The male gender is in the midst of an existential crisis. At least, that’s what you’d think if you only watched ABC from 8 to 9 p.m. on Tuesdays. “Man Up!,” and its lead-in Tim Allen vehicle “Last Man Standing,” are both about men fumbling their way through modern masculinity. Damningly, it is more flattering to justify the existence of “Man Up!” as a counterbalance to the slate of women-dominated sitcoms that have premiered this fall (“New Girl,” “Two Broke Girls,” “Whitney,” et al.) than as legitimate comedic enterprises. The show is a cesspit of flaccid writing and disinterested acting. There’s no reason for it to be on the air.

Man Up!

Pilot
Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m.

ABC


The characters of “Man Up!” are broad to the point of parody. Straight man and lead Will (Mather Zickel, “Delocated”) is basically Phil Dunphy of “Modern Family,” down to the hairstyle and vocal cadences. Craig (series creator Christopher Moynihan, “100 Questions”) is apparently the designated man-who-has-emotions. Kenny’s (Dan Fogler, “Balls of Fury”) character is pieced together from cutting room floor lines written for Zack Galifianakis. Apparently, strong female character backlash is going strong because Beth (Teri Polo, “Meet the Parents”) and Brenda (Amanda Detmer, “What About Brian”), the two women in the show, do literally nothing other than cluck at their man-child counterparts.

Structurally, the “Man Up!” pilot is like what a film school student would have written after the first day of class. Every joke is telegraphed. The third act ties everything together, in a “Look, Ma, I’m tying everything together like the professor told me to” sort of way. The episode is thrown together to showcase flat plotlines, and the result is, well, flat. The driving element behind the story is Will worrying about his son’s manliness, even though said son seems like a perfectly fine kid. Craig tries to break up an ex’s wedding by playing her “Brown-Eyed Girl.” This leads to a fight scene, which only serves the purpose of setting the visual gag of children’s balloons floating across a suburban yard like tumbleweed. Sadly, that may be the funniest part of the episode.

So the characters are flat and the plot is a mess. Unfortunately, the thematics are the worst part of the show. While the “women are funny too” subtext of other current shows is problematic in terms of gender politics, it pales next to this jumble. If the show is trying to explore modern manliness, or aspire to some kind of paleo-masculinity, it has failed miserably. The guys who supposedly need to be more manly shrink away from a fight. Brenda’s crypto-Old Spice guy boyfriend, who’s only there to make her ex Kenny jealous, fights everybody and gets arrested. This is the big learning moment. Modern manhood is reduced to pretending to stand up for yourself like you would in “Call of Duty,” then letting some kind of chiseled He-Man do the dirty work. This isn’t “The Wire.” This doesn’t even reach for the heights of “Two and a Half Men.”

Comedies have been basing gags on the “men stupid, women smart” dynamic for about as long as there have been comedies. “Man Up!” doesn’t have anything new to say, but the show’s vacuity is obscured by its own cluelessness about what exactly it wants to say. This is a nebulously conceived, poorly executed rehashing of tired and broad comedic tropes as extraneous as the exclamation mark in its title. Stay away.

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