Tim Allen‘s new show is called “Last Man Standing,” but if you squint hard enough, and maybe add a couple of gorilla grunts of your own, you’d swear what’s airing on ABC Tuesday night is a lost season of “Home Improvement.”
Tim Taylor is now named Mike Baxter, and he’s an executive at a sporting-goods company and not the semi-competent host of a fix-it show. His wife looks a lot like Nancy Travis now, his three kids are girls instead of boys, and there’s no sage neighbor dispensing advice over the fence. But in tone and cadence, it’s very much of a piece with Allen’s old show.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing: “Home Improvement” was a Top 10 hit throughout its run. But if you’re looking for comedy that doesn’t feel like it’s rooted in 1995, “Last Man Standing” might not be your cup of tea.
It’s here where Mike Baxter would start in on a rant about tea, and how men never drink tea unless they just came in from plowing the back 40, and when did tea start being green and white and fruit-flavored instead of just coming in bags from Lipton anyway, and to heck with tea anyway, men should just drink coffee, black and scalding, because cream and sugar are for the weak.
Mike, you see, is very concerned about the state of manhood today, which he expresses in recorded rants for his company’s website (he used to travel the world doing manly photo shoots for a catalog, but the times they’re a-changin’) and around his house, where he’s the only guy capable of speech (his oldest daughter, played by Alexandra Krosney, has a baby son). He’s the kind of guy who asks his youngest daughter (Kaitlyn Dever of “Justified”), “What’s ‘Glee’?” and would rather have a coronary than let an outsider baby-proof the house.
In Tuesday’s (Oct. 11) series premiere, it comes off pretty heavy-handed. It’s almost as if Mike (or, more precisely, Allen) went into a deep sleep the second the cameras stopped rolling on “Home Improvement,” and now he’s Unfrozen Caveman Father. The jokes land way too heavily — including a rather cavalier one about his grandson growing up to be gay.
The good news is that the second episode, also airing Tuesday, is a little lighter on its feet. Allen and Travis (who also appeared in “Hart of Dixie’s” first two episodes before leaving to do this show full-time) feel more like a team, and creator Jack Burditt — a veteran of “30 Rock” and “The New Adventures of Old Christine” — seems to be a little more in tune with the characters’ voices, so the jokes flow a little more naturally.
Which is not to say “Last Man Standing” suddenly becomes the new gold standard for comedy. It still carries a decidedly throwback vibe, and the ongoing bluster about the state of manhood in the world feels, at best, two steps behind the times. It’s great to go out into the world and catch your own dinner — and we’re on board with the idea that everyone should know how to change a tire — but it’s also OK to have a latte now and then and participate in the raising of a child beyond saying, “Walk it off, kid.”
Here’s hoping the upward curve continues on “Last Man Standing” continues, because the people both in front of and behind the camera are capable of delivering more than what’s on display so far. If not, well, “Home Improvement” reruns still air on TBS.
“Last Man Standing” premieres at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday on ABC.