more uninspired. For instance, when one of the daughters describes the new neighbors, she stumbles over her words, calling them the “Bla — African American family.” Hilarious. Likewise, when Vanessa tries to explain to the Larabees why she hopes they don’t feel singled out by the egging, they seem confused (as we all are) and nervously elaborates, “Because you’re… new.” Nice catch there, Vanessa. Nice catch.

Basically, this feels like a decades-old script that was dusted off, revised to include some Obama jokes, and then thrown at the screen. Even beyond the recycled racial comedy, the episode’s secondary plots feel just as old fashioned. A tomboy rebelling against her father goes to a party and gets drunk. Then her hot older sister, who is not usually known for being responsible, has to come pick her up and save the day. Sound familiar? No? Have you been in a coma for the last forty years? Wait, really? You have? Well then, my apologies, that was very insensitive of me. Moving on…

On a slightly brighter note, the performances are all decent, I guess. Tim Allen sticks to his usual anti-social, “man’s man” routine, which remains mildly amusing. That is, if you find bitter chauvinism amusing. As the sociable but conceited Mandy, Molly Ephraim offers a welcome spark of personality to an otherwise clichéd role. I don’t really have anything good or bad to say about Amanda Fuller. Why? Because she was only in about ten seconds of this episode. Also, it appears that she’s actually the second actress to fill the part of Kristin, taking over after Alexandra Krosney was let go due to the ever popular “creative differences.” (Maybe she actually wanted the show to be creative.)

Though she’s solid here, whenever I see Kaitlyn Dever, I’m instantly reminded of her great work as Loretta on ‘Justified‘. Seeing her waste her talent on this crappy show makes me sad. Thankfully, whenever I see Nancy Travis, I’m instantly reminded of ‘Three Men and a Baby’, and that causes me to think of Steve Guttenberg, and thinking about Steve Guttenberg makes me happy, because Steve Guttenberg makes the world smile. So, at least that evens things out.

Why Is It Still on TV?

Well, uh… Molly Ephraim is cute? Other than that, I think low costs and low expectations might be the main culprits. Considering its unenviable place within the dreaded Friday Death Slot, the show’s ratings are actually solid. The Season 2 premiere pulled a 2.0 in the 18-49 demo, and subsequent episodes have hovered around the 1.5 mark. ABC has paired the series with Reba McEntire’s equally horrible-looking sitcom ‘Malibu Country’, and together the duo seems to be meeting expectations. In fact, the studio actually increased its original season order of thirteen episodes to eighteen. So… hurray?

Should You Bother Watching It?

I guess that depends. Do you hate yourself? If so, then by all means give ‘Last Man Standing’ a go. You certainly won’t be disappointed. If, however, you happen to hold some small measure of self worth, then I’d have to advise you to keep away. Far, far away.

In the show’s defense, this does seem to be a particularly terrible episode. I also admit that I saw pieces of the series’ first season last year (when I accidently left the TV on after ‘Jeopardy’), and it wasn’t quite this horrendous. Even so, there are far better sitcoms out there to occupy your time. Hell, reruns of ‘Home Improvement’ would probably be an upgrade.

Verdict:I Don’t Think So, Tim.

13 comments

  1. Lord Bowler

    I watched this show through season 1 and enjoyed it for the most part. There were some episodes that touched on politically-sensitive issues which were done very poorly. The wife’s given the task of walking the middle line taking care not to offend anyone, but ends up just being stupid.

    This gets worse in Season 2. A perfect example is in the Voting Episode where the wife refuses to take sides and continues to say the line “Where does she stand, no one knows” while waving her arms around.

    The “new” Kristen was incredibly, agonizing in this episode and the Boyd and his father were equally so.

    Kristin, Boyd and his father have gotten better this season, but are by far the hardest to watch.

    The recent episodes where the tomboy daughter takes an stand against eating meat and the environment and the Fracking episode show me that this show is not going to live long.

    So much for a delightful re-boot of Home Improvement with daughters.

  2. Al

    Although it may check off all the critic’s boxes, Modern Family really isn’t that good! Very corny and predictable. Anyway, I started watching Last Man this 3rd season and it’s been quite funny.

  3. mat

    the show is awesome. Me and my wife love it, its funny and good for the family. Now a days if a show doesn’t spend most its time with vulgar language, stupid innuendos and tons of women showing their curves off then it isn’t good for viewing. I don’t want to watch the stupid crap on TV that glorifies young kids having sex doing drugs and trying to live like their in their thirties. I especially don’t like watching shows were the husbands and wives undermined each other constantly. Look its one of the few shows on TV that is still somewhat suitable for family viewing. Look if you don’t like something don’t watch it, but don’t ruin it of others.

  4. Victoria

    Totally agree with you man. Worst show ever.

    To my mind, it is quite clear that this is an attempt to shape society in a way that it is considered natural to see “a little bit of racism” on TV” Not only that, but the politically driven jokes make me reinforce my previous idea. Don’t forget that elections are coming soon.

    Anyone who says “I watch it because it makes me laugh” is showing complete ignorance. It can make you laugh, but that doesn’t make the show right about its content.

    • Steve White

      The shows content is great. Just because you do not agree with the content does not make it wrong. The problem with the left. If you don’t agree with me you are wrong…

  5. JapaneseRamenNoodle

    The “new” Krysten (Amanda Fuller) is terrible. Terrible. She doesn’t fit on the show. She isn’t a dreamy idealist like the original Krysten. Now, we’re stuck with a cynical know-it-all.

    I wish that the show would suddenly switch back to the original actress.

  6. Patriot60

    Up front I am a person of color, otherwise classified as black. I like Tim Allen and I love this show. You liberals need to get over yourself some. This country is becoming way too politicallyrics correct. If you don’t like the show or it’s message, don’t watch!

    • MDE427

      Patriot60 I think this show should be able to appeal to a wide demographic. I’m a middle aged white guy myself, but Last Man Standing, at it’s core, is just a sitcom. No different than The Cosby Show (which was about a rich black family) or Roseanne (which was about a poor white family) …… in this case we have a well off middle aged white guy Conservative who is SO over the top with his conservative views you either laugh WITH the jokes or AT the jokes – liberals should easily find this show funny as well!

      This country is WAY too PC …. and Last Man Standing LOVES to make fun of it too, which I love. And the ‘real-ish’ relationship that Mike Baxter has with his only ‘black neighbor’, Chuck Larabee (Jonathan Adams) is so funny and honest on both ends of their banter. They both say what’s on their minds, they disagree on various things, and yet bond over what they do both enjoy and seem like they would be genuine friends if this was a real world relationship and both men spoke their minds and neither got offended with the other!

      I’ve wondered this for several years now …. are there black people who actually get offended if they are referred to as black? As a white guy I guess I could never get it, but I am called ‘white’ all the time, and I don’t think twice about it. I mean, my heritage goes back to England, Ireland and Germany, but I would never call myself an Irish/English/German American, nor a Euro(pean) American. I was born in America, and I’m white. I’m a ‘white American’. I’m assuming you were born here in America, so you would be a ‘black American’ …. not an African American.

      And you have to somehow just KNOW what to refer to someone as, such as African American, black, white, Hispanic, Mexican, Asian, Asian-American, Arab, Arab-American ….. or someone might get OFFENDED?! Seriously?! … And then you get into genders, which take ALL this to yet another level I never thought possible. If a girl thinks she is a boy, you have to refer to HER as HIM/HE, or if a boy thinks he’s a girl, then you better call him SHE/HER …. and some of them apparently want to be refereed to some ‘gender neutral’ pronouns which I have no clue what they would be, or why/when I would use them.

      Too much PC in this country and too many helicopter parents raising a new generation of totally sheltered children. Differences can NEVER be pointed out or acknowledged, every one wins, and everyone can do anything ……. then these kids reach adulthood and realize they have no life coping skills!

      Freakin’ ‘Murica!

  7. HippiesCrackMeUp

    This show is hilarious. My young kids even laugh at it! Yes it’s a family show, and not all people like family shows.

    If the writer would have watched seasons one and two, he would have found that a main theme is the constant political debate that started in the second season. I’m not a fan of Kristin (the Amanda Fuller version) because she doesn’t have acting chemistry, but I do like the jokes that bounce around between the cast on different topics.

    I think the problem behind people that can’t laugh at it (besides incorrectly believing they have a sense of humor), is that they’re people that take offense to everyone that doesn’t believe like they do. I read the article because I like to hear other people’s opinions, even if I don’t agree with them all the time. Some of the funniest lines are conservative political comments coming from someone who lives in a very liberal city.

    There is no racism in this show, and I think Chuck (Johnathan Adams) fires some of the best one liners of any of the cast.

    I recommend not watching the show expecting to get offended, but relax and laugh at the lines. I think a lot of people will like it. Just give it a few episodes,and just because the setup is not representative of the average family (a little too leave it to beaverish), it’s still fun.

    • MDE427

      HippiesCrackMeUp I think you nailed it ….. this article was written by a 20 something liberal young buck who doesn’t get the humor. How DARE a TV show make fun of liberals and hold conservative views?

      You are correct, this is a family sitcom. That’s the main focus too – sitcom, i.e. comedy! This is a fun show that doesn’t take itself too seriously. They love to take everyday PC taboo stuff and poke fun at it. And you have Mike Baxter’s super conservative viewpoints that are so over the top that liberals SHOULD be able to see this and laugh at it. There is humor in there for liberals and conservatives alike. You either can laugh with the jokes or you can laugh AT the jokes (i.e. some of the absurdity). But what liberals, and probably this writer hear, is rich middle aged white guy conservative ….. and they just check out.

  8. MDE427

    What’s funny is that 4 years later this show is still on the air, still does very well (especially in it’s target demo), and has gotten better as the years have gone on. Unlike other shows, such as Modern Family, I still enjoy watching Last Man Standing. I don’t think it’s a mega sitcom like Friends, Big Bang Theory, Cheers, The Cosby Show, or Roseanne were; however, the show itself, and its subjects, are entertaining and – funny! You can look at it two ways ….. you can laugh ALONG with the jokes, which are conservative in nature (however, Ryan, Kyle and Kristen counter with plenty of liberal gibberish as well), or you can laugh AT the jokes in their conservative absurdity, as Mike Baxter is the stereotypical rich white guy Conservative. At it’s heart, the show is just a simple comedy. The political jokes are there for laughs and both my liberal wife and my conservative self both enjoy the show and the silly banter the same.

    In regards to original Kristen Vs. Long Lasting Kristen, I saw nothing wrong with the original actress in that role, and they could have aged Boyd by 4 or 5 years like they did anyway AND keep her as Kristen. She seemed to fit more within the family look than 2nd Kristen does, and personally, I believe she was much prettier. It isn’t that 2nd Kristen is ugly by any means ….. but original Kristen was the looker. Taking their acting style into account, I actually think 2nd Kristen does a great job, and might be the more believable ‘Kristen’ with where they have taken her story.

    I enjoy this sitcom more than Big Bang Theory and Modern Family, both also favorites of mine, but shows I have slowly lost interest in over the past 2 seasons. While those shows seemed to lose steam, Last Man Standing continues forward with great episodes, and even greater guest stars, from Reba McIntyre, to Jay Leno (who has become a recurring character, which is awesome), to Bill Engvall, to two of his former co-stars, good ole Al Borland (Richard Karn) AND Tim Allen’s former TV wife Patricia Richardson! I have watched every season of Last Man Standing several times now thanks to Netflix, and it’s a show I can turn on, flip to any episode of any season, and just start watching for hours. Great cast. Great writing.

  9. I have to ask, was this four-year-old article linked to on Breitbart or something? We periodically get random comments from people ranting about f’ing Lib’rals and their stupid Political Correctness. Meanwhile, the review barely even mentions politics, which had very little to do with Steven’s judgment of the show.

    Where are people coming from that they keep finding this article years later?

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