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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Who will be The Last Man Standing ?

     ABC's new sitcom, Last Man Standing, finds Mike (Tim Allen, Home Improvement, Toy Story) being benched from his traveling job when the catalogue is deemed a thing of the past. His wife, Vanessa (Nancy Travis, Hart of Dixie, Becker) gets a promotion at her job, and would like Mike to be at home more to help raise their three daughters. Mike is resistant to this change, but because he is a caring father, he decides to do so, even after he is offered his travel itinerary back.

     Allen is excellent at comedy. He can be broad, such as when he rants about the disappearance of traditional man. He can also be subtle, like when he plays with his infant grandson. He knows exactly who this character of Mike is, and fleshes him out easily in a mere two half hours. Mike is funny, denying his middle daughter, Mandy (Molly Ephraim, Paranormal Activity 2), money so she must get a job. But he is sweet, following her to make sure she's safe as she delivers pizzas.

     Too bad the series itself flounders. Don't get me wrong, it's not the worst new series of the year, or even the worst series about the wimpiness of modern men (I'm looking at you, How to Be a Gentleman). There are even glimmers that something good might be there eventually, given the strong cast and the great chemistry. But Last Man Standing is just not funny. At least, not yet. The situations are absurd, like hiring a professional to baby proof the house. Also, the female characters aren't nearly as well defined as Mike.

     That's a real shame. For a family-based series like Last Man Standing to succeed, it needs a strong ensemble, with everyone pulling their own weight. There is certainly the potential for that here. Travis is a veteran, and could handle some real story about why she wants to re-enter the workforce and feel important in the family. Yet, Vanessa is reduced mainly to supportive lines concerning whatever Mike is up to. Youngest daughter, Eve, is played by Kaitlyn Dever, who tackled a very dramatic, meaty role on Justified this past season without breaking a sweat. Use that to your advantage! Mike's boss, Ed, is Hector Elizondo, whose many credits include Pretty Woman, Monk, Chicago Hope, Cane, and The Princess Diaries. Don't just use him for a punch line! Basically, let the drama have as much breating room as the "funny" gets.

     Eldest daughter, Kristin (Alexandra Krosney, Surviving Suburbia), and Mike's young co-worker, Kyle (Christoph Sanders, Ghost Whisperer), haven't gotten enough material to really tell if they can hang with this cast. But there are hints that they can. Kyle has some wonderful interaction with Mike, who approves of the younger guy, even allowing him to date Kristin, though sad that Kyle seems to be the closest thing to manly left in his generation. If this relationship can get more attention, with Mike mentoring Kyle more, that would benefit the series. Also, Kristin is dating Mike, and suddenly his arm is around her on the sofa. Does the audience not get to see the courtship? The falling in love? Play on that.

     There is hope for Last Man Standing. The primary weakness in the first two episodes seem to be writing, but sometimes that corrects itself once a series finds its legs. Let's just hope that happens before it is canceled, like so many other series have been, or soon will be. The ratings for the premiere seem to indicate it will get a chance.

     Last Man Standing airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

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