November 3, 2012




WHERE WE WERE:  In the home and workplace of Mike Baxter (Tim Allen).  Not just a man’s man but a sitcom dad’s sitcom dad, Mike argues the cause of hunting, fishing, and all other middle-class-straight-white-male pursuits in the vlogs he does for his sporting goods company, where he works for Ed (Hector Elizondo).  At home, though, he’s surrounded by women, namely wife Vanessa (Nancy Travis), single mom and oldest daughter Kristin (Amanda Fuller), airhead middle girl Mandy (Molly Ephraim) and teen Eve (Kaitlin Dever), and they regularly run circles around him.

WHERE WE ARE:  Aside from a recast Kristin and a shift in showrunners from Kevin Abbott (who moved over to run Last Man‘s ABC companion piece Malibu Country) to Tim Doyle, pretty much the same place.  For its second season premiere, Last Man reached all the way back to 1970s sitcom history for its model:  All In the Family, with Mike all but explicitly cast as Archie Bunker.  The episode, written by Doyle and Jon Haller, and directed by John Pasquin, had its first act set on this very night, November 2, 2012, just a few days before the presidential election, with Mike filling his front lawn with Romney signs while Kristin argued for Obama, both sides fighting for Mandy’s first vote.

All In the Family wasn’t exactly subtle in its politics, but it had strong characters and truly funny writing. Even 30 Rock, with a very similar premise this past week,had one of its weaker episodes, and Last Man Standing is not, to put it mildly, the place to go for deft satire.  Basically Allen and Fuller spent the episode reciting campaign rhetoric to each other, up to and including Romney’s dog strapped to his car roof and Michelle Obama’s fashion sense, and Vanessa’s running gag was that she never lets Mike know who she votes for.  Very little of this was clever or laugh-provoking, and certainly it wasn’t surprising, although viewers who’ve somehow managed to avoid every bit of reporting and all campaign ads for the past year might have found it mildly enlightening.

Every episode of Last Man Standing tells essentially the same story.  In the first act, Mike takes some extreme, close-minded position (more often about family politics than the governmental kind), and although he mounts a steady defense of one-liners, by the last commercial break, his women-folk have done an end-run around him and he’s learned a little lesson about changing times.  (In this episode, even after Mandy decided to vote Democratic, Mike acknowledged that it was more important that she vote her heart than that she vote his way, awwwww.)  It’s not easy to find a show that makes Guys With Kids look progressive, but at least its male leads exist in this millenium.  The show isn’t a total loss.  Allen is very professional at what he does, and Nancy Allen is effectively self-effacing as mom and wife, plus Kaitlyn Dever, who in happier times had a superb recurring role on Justified, flashes some of her talent from time to time.  However, it all adds up to predictable, tired comedy, little more than fun for the geriatric set.

Last Man Standing was a bubble show last season, with a 2.6 average in 18-49s that’s misleading because the show started off fairly strong, then declined throughout the season, winding up in the mid-1s.  Rather than cancel it, ABC had what may have been the good idea (we’ll know tomorrow) of pairing it with the equally old-fashioned Malibu Country, trying to establish a comedy hour on Fridays, when the audience is smaller but older.  As the worlds of broadcast and cable TV continue to merge, that hour represents a weekly merger of TV Land’s sensibility with ABC.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."