Peter "Hopper" Stone/ABC
Tim Allen, who had success for years on ABC's Home Improvement, returns tonight in Last Man Standing.
Tim Allen, who had success for years on ABC's Home Improvement, returns tonight in Last Man Standing. Peter "Hopper" Stone/ABC
I always kind of liked Home Improvement. Yes, it was corny and sitcommy, but something about the marriage at the center between Tim Taylor and his awesome wife Jill gave it a lot of humanity. Tim was a goofball, but his family loved him, and for good reason. At first glance, Tim Allen's Last Man Standing, the latest in the Masculinity Retrieval Initiative the networks have been running all this fall, seems like an effort to replicate the success Allen had on Home Improvement. But the heart of this show is not nearly so warm. In fact, it's about the angriest, ugliest sitcom a network has thrown on the air in some time.
There is a sense in the pilot that someone sat around a table and said, "We need to make a show for people who are really upset about the fact that sitcoms don't make as many jokes about women, gay men and people from other countries as they used to." And so, in the first episode, Allen's character:
— Snarls in response to his wife's request that he drive their daughter to soccer that soccer is "Europe's covert war for the hearts and minds of America's kids."
— Tells a kid named Kyle that he has a good "man's name," only to be crushed when he learns it's the kid's mother's maiden name. (Side note: If you're going to have your tradition-masculinity-obsessed hero talk about what is and isn't a good man's name, I'm not sure "Kyle" is the best example.)
— Says he likes where he works because it "smells like balls in here."
— Laments boys who play soccer and use hair gel.
— Doubles over in agony about his daughter's boyfriend going to a tanning salon.
— Laughs hysterically at the idea that his wife could drive his truck for a day and he could drive the minivan.
— Encounters a weak, "unmanly" day care provider who doesn't let him call his grandson "champ" because it "implies victory over another person." Said unmanly man invites Mike to meet another kid's "two dads" who are inside making flax and pumpkin muffins. ("Please tell me that's not [the dads'] names," says Mike derisively of "Flax" and "Pumpkin.")
— Directly after hearing about the "two dads," is asked to take his shoes off because they're "building a mosque out of pillows." When he hears this, he grabs his grandson and removes him from the daycare and takes him to the ball-smelling workplace for the day.
— Tells his daughter that her son can't go to that daycare anymore, because he'll wind up "dancing on a float," which Allen follows with an imitation of, I guess, a gay man dancing. If something else is meant by lamenting the possibility that raising a boy wrong will wind up with him "dancing on a float," I'd be happy to hear it. At press tour, when asked whether that apparently homophobic joke would stay in the final pilot (it did), Allen had nothing except that it wasn't meant to be offensive.
There's absolutely no amount of sensible-wife counterbalance that can take the ugly out of all this. The subtext is unmistakable, and it is hostile.
"What happened to men?" Mike asks angrily in a video that goes viral as an apparent result of Last Man Standing's men being ironically desperate for validation of their manliness. But there's really nothing wrong with men. Just men on television.
There are times when Last Man Standing wants to be a fish-out-of-water story about a man living with a wife and three daughters — which it easily could be. Mike's retreat to his buddies at the outdoor recreation shop where he works could work just fine. But the bottom line is that what sends him running out of the daycare are its overly supportive attitudes toward (1) gay parents and (2) Islam.
The entire show is weirdly dated — it uses the word "vlog" (a video blog), which I haven't heard in about five years, it pretends any major salesman could still be surprised that sales are moving from paper catalogs to online, and presents teenage girls as generally shallow and shopping-obsessed. Like NBC's Whitney, it seems like a show from another era, and not in a good way.