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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

It's time to Man Up

     ABC's newest sitcom "Pilot," Man Up, finds three guys wondering what defines masculinity in 2011. Will Keen (Mather Zickel, The Cape, Delocated) searches for a very special 13th birthday gift for his son, Nathan (Jake Johnson, Little Monk). Will's brother-in-law, Kenny Hayden (Dan Fogler, Balls of Fury) still lets his ex-wife, Bridgette (Amanda Detmer, What About Brian, Private Practice), get into his head. Which she loves to do, made easier by the fact that she remains best friends with Will's wife, Theresa (Teri Polo, Meet the Parents, The West Wing), and so is always around. Craig Griffith (series creator Christopher Moynihan, 100 Questions) would really like his ex back, but she's getting married.

     In 2011, many men are no longer defined in the way that their parents and grandparents were. For instance, Will's narration covers how his grandfather and father both fought in wars. Sure, there are still soldiers overseas, but without the draft, and with the implementation of drones, there seems to be less manpower needed. Instead, many men today have embraced more feminine traits, such as keeping good hygiene and pampering oneself from time to time. Even the more widely accepted "man-like" activities, such as playing video games, are tame. Thus, Will, Kenny, and Craig are left wondering how, without uprooting their entire way of life, should they demonstrate that they are men? This message is especially apt for Will, who must provide a standard of man for his son Nathan to look up to.

      Not all men will relate to Man Up, of course, but that applies to any other television series as well. For those of us that do identify with the "weaker" end of the spectrum, though, Man Up tries to show that there are new ways to be a man. In "Pilot," when Craig angers his ex's new guy, and some males arrive at Will's house to seek revenge, the central trio still head out into the yard, thinking that they must engage in violence to be manly. Yet, once Bridgette's date handles the physical end of the altercation, they are only too proud to claim they act in a manly fashion, even without throwing punches. This is a message guys who have no desire to fit into older generations' definitions can get behind.

     Arguably, Will is as manly as he needs to be. He provides for his family, sets a good example for his children, is a loving husband, and a good friend. Where all three men fall short, though, is letting women control them. This is not necessarily a great message, as equality is the more desired option. Will uses an offer of sex to get free time for video games, knowing his wife will turn him down, but compromise. Is this a sign that he is subservient, or merely that he can play the game?

     Kenny and Craig have it worse. Craig can't get over a woman that no longer wants him. Kenny lets Bridgette yank him around, even going and bailing her date out of jail, post-fight. Is Man Up saying that modern men have gone from patriarch to second-in-command of the household or relationship? If so, that's a sad state of affairs. And yet, the way it comes across in the story, these guys don't feel whipped, and are mostly satisfied with their lives.

     Questions of gender roles aside, Man Up proves far funnier than expected. From frequently replacing the f-word with fluffin' (this is network TV, after all), to holding Toby Maguire, of all people, up as the standard men should measure up to, the laughs keep coming. Bridgette is a wonderfully delicious drama queen, and Nathan is so un-manly, he cuts himself as soon as his father gives him a knife. With characters such as these, as well as delightful chemistry between the three main men, Man Up should prove to be a decent addition to the airwaves.

     Watch Man Up Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

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