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Last Man Standing

October 7, 2018

By Hank Stuever

The Washington Post

Back from its 2017 cancellation at ABC and now airing Friday nights on Fox, “Last Man Standing” stands for another kind of resistance movement, a safe space for viewers who find most TV too left-leaning and the rare Hollywood conservatives who are so oppressed that they can come up with only one, sometimes two, measly sitcoms that are told from their point of view.

I don’t dispute that it’s nearly impossible to make and sell shows with a GOP-sympathetic bent, which unfortunately means that a great portion of the American viewing audience is forced to hunt down material that won’t send it off on a tirade.

Though “Last Man Standing” remains hopelessly mediocre, it’s worth taking a moment to put yourself in someone else’s recliner and imagine that every show on TV runs counter to your perception of the world. Your only refuge is found in shows that assiduously avoid relevance. You’d also be at risk for watching too many old reruns, movies, game shows and (playing to stereotype) Sean Hannity.

The first and only time I reviewed “Last Man Standing” was back when it premiered in October 2011. Then, the show was touted as Tim Allen’s big return to sitcom television, where he’d first found great success with “Home Improvement,” which aired through the 1990s on ABC.

Allen is one of the names on a rather short list of notable showbiz conservatives, and “Last Man Standing” -- about a man named Mike Baxter (Allen), who works in the corporate offices of an outdoor-sports retail chain and lives in a home of females (his wife and daughters) -- seemed to me an unimaginative and needlessly regressive exercise in the flattest form of sitcom-making. And yes, I’m the same guy who gave a good review to Thursday’s return of “Murphy Brown.” There no conspiracy here -- “Murphy Brown” is just better written, more inventive and infused with purpose.

But like Candice Bergen’s Murphy, Allen uses Mike mainly as a platform to gripe and opine in snarky bursts -- in his case, about the left and his perceived status as an oppressed white male. Topical digs aside, Allen’s show lacks energy and oomph; in tone and pace, it feels a lot like those Disney sitcoms for kids. You don’t get smarter watching it; you just get further ostracized.

Unchanged in every way that counts (aside from some recasting and redecorating), “Last Man Standing” also wears itself thin at the outset with jokes and at-the-camera winks about the egregious swing of ABC’s ax -- the show did, after all, have better ratings than many of its peers. “Why would they cancel a show that everybody loves?” asks Mike’s wife, Vanessa (Nancy Travis).

“Maybe they’re a bunch of idiots!” Mike replies.

The gloating continues throughout. The grandson whom Mike once tried to rescue from a day care for special snowflakes has grown old enough to help repair a dirt bike, which Mike tells the boy’s liberal father is a birdhouse. A daughter currently studying at the Air Force Academy comes home for a break and immediately clashes with her older sister. “Since when did you get ‘woke’?” the conservative daughter asks the other. “A year ago, you thought the presidential seal was an actual seal.”

After much bickering, the household declares a moratorium on any talk of politics. Then and only then does it feel as if “Last Man Standing” is reflecting the reality of most American households, where “don’t ask, don’t tell” has come to refer to the daily news.

“Last Man Standing” is no great prize to have won back, but if it fits the bill (which fans insist it does), then I say leave it be. I continue to hope for some as-yet-unmade comedy or drama that will accurately convey the American conservative experience to a broad audience.

I don’t despise “Last Man Standing,” but, after all we’ve been through together (and apart) I’d say only this to those who watch it: You deserve better.

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