Man Up!: TV Review

Karen Neal/ABC
The actors are just saddled in this sitcom world of limited potential.

Christopher Moynihan co-stars with Mather Zickel and Dan Fogler on the ABC comedy, which premieres Oct. 18.

One of television comedy’s most regrettable trends continues when ABC launches Man Up! on Oct. 18. You don’t even have to be told the trend in question. You can see it in the show title.

CBS has already relegated its weak-man comedy, How to Be a Gentleman, to Saturdays because of low ratings. NBC gave a full season order to Up All Night, which features Will Arnett as the stay-at-home dad trying to figure out his role (in the show’s defense, the pilot was funny and it has a stellar cast with Christina Applegate and Maya Rudolph and Arnett’s character isn’t constantly questioning his manhood – but it’s in the same zip code).

To its credit, Fox doesn’t have one of these shows. Perhaps to make up for that oversight, ABC has two. Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing leads right into Man Up!, giving the country an hour of men worrying out loud that men have become Ken dolls (there’s nothing down there) in the modern world.

It really can’t be said enough: Was there a cabal of writers leeching free wi-fi at Starbucks while they drank caramel flavored coffees and suddenly they all had access to the same script idea?

(Did you see what I did with that caramel coffee joke – it’s the kind of reference these shows know all too well.)

Man Up! was created by Christopher Moynihan who plays Craig, the “sensitive soul” in a trio of friends. There’s Will (Mather Zickel), the guy who most feels like he’s not a man in the same way his father’s generation were men. And there’s Kenny (Dan Fogler), who plays the comic-relief hothead who suffers the emasculating wrath of his ex-wife Bridgette (Amanda Detmer). She’s still hanging around because she’s best friends with Will’s wife Theresa (Teri Polo), a woman who tolerates her husband’s search for male identity but also keeps him under her thumb to drive home the point.

“Are you saying I’m not a man?” Will asks her. “You are (pause) man-ish,” Theresa tells him.

“No, mannish is what your cousin Stacey is,” Will bellows. “I am all man. And it is my job as his father to make Nathan a man.”

Ah, Nathan (Jake Johnson), the 13-year-old son who squeals like a girl when he finds out a girl he likes is coming to his birthday party (which looks like a 5-year-old’s birthday party, so no wonder he’s not “all boy” at this point).

The pilot centers on Nathan’s birthday. “What do you get a kid turning 13 that says ‘I’m a man,’” Will asks – because letting two minutes go by without the word “man” in it is not allowed.

“I need to get him something that says I know you’re a man because I, too, am a man,” Will says. You’re feeling this anvil, are you not? Will then tells his wife, “We need more hazelnut creamer and next time can you get the non-dairy stuff?”

Probably so he can keep his girlish figure. But it’s really a set-up line for Theresa to reply, with a dismissive, condescending tone: “I’m sorry honey, but your grandfather fought in World War II, your father fought in Vietnam, but you play videogames and use pomegranate body wash.”

Oh, right, the video games. In a scene virtually duplicated in Up All Night, we see Will, Craig and Kenny playing “Call Of Duty” on their internet-equipped PS3, complete with headset and microphone to shout out fighting orders to the other two playing alone in their homes.

Apparently playing video games when you’re over 30 is shorthand for having no balls and a desire to get a few minutes away from your wife.

It’s really too bad about Man Up!, because Zickel, Moynihan and Fogler are all funny with good comic timing and when the odd joke that doesn’t revolve around being wimpish pops up, it’s pretty funny. The actors are just saddled in this sitcom world of limited potential (honestly, Fox’s Traffic Light from last season was far funnier than any of the current Ken doll comedies).

Polo and Detmer are also excellent but trapped, especially when viewers have to watch a tired bit about Bridgette’s new manly-man beau (think of the Old Spice Guy and his “The man your man could smell like” ad) coming to the birthday party and annoying Kenny. Has it come to the point where sitcoms are mimicking commercials now? Or has that always happened?

The point is, a bunch of good actors are stuck in a sitcom that has limited appeal. How long can they play this joke? Will the men allwant to be more like their fathers each episode (with a touching scene at the end where they can hug their kids and play the I’m-a-better-father card)?

After Man Up! uses yet another tired bit to set up a potential fight scene, our three big girls blouses are holed up in their house, refusing to fight. There’s a suggestion that someone call the cops first. “Would our fathers have called the police?,” Will asks – and yes, anvil alert, you know exactly where this is going. “No. They’d be out there….they were men. Real men. Not the over-evolved generation of pantywaists that we’ve become. It’s time to man up!”

Is it, though? Isn’t it really time to let go of stereotypes and clichés and maybe write a sitcom that has more to joke about than one thing over and over again?