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some of the network’s far superior offerings (‘Modern Family’, ‘Suburgatory’), the show is shot using the increasingly outdated multi-camera setup (laugh track and all).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.”