“Does everybody know what time it is?” Sadly, yes. It isn’t Tool Time. It hasn’t been Tool Time for 12 years. But imagine the joy of aspiring handymen everywhere when news hit that one of America’s favorite dads, Tim Allen (“Home Improvement”), would soon return to television. However, in true “Home Improvement”/Tim Taylor fashion, not everything goes as planned. In a display of unapologetic intolerance and lackluster humor, ABC’s “Last Man Standing” twists Hollywood’s beloved father figure into an unlikable epitome of all that is (supposedly) “man.” How’s that for a family reunion?
Last Man Standing
Tuesdays at 8 p.m.
The dynamic may sound familiar: Mike Baxter (Allen) is a working father, providing for a wife and three children — none of whom are Jonathan Taylor Thomas (so slide that ’96 issue of “Tiger Beat” back under the bed where it belongs). As a director of marketing for Outdoor Man, a fictional outdoor sporting goods store, Mike attempts to modernize his approach to attracting customers through several online video rants, most of which end in a critique of the fallacies of the “modern man.”
Unfortunately for Mike — and for ABC — his portrayal of a “real” man is equally disappointing. His resistance to modern technology and marketing strategy is matched by a resistance to a modern attitude, free of misogyny and homophobia. Allen, a family-oriented Hollywood icon known for his roles as the bumbling Tim Taylor, Buzz Lightyear and Santa Claus, is awkward and unnatural in the position of unapologetically macho and oblivious “man’s man.”
He’s insensitive: “Do I look like your diary?” He’s intolerant: “The only time men should be dancing is when other men are shooting at their feet.” He’s anything but the typical, loving Hollywood Dad that audiences have grown to expect, falling into the fatherly ranks of characters like Red Foreman of “That 70’s Show,” whose apathy and unorthodox parenting were at least foot-up-your-ass fun.
While Mike occupies himself with preserving the essence (or odor) of “man,” wife Vanessa (Nancy Travis, “So I Married an Axe Murderer”) does nothing to refute the show’s dominating theme of “man power.” Vanessa babies her spoiled, shallow daughter Mandy (Molly Ephraim, “Paranormal Activity 2”), whose intensely over-exaggerated gestures and facial expressions are more appropriate for a reboot of “Hannah Montana.”
As a mother, Vanessa is confusing, for she expects little independence from her children, questioning the need for a job when “isn’t it just easier to give (Mandy) money?” The majority of her scenes feature a declaration of her desire for wine, soon leading to shots of her camped out on the couch, glass in hand, finding solace in television’s latest reality dating competition. Her character is restricted to doing nothing significant, presented as “just another” indulgent woman rather than an active care-giver. When does the actual “mothering” come into play?
“Last Man Standing” forces viewers to question for what kind of audience the Baxter family is intended. The show lacks the wholesome charm of most family-oriented programs — where are the heart-to-hearts and moral revelations?! — yet it doesn’t accomplish the wit or edge of recent Emmy winners.
Think of Tim Allen’s return to television as a family reunion — the one you pleaded and begged and offered a month’s worth of allowance to skip because Aunt Bertha’s intolerable and that one cousin doesn’t understand your disinterest in her new pair of Ugg boots and frankly … potato salad is just disgusting (but of course, with a mother like Vanessa, a little wine might make it bearable). Sorry, Tim. Someone had to say it.