Review: Last Man Standing 1×1-1×2

Home Improvement, only slightly smarter and not as funny

Last Man Standing

In the US: Tuesdays, 8/7c, ABC

Today, I am feeling charitable. Here we have Last Man Standing (not to be confused with Last Man Standing), Tim Allen’s return to sitcoms, in which he finds himself out of work and his wife getting a promotion, so finds himself having to stay at home to look after the kids and the house. His character is a clueless embodiment of patriarchy and “manliness”, a man’s man who loves rooms that “smell like balls” and thinks men should only dance when people are shooting at their feet, who has no idea what Glee is, and takes babies to Blowdart and Shotgun emporia. It’s also a single camera comedy with an annoying laughter track and no fewer than five nuclear power stations flooding every set with over-lighting.

Normally, I would hate it and hit it with bricks.

And I do still largely hate it, because it’s barely in any way funny, largely trying to get by on obvious and offensive one-liners that really should be shot at and forced to dance.

But instead, I’m going to be charitable and claim it’s educational. Yes, educational. It may suck, but like all the new multi-camera comedies this season that are virtually laugh-free (e.g. 2 Broke Girls, Whitney), lots of Americans are watching it (13m in this case) and the kinds of people who are watching it probably need to know what a vlog is, understand that throwing giant fish they’ve just caught onto their children’s homework is bad, and need to know that it’s okay for men to stay at home and look after the kids.

Isn’t that nice of the producers – and me?

Here’s a trailer.

TV titan Tim Allen returns to ABC as Mike Baxter, world voyager and one daredevil of a marketing director who is about to face his greatest challenge yet…his family.

After Mike’s wife, Vanessa, (Nancy Travis) receives a promotion at work, Mike must spend more time in his female-dominated household. With years of advice and guidance from their nurturing mother, Mike’s three daughters are not prepared for their old-fashioned, hotheaded father to take over. Especially 20-year-old Kristin, who’s trying to raise her own son, Boyd, with more of a liberal approach than Mike can stand.

When he isn’t reclaiming the masculinity in his home, Mike works at the sporting goods man-cave, Outdoor Man: A place where men can buy guns, jerky and a camouflage recliner in one testosterone-fueled location. Mike’s boss, Ed, took Mike off of his thrilling magazine expositions and stuck him in front of the computer to supervise the company’s website. With the help of his naïve subordinate, Kyle, Mike runs the Outdoor Man video log, which not only explores the store’s stock of man-gear, but also helps Mike express his biggest concern with the 21st century: “What happened to men?”

Tim Allen stars as Mike Baxter, along with Nancy Travis as Vanessa, Hector Elizondo as Ed, Alexandra Krosney as Kristin, Molly Ephraim as Mandy, Kaitlyn Dever as Eve, and Christoph Sanders as Kyle. The series is from executive producers Jack Burditt (30 Rock), Tim Allen (Home Improvement, Toy Story), Marty Adelstein (21 Laps/Adelstein), Shawn Levy (21 Laps/Adelstein), Becky Clements (21 Laps/Adelstein), Richard Baker (Messina/Baker), Rick Messina (Messina/Baker) and co-executive producers Liz Astrof (King of Queens), Andy Gordon (Just Shoot Me), Kevin Hench (The Man Show), Marsh McCall (Just Shoot Me). Including Linda Figueiredo (Outsourced) and Kim Flagg (Home Improvement) as consulting producers. The show was created by Jack Burditt and directed by John Pasquin (Home Improvement), who will also be directing the series. The series is produced by 20th Century Fox Television.

Is it any good?
Not really. It does occasionally raise a smile and even a chortle. It can even be quite touching at times. But it’s still not a great programme.

This is a show that wants to have its cake and eat it. It’s probably at its best when Allen is ranting on his vlog about the disappearance of ‘real men’ who can hunt, change tires and go outdoors rather than to a tanning salon – although you can invariably imagine William Shatner doing it better. Outside of the vlog, however, Allen is on a continual voyage of discovery, learning what a gaping void in his knowledge and ability to be a parent being wedded to the concept of the real man has left him. So he changes and gradually becomes more sensitive. And as Tim learns, so the audience learns.

It’s basically Home Improvement all over again, but rather than relying on the voice of God hidden by a fence to educate the central character, the show relies on life and female relatives to do it instead.

There’s actually a decent amount of writing going into the supporting characters, each getting a reasonable background and set of problems to deal with. Allen may rail at other characters’ lack of manliness and of traditional values, but none of them take any real notice of him and seem perfectly happy as they are. The show skims close to stereotypes but manages to avoid them. Allen isn’t a totally insensitive buffoon and his wife, Nancy Travis, isn’t the voice of all reason and knowledge in an Everybody Loves Raymond/King of Queens style but has moments of daftness and stupidity, too.

It’s biggest flaw is simply that it’s very short on laughs. The situations aren’t that funny; Allen’s lack of knowledge on certain issues is implausible (a parent who doesn’t know who Lord Voldemort is?); the one-liners almost never hit home; and it never actually comes close to saying anything or sticking by its guns.

So while it’s not the total horror story that might have been expected and it will help certain people to get to grips with both the 20th and 21st centuries, it’s certainly not as good as How To Be A Gentleman and is largely going to appeal to people who miss Home Improvement or who prefer old-school sitcoms without much by way of decent jokes. So ask yourself: is that you?


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.