Last Man Standing: TV Review

36 REV Last Man Standing
Randy Holmes/ABC

Nancy Travis and Tim Allen raise three daughters in the ABC sitcom.

A predictable sitcom with a stupid premise and bad acting. Credit Tim Allen for being able to keep it afloat (and maybe even make it a hit). Shudder.

The "Home Improvement" vet returns to television with the ABC comedy, premiering Oct. 11 and co-stars Nancy Travis and Hector Elizondo.

It's too bad Andy Rooney didn't announce his retirement early enough so that he could do some voice-over work on ABC's Last Man Standing. He'd be perfect, what with his whiney diatribes against modernity and how the world has changed for the worst since the good old days.

That is exactly the stance -- albeit far more man-centric -- of Last Man Standing, starring Tim Allen in his return to television. He plays Mike Baxter, manly-man adventurer for an outdoor supply company called the Outdoor Man store. Mike's wife Vanessa (Nancy Travis) totally gets him. He's old school. A complainer. He even starts one sentence, "You know what's wrong with the world..." Mike also has three daughters living at home, so he's especially worked up about how men aren't men anymore (which is, unfortunately, a recurring theme this season, as if a bunch of writers gathered for lunch and tried to come up with the dumbest, biggest cliche they could think of -- then all of them got shows with the same premise).

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Somewhere in the middle of the pilot episode, Allen delivers this treatise (into a computer -- he's helping bring the store into the modern era, and it allows the writers to have Allen spew annoyed dialogues): "What happened to men? We used to build cities just so we could burn them down. We got our hair cut by a guy named Hank."

On and on it goes. Arriving at the store, Mike says to his male co-workers: "Hey guys, great to be back in the sanctuary. No hair dryers. No tears. No citrus body wash. It smells like balls in here."

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Yep, that's pretty much what you're going to get on Last Man Standing. Over the course of the two episodes ABC made available to critics, Allen basically spends his time ranting about people who can't change their own tires (including one of his spoiled daughters), guys who go to tanning salons ("That actually hurts to hear," he says, doubled over) and other such offenses to masculinity. When he drops his oldest daughter's son off at day care, he's met by, well, stereotypes. One of the workers tells him to come on in, "Ruby's two dads are here and they're making muffins -- flax and pumpkin." Allen: "Please tell me that's not their names."

Oh, and Allen's character doesn't like men dancing (there's an allusion to that being "fruity"). "The only time men should be dancing is when other men are shooting at their feet."

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You have to wonder when this line of jokes will run out, much less get funny. But don't blame Allen for this. He's a perfect fit for a multicamera sitcom, and despite the predictability of the jokes, he sells them as well as he can. In fact, as bad as Last Man Standing is, it would be a trillion times worse without Allen's veteran presence and ability to sell comedy in that set-up/punch-line kind of way. He's as old school as the format and, in lesser hands with lesser comic timing, Last Man Standing would be even more of a disaster.

Of course, the series is likely to be a hit. Allen is a proven draw and likeable. ABC is a family-inclined network. And it's on at 8 p.m., when all kinds of soft gruel can be shoveled down the throats of Americans. It's just too bad that this whole men aren't men trend is even around, or that someone didn't give Allen better material. And yet, maybe this is the kind of easy familiarity people are looking for in the big tent of network television.
No doubt Andy Rooney will be watching, nodding his head in agreement.