Last Man Standing – Standing Tall or Falling Short?

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Cancelled after six seasons, FOX revived comedy Last Man Standing by bringing it to its own network this fall.  Still a hit with viewers when it was cancelled, many people questioned whether it would be as successful after more than a year off the air.

Synopsis

Airing immediately before The Cool Kids on Fridays at 8pm Eastern, with the first two episodes currently available on their website, FOX says:

…LAST MAN STANDING stars [Tim] Allen as MIKE BAXTER, a married father of three girls, who tries to maintain his manliness in a world increasingly dominated by women.

With six+ seasons under their belt, that synopsis is terribly incomplete.  Last Man Standing is primarily about how a family with diametrically opposing views on practically everything (sound like your family?) can still manage to get along.  Given the current climate today, everyone should be taking notes from this show.  Be it politics, economics, parenting, guns, or religion, the Baxters understand that family is more important than everything else.  One of Mike’s best lines of the series exemplified this:

We fight each other, but ultimately, we fight for each other.

Trailer

I chose this one because it highlights some of the comedy from the previous six seasons and season seven has only aired two episodes thus far.  Watch:

Characters – Mike Baxter

Make no mistake, Mike Baxter is an outwardly opinionated conservative.  He uses his vlogs to express himself and interjects his opinion when he deems it appropriate.  However, what he does not do is force his opinions on anyone else.

For example, when eldest daughter Kristin decides to return the gun Mike gifted her years ago because it makes her husband feel uncomfortable, Mike’s response is, “It’s your right.  It’s also my right to tell you it’s a stupid decision.”  After a touching story recollecting the gift, Kristin asks, concerned she may have offended her father, “Are you mad?”  Mike–surprised at the implication–replies, “No, I’m not mad.  I just want you to remember, when he’s out delivering for a weekend and you hear some noise at the house which scares you…”, at which point Kristin sarcastically interrupts, “I know, I know.  Don’t come crying to you.”  Her father’s reply is loving and sincere, “No.  You call me.  I’ll be there before you hang up the phone.”

Mandy Baxter

Longtime fans of the show had some serious adjustments to get used to because the actress which played beloved middle daughter, Mandy, could not return.  Rather than try to get a doppelgänger, which no one would approve of, the people behind the show made a conscious decision to change everything about the character.  To make this work, seemingly everything had to go, including hair color… and height(!).  As the new actress, Molly McCook Tweeted, “The idea was to make her my own. We all decided that if we were to recreate, I would’ve failed miserably. So we had to make it new and different.”.  What were the odds that an actress named Molly would replace a previous actress also named Molly?

Introducing the new Mandy during the first episode purposely broke the 4th wall.  Alluding to her status as a newbie, she comes downstairs and explains how she got lost up there.  Additionally, her own husband, Kyle, explains to Mike how she is mad at him because she “changed something” and he can not figure out what it is.  Upon seeing Mandy, her father says, “I like it”, as Kyle throws his arms incredulously into the air.  Humour is a great way to ease the audience into accepting the new actress.

Regrettably, rather than welcoming the show back with open arms, actress Molly McCook has been rudely attacked via social media by supposed “fans”.  Considering the show is all about people getting along–regardless of their differences–I have to admit this is a shocking and depressing turn of events.  Do they remember why they first liked the show?  Unimaginably, some comments included “she’s too tall” and “she’s too blonde”.  For the life of me, I cannot figure out what physical attributes have to do with the person’s acting ability.  One can only assume these commenters would have only been happy if the original actress returned.  It is not often a show gets a second lease on life (ask a browncoat), yet it would appear these “fans” of Last Man Standing would have preferred to have no show at all.  Thankfully, most fans have embraced the show in its slightly altered incarnation.

Kristin Baxter

Keep in mind, eldest daughter, Kristin was replaced in season two with an actress who looked nothing like the original.  In fact, they rewrote the character and even aged both Kristin and her son three years; simultaneously replacing the actor portraying Boyd (for the second time).  Thankfully, she is still married to the same Ryan (also replaced once before).  The direction the writers took the updated Kristin would have made the original actress seem entirely out of place.  In one scene, she physically picks up her son and carries him out of the Baxter house.  Season one’s Kristin would not have had the frame to pull this off.  This is all to say the writers have proven they know what they are doing and the fans should likely give them some leeway.

The Rest

The remaining cast has all returned, save for Kaitlyn Dever, who plays youngest daughter, Eve.  She will be returning, albeit in a limited capacity, due to Kaitlyn’s other commitments.  Writing the “son” her father always wanted out of the show entirely could have sunk it.  Again, the skilled writers simply continued her story of successfully joining the Air Force Academy to explain her limited screen time.

Mike’s wife, Vanessa, is back in true, punny form.  Sons-in-law Kyle and Ryan are up to their respective goofy and liberal antics.  Neighbor Chuck is still pulling security duty at Outdoor Man and store owner, Ed, is still bossing people around in his own unique way.  Lest you think this is a purely conservative show, with all of these characters, Mike has more than his fair share of alternate opinions coming his way.  Besides, Last Man Standing only wades into the political realm, preferring instead to showcase family values.

Conclusion

Season 7’s premier was a love letter to the fans who tirelessly fought to bring it back.  The fans were thrilled there were countless jokes about “a” show moving from one network to another.  The writers also needed to address the new actors and bring the story forward 18 months.  As a result, the first episode is not indicative of what viewers should expect for the rest of the season.  This review was released after the second episode aired for that very reason.

A critical aspect was how Molly McCook would fare in her second outing on a “regular” episode.  Personally, I thought she did great in the first episode, successfully bringing her own slightly “ditzy blonde” version of the character, yet staying true to Mandy’s adorable ignorance.  In fact, she seemed to steal the episode with some of the best lines.  For instance, when Mike hands Ryan a U.S. citizenship form, Mandy looks at her mother in sheer horror, “We have to fill out a form?!  I never did that!”

In the second episode, Molly starts fully making Mandy her own.  We get a glimpse of her version of fashion sense, in only the second time we have seen Mandy attempt to create a man’s ensemble.  Additionally, the writers provide some vision of how her relationship with Kyle will be.  I was fully invested in the revival, so changing the actors would never have turned me away.  But, it still may take others some time to make the adjustment.  My hope is that those viewers are not willing to write off an entire show because of something like this.

It would be remiss for me not to mention the heart-wrenching scene between Mike and Kristen.  The emotion on display between father and daughter is inspiring, as one fan even tweeted:Dad_Daughter_Tweet

Similarly, the audience gets to see true, prior generation “men’s men” awkwardly discuss their feelings.  Eventually, both Mike and his now-decease father, Bud, come to the realization that neither one was ever capable of telling the other that they loved them.  This was yet another moment to make you think about calling someone you have not spoken to in a while or, perhaps, saying something left unsaid for too long.  It is refreshing to see that family values are still on full display in Last Man Standing.

In the end, Last Man Standing still exemplifies something sorely missing on television today: diversity.  Not racial diversity, but diversity of opinion.  TV shows and news channels force-feed us nothing but bias.  Conversely, Last Man Standing addresses each topic from multiple angles, often leaving out any true judgement (see the earlier gun example).  In this instance, open dialog happens because each character is allowed to express their opinion without being shouted down.  When discussing a touchy subject, remember not to confuse “you make a valid point” with “my point is invalid”. They are not mutually exclusive and, in fact, are required for meaningful discourse. Think about it… Just because you don’t like brussels sprouts doesn’t mean the rest of the world can’t like them.  Last Man Standing gets this.  Maybe more viewers will also manage to get this and carry it back into the world with them.

That’s a world I’d like to see…

 

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