The thing about Tim Allen is that he never really managed to break free from the two roles of Tim Taylor ("Home Improvement") and Buzz Lightyear. Allen certainly has done well over the years, but never really broke out of his displayed range. "Last Man Standing" sees the actor back on the small screen to good effect, although that's not entirely surprising given that the role is effectively a few roles removed from his "Home Improvement" persona.
The series (which was originally titled "Man Up" - that's not much better than "Last Man Standing", but at least gets more of a chuckle) stars Allen as Mike Baxter, the head of the creatively titled "Outdoor Man" company. Mike is politically conservative and, given the title, is the one male in a house full of women, including three daughters - his oldest daughter Kristin (a single mother), his middle daughter Mandy (a dim teenager whose main concern is popularity) and his youngest daughter Eve (a tomboy who takes after her father. Nancy Travis (nice to see her on-screen again) plays Jill Taylor, er, I mean Vanessa, Mike's wife who - of course, because this is a sitcom - sees through everything he tries to do. There's also Mike's boss, Ed (Hector Elizondo, always good) and Kyle (Christoph Sanders), a dim, but well-meaning employee who looks up to Mike but the two couldn't be more opposite. Of course, Kyle gets involved with Mike's daughter.
The series doesn't make any qualms about not reinventing the wheel. The daughters are set in their "types" and don't venture too far out of them, Allen doesn't venture out of his comfort zone and Nancy Travis as wife Vanessa is thankfully less of a "What did you do now?" sitcom wife than Patricia Richardson - who always had to be exasperated every week on "Home Improvement" - was. While the series is comfort food in a new wrapper, the risks that cable is taking have spoiled me a little when presented with a sitcom that feels overly familiar.
The series is comfortable not really taking any risks - it's inoffensive with any edge smoothed down. I'm not expecting "Modern Family" out of every new sitcom that comes down the line, but I don't think it's wrong to be a little more demanding from TV these days. Talking about "Home Improvement", one of the funnier things about "Last Man Standing" is how '90's this series feels.
What would have been really, really funny - even if for one episode - is if this was still Tim Taylor and in an alternate dimension where he had daughters instead of sons. Play up the idea that this role is six degrees (not even that, maybe like 1.5 degrees) from "Home Improvement". There is actually a brief nod to the prior series in one of the second season episodes that has former "Home Improvement" star Richard Karn guesting.
Disappointment in the fact that it doesn't try anything new, the series at least has gathered an appealing cast and offers dialogue that verges on snappy at times. The situations are nothing too out of the ordinary, but there are a few highlights, including: "Co-Ed Softball" (Mike's boss Ed becomes upset with the idea that their softball team has gone co-ed, and tries to track down who the "yes" votes were), "Home Security" (Vanessa tries to get Mike to join the neighborhood watch), "Adrenaline" (Tony Stewart's car is brought in to promote the "Outdoor Man" retail space, but the car goes missing) and "Tree of Strife" (Mandy meets Kim Kardashian, then gets goofed on for her over-the-top reaction.)
The series has wound through three showrunners at this point, which is rather remarkable. One of the daughters has also been changed (different actress) and one of the kids had their age changed.) The ratings have declined a bit, but "Last Man Standing" has otherwise done reasonably well for a Friday night and is going to have a fourth season. The series really runs on the motor of the actors, who are all appealing, especially Allen, Travis and Hector Elizondo as Mike's boss.
1 1-01 11/Oct/11 Pilot
2 11/Oct/11 Last Baby Proofing Standing
3 18/Oct/11 Grandparents Day
4 25/Oct/11 Last Halloween Standing
5 01/Nov/11 Co-ed Softball
6 08/Nov/11 Good Cop, Bad Cop
7 15/Nov/11 Home Security
8 22/Nov/11 House Rules
9 29/Nov/11 Guess Who's Coming To Dinner
10 06/Dec/11 Last Christmas Standing
11 13/Dec/11 The Passion of the Mandy
12 03/Jan/12 Moon Over Kenya
13 10/Jan/12 Take Your Daughter To Work
14 17/Jan/12 Odd Couple Out
15 07/Feb/12 House of Spirits
16 07/Feb/12 Tree of Strife
17 14/Feb/12 Adrenaline
18 21/Feb/12 Baxter & Sons
19 28/Feb/12 Ding Dong Ditch
20 20/Mar/12 Animal Wrongs
21 10/Apr/12 Wherefore Art Thou, Mike Baxter
22 17/Apr/12 This Bud's For You
23 01/May/12 The Spotlight
24 08/May/12 Found Money
Video: "Last Man Standing" is presented by 20th Century Fox in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture is basically very comparable to what's seen very week on digital cable. The image is never razor sharp, but appears pleasantly crisp and clean, with little in the way of flaws. Colors look bright and lively, with no smearing or other faults.
Audio: Basic, dialogue-driven 2.0 audio.
Extras: Zip, zero. Would have loved an Allen commentary, but probably not realistic to expect one.
Final Thoughts: This is one of those sitcoms that tries so hard to be likable that you can't really dislike it as much as be a little disappointed that it feels formulaic. Allen is comfortable and occasionally very funny in a role that he's essentially played before. The supporting cast also does a nice job trying to elevate the material and helps carry the series along with Allen.
Again, it's not that the series doesn't offer some laughs, it's more the idea that Allen could do this in his sleep - the series doesn't take one iota of risk and aggressively tries to be inoffensive in a way that's pleasant but at the same time results in something that is otherwise kind of forgettable. Still, if anything, I find it more tolerable than the show that follows it ("The Neighbors"), which - despite some improvements - was still done better nearly 20 years ago by "3rd Rock From the Sun".
The DVD offers fine audio/video, but is otherwise bare basics, with no extras. Rent it.