Re: "Last Man Standing"s weird second season

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Apr 2, 2013, 2:24:19 AM4/2/13
On Apr 1, 8:10 am, David <> wrote:
> Last Man Standing’s second season was the weirdest sitcom season since
> ’Til Death
> By Todd VanDerWerff
> Between Last Man Standing’s first and second seasons, the largely
> non-distinct sitcom, mostly known for being Tim Allen’s return to
> television, had a choice to make. Headed for Fridays, the second
> least-watched night of the week (after Saturdays), the program had to
> do something to make some noise and hopefully attract viewership.
> Simply having Allen in the cast wasn’t going to do it any longer. So,
> as Allen and new showrunner Tim Doyle discussed with the New York
> Post, the choice was made to try to turn a bland family sitcom into a
> modern-day Norman Lear comedy, complete with arguing about social
> issues, Barack Obama, and the nation’s legacy of genocide.
> Did it work? Having watched all 18 episodes of the show’s second
> season, I can’t really say that it made the show better, but it
> certainly made it weirder. (And in terms of ratings, it allowed the
> show to keep the lights on on Friday, no mean feat.) Its attempt to
> put a finger on the country’s pulse made it much more worthy of
> discussion than when it was just about some angry guy living with too
> many women, as it was in its first season. It’s like when ’Til Death
> turned into a strange meta-sitcom in its final season, though somehow
> even more misguided.
> The basic premise of Last Man Standing is the same as Allen’s former
> sitcom hit, Home Improvement, only his character, Mike Baxter, has
> three adolescent-and-older daughters, instead of three child sons. The
> oldest daughter, Kristin, was the promising one who was going to
> succeed, until she had a child late in high school, and she’s lived in
> her parents’ house with her son, Boyd, ever since. Middle daughter
> Mandy is a ditzy fashionplate. Youngest daughter Eve is the one who’s
> closest to her dad, into things like soccer and hunting. There’s an
> outdoor-store workplace setting where Mike deals with crotchety boss
> Ed (meant to be the even more hyper-masculine version of Mike in
> season one) and dumbass employee Kyle. And in the second season, the
> show made an attempt to flesh out the neighborhood the Baxters lived
> in with a handful of recurring characters, including a black couple
> who become fast friends with the Baxters, and a Latina maid. In
> addition, the second season added the father of Kristin’s son, Ryan,
> as a semi-regular, meant to be the Meathead to Mike’s Archie Bunker.
> The problem with Last Man Standing’s attempts to go political is
> exemplified by the first scene of the season première, which remains
> one of the most uncomfortable scenes of television I’ve ever watched.
> It’s not even really bad so much as it’s actively discomfiting, doing
> its best to push buttons in the audience that don’t need to be pushed,
> as if it thinks what made Lear’s sitcoms a success was the yelling or
> the mentions of social issues that people sometimes argued about. Mike
> says Obama was born in Kenya. Kristin and Ryan make fun of Romney for
> being a robot. It goes on and on and gets more and more
> squirm-inducing, but in a way that is clearly meant to be a good time.
> This is the new height of political humor?
> The characters on Last Man Standing don’t speak about issues in any
> sort of nuanced manner, nor do they have terribly deep discussions
> about them. They mostly repeat buzzwords and shout at each other a
> lot. The show wanted to make Mike into a conservative hero, but it
> didn’t bother giving him a consistent worldview. He’s just somebody
> who spouts Fox News talking points a lot, and while that may be
> somewhat true to life—in that most modern political arguments between
> left and right tend to boil down to talking points gleaned from
> elsewhere—it doesn’t make the experience of watching people shout
> pithy, empty phrases at each other any more interesting or involving.
> What’s more, Mike’s main liberal competition—Ryan and, occasionally,
> Kristin—tend to speak as if they came up with their own political
> positions from reading the list of tags at the bottom of posts on a
> left-wing blog.
> Again, this is true to life. Few political arguments—particularly
> those among family—have the level of nuance one might expect from,
> say, a mythical boxing match between Paul Krugman and Milton Friedman.
> And, thinking back on All In The Family, Archie and Mike Stivic’s
> arguments on that show rarely had much nuance to them, either; the
> series gained much of its power from moments when it could step
> outside of their limited points-of-view and depict the world as it
> actually was. What made All In The Family’s political arguments
> work—what made the vast majority of all of Lear’s series featuring
> such arguments work—were the character stakes. The idea that Archie
> and Mike would love or even respect each other at the end of one of
> those knockdown shouting matches wasn’t taken for granted. They really
> might end up pushing each other too far, and did on occasion. The
> relationship, which grew to a kind of grudging respect and finally
> love, was one of the best developed in television history.
> It’s unfair to hold a relationship that’s only existed for 18 episodes
> of television to that sort of standard, but the central problem with
> Last Man Standing’s political arguments is that the show A) never
> gives viewers a reason to care whether Mike and Ryan respect each
> other at the end of the day (after all, Ryan’s not even a series
> regular), and B) takes it for granted that the two will respect, and
> maybe even love, each other. Ryan abandoned the mother of his child
> and said child for three years and has returned, trying to right his
> wrongs. The Baxters have every right to be suspicious of him, and it
> would be easy enough to turn Mike and Ryan’s political arguments into
> arguments about something more fundamental in their relationship: what
> Mike perceives as Ryan’s utter inability to help out Kristin when the
> chips were down. That’s interesting. That’s drama. But Last Man
> Standing runs away from it at every occasion.
> The series has the right idea in trying to ground the political in the
> personal. For 99 percent of us, politics is personal. Think, for
> instance, of the relief you might have felt when Obama won last year,
> or the despair you might have felt when Romney lost. Those emotions
> may have been driven by something politically concrete on one level,
> but they were also driven by a more fundamental, emotional level. No
> matter how much you may believe in [insert issue here], every election
> comes down to a choice between something you identify strongly with
> and something you do not. The two-party system all but guarantees
> this. When the characters on a Norman Lear political sitcom argue,
> this is what they’re really arguing about: the defense of the self
> against something that would encroach upon it. Too often on Last Man
> Standing, however, the characters just argue about politics to give
> each other a hard time. There’s little sense of passion, and even when
> the characters come up against a problem that’s truly insoluble—where
> there are significant arguments to be made on both sides—the show
> chickens out and ultimately buries everything under a gloss of, “Well,
> at least we all still love each other!” Take, for instance, the
> episode “Mother Fracking.”
> Mike’s wife Vanessa (the great Nancy Travis, given sadly little to do)
> is a geologist, and part of her work involves using the process known
> as fracking to gather natural gas. Eve’s terrified of the impact this
> might have on the planet, so she stages a one-girl protest. Vanessa
> rightly points out that the best current method of finding energy
> comes from fossil fuels. The choice is presented along admirably stark
> lines: Enjoy the modern comforts that in many cases keep us alive, or
> probably fuck up the planet irreparably. There’s a real opportunity
> here to strain a relationship between mother and daughter, one viewers
> actually do care about. Instead, Mike tells Eve that her mother does
> her best, and maybe Eve shouldn’t give Vanessa a hard time, since she
> really loves her little girl. And… that’s about it.
> This question of making giant political issues into smaller, more
> personal ones runs throughout the season (though toward the season’s
> end, it becomes less about that and more about interpersonal
> relationships), and it’s sometimes, frankly, embarrassing. There’s a
> whole episode that clumsily creates the impression it wants to make a
> one-to-one comparison between the genocide of American Indians and
> Ryan leaving after Boyd was born. (Ryan doesn’t appreciate Ed
> promoting Outdoor Man with a Western-themed stage show—that arrives
> out of nowhere, it must be said—which features rampaging Indians.
> Later, when Ryan tries to say that it doesn’t matter what he did in
> the past in regards to Boyd, Mike accuses him of turning the tables
> and trying to sweep his own history under the rug. It’s… awkward.)
> There’s also an episode, talked about in the Post article above, where
> Eve gets in trouble for bullying at school, which means well but also
> inadvertently seems to suggest that kids should be able to use as many
> anti-gay slurs as they want. Because the show is so intent on not
> having a definitive political point of view, it comes off as clumsy
> more often than not. It also forces the characters to behave in ways
> no human being ever would, as in one episode when Vanessa wonders if
> she received a promotion because she is good looking, then actually
> goes and asks her boss that very question. Who would do this?
> There are stabs at character complexity here and there. Ryan is
> liberal to a fault but also subject to his own unexamined prejudices, ...
> read more »

Re: 'Last Man Standing's weird second season By Todd VanDerWerff
by indyjim101 10 hours ago (Mon Apr 1 2013 12:46:28)

UPDATED Mon Apr 1 2013 12:55:13
I actually REALLY liked the second season, my only complaint being
that it was too short. But honestly, after the the first few episodes,
the show dramatically backed off the politically-themed episodes
(which weren't that bad) and relegated politics to where it was in the
first season--ever-present allusions that didn't overshadow the
storyline. People who make a huge differentiation between the first
season and the second season after say, the Christmas episode,
obviously weren't paying close attention to either.
And between Tim Allen and the rest of the wonderful cast, this is one
of the funniest sitcoms out there.

by herbsuperb 9 hours ago (Mon Apr 1 2013 13:26:36)

UPDATED Mon Apr 1 2013 19:30:55
I wholeheartedly agree. The ONLY episode in the second season that
went farther than it really should have with the political bickering
was the opener. It was about the election, so it's forgivable. There
is nothing wrong with the occasional politically charged remark as
long as it doesn't form the basis of an entire episode. The remainder
of season 2 was far more balanced, funny, and routinely charming.

The cast continues to do a wonderful job and the (rather risky)
changes they made prior to starting season 2 have ultimately panned
out nicely. I completely adapted to it by midway through the season. I
don't miss Krosney, am starting to warm up to Ryan, and couldn't care
less that they aged Boyd three years.

I can't wait to see Season 3.

by digitalboy72 7 hours ago (Mon Apr 1 2013 16:00:47)

UPDATED Mon Apr 1 2013 16:14:10
I agree.

Look no further than the season premiere for the definition of
gratuitous and heavy-handed political squabbling, but as you stated it
did ease off quite a bit after that, it also makes sense that they
went this way, they needed to go extreme to get people talking and it
largely worked, looking back at the premiere it was almost laughably
brazen, part of me thinks this was intentional now.

After that episode the writers did a better job of weaving those
issues and discussions more organically into the plots of the show
while also allowing time for straight comedy, after watching the whole
season it's really only Mike and Ryan that engaged in those
discussions, Eve, Kristin (except for the change of actresses), Mandy,
Kyle etc remain more or less the same as they were in season one.

I love what they did in season two, they added an element that spiced
it up a bit while sticking to the original idea and the fact that it
did reasonably well, especially for a Friday night time slot,
demonstrates that they must have done something right.
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