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TV Series Review

For much of the 1990s, comedian Tim Allen ruled the sitcom airwaves with his popular Home Improvement. (Everyone say, "Ar-ar-ar!") After the show's eight-year run, you might've thought Allen would've said everything he had to say about family or manliness or power tools.

But you would've thought wrong.

After a 12-year absence, Allen's back on ABC—older, grouchier and (in his own eyes) manlier than ever.

Allen plays Mike Baxter, a dealer in gear for the discerning sportsman (camouflage, rod-and-reel sets, maybe the occasional bazooka) who's now making sales pitches on this newfangled thing called the "Internet." But he's not just trying to sell a better set of waders: He's on a crusade to help men get a little more … manly.

"We baby-proof our lives now," he grunts, waving a Bowie knife in front of the webcam by way of refutation. "Bumps and bruises were the way that you learned," he commiserates with his boss, Ed. (He's saving his "I walked through 17 feet of snow to get to school and it was uphill both ways" story for sweeps month.)

Perhaps Mike feels that he needs to expend some extra testosterone at work before it's completely annihilated by the waves of estrogen that greet him when he goes home. After all, living in a house full of women—wife Vanessa and their three daughters—would be enough to make any man start fiddling with carburetors and mainlining Chuck Norris movies. Right?

Now, Mike's not onscreen just to teach us a thing or two about how everybody else needs to change their tune. He's there to learn how he has to change his too. He apologizes when he needs to. He'll do absolutely anything for his girls. And he brings his wife yellow flowers when she's feeling blue. But despite the fact that Last Man Standing weaves those moments of tenderness and bonding into the laughs, its earned nothing but raspberries from most television critics, who are calling it a tired, tortuous glorification of Neanderthalish behavior. A few have accused it of homophobia: In the pilot, Mike frets that if his grandson Boyd attends a school that teaches "sensitivity and tolerance," it'll lead to the lad "dancing on a float."

I'll accuse it of making fun of pretty much everybody. Even the grumpy middle-aged men it caters to. This isn't a tirade about how traditional manly values are being subjugated so much as it's a statement about how we all get off track sometimes—enhanced by a laugh track. It's not trying to say, "Aren't women silly?" (Or homosexuals, for that matter.) It's more like, "Aren't we all a little silly?"

Which doesn't mitigate for a moment the fact that Last Man Standing is a little silly itself—and a little loose with its content. Mike and the fam trade sex-oriented jokes and prime the pump for some toilet humor too. Foul language can be harshly suggestive.


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Episode Reviews

LastManStanding: 10112011
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