One problem with the strategy of running the first two episodes of a new sitcom right in a row is that you can see the effect the pilot had, what changes the suits chose to make. In the case of Last Man Standing, the Tim Allen sitcom which debuted last night, they changed the look of the supporting character Kyle… so much so that when we saw him in the second episode, Mrs. Nat’s TV and I both thought that they had brought in a different actor. Apparently not, apparently they gave the same actor a different look and slightly different attitude, but we were both immediately disappointed because Kyle was what we liked best about the pilot.
Last Man Standing falls into a category of sitcoms – Traditional Masculine Man surrounded by women and/or New Age Man. Unsurprising, perhaps, as Allen’s hit Home Improvement seemed to fall into that category.. which is perhaps why I never gave that show a serious try, it’s not a category that I find attractive. I am neither that invested in the old form of masculinity nor that interested in laughing at it. However, within that category I will admit this one is relatively well done. Allen can deliver a line, he is supported by wife Nancy Travis who isn’t used to full effect in the opener, but shows she has the goods ready to use them; the girls playing their various daughters still need to prove themselves to me.
Allen plays a guy in charge of catalog content for a Bass Pro-like chain of stores, who finds himself having to adapt to being the Internet guy… which gives them an excuse to have him doing a vlog to really play the Basic Man role. They establish right off that he’s not dumb, nor uncaring, in ways that one can see as either humanizing the character or undercutting it; I’ll vote for the former in this case. (When the central character is really the central character, I want him to be human; it’s in cases like The Office where the show is really about people’s reactions to the central character where being nonhuman works.) (Oh, okay, that’s overstating. Black Adder is nonhuman, and that works. And they did humanize Michael Scott to an extent, by making him a good salesman… although to me, that helped not by humanizing, but by making it more comedically tragic, the Peter Principal writ large.)
And there are lots of little things to like. Hector Elizando playing the boss is a good example of this; Hector is just inherently likable (and I felt that even before he once said “hi” to little ol’ me!) and he brings good skills to his role; you can feel he must be the founder of the company, he’s the sort of quirky guy that would go off and start something with his own personailty, rather than the business-school polished type you’d want when you hired someone to take his place. And then there was that little moment when Allen interjects the phrase “…and beyond!” into the conversation, and that’s a cheap good thing because it pulled us out of the story for a second, made us hear that echo of Buzz Lightyear, perhaps spend a half second thinking about how unexpectedly right the casting of Mr. Lightyear was all those years ago, rather than glory in whatever joke was going on on screen. But still, a smile, it counts.
So, not quite my cuppa, but a respectably made cup nonetheless that I may watch some… and if it sounds like it might be your cuppa, definitely watch some as well!