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TV Series Review

Matt LeBlanc has gone from Friends to family.

In Man With a Plan, LeBlanc—best known as Joey from NBC's dearly departed sitcom—plays Adam Burns, a busy building contractor who doubles as a frazzled father. It's a new thing for him. Not the fatherhood part, exactly: After all, his daughter, Kate, is a teenager now. Over the last 13 or so years he's changed his share of diapers and wiped his allotment of runny noses. But until now, wife Andi has served as the fam's primary chauffer, tutor and nursemaid—allowing Adam to show up for "Daddy Fun Time" … and that's about it.

But with their youngest, Emme, now in school, and with Adam's contracting duties giving him a little more flexibility, Andi's heading back to the workforce. Daddy Fun Time has turned into Daddy-Get-the-Kids-Up-and-Stuff-'em-Full-of-Breakfast-Before-They-Go-to-School Time. The word fun is long gone. And Adam doesn't like that one bit.

"I'm like Johnny Cash," he whines. "I fly in, I play the prison, everybody loves me, and I fly out. I'm not meant to be the warden!"

Singing Those Suburban Sitcom Blues

Like most kids, the Burns children could use a good warden from time to time. As a unit, they lean toward being slovenly, lazy, messy and cranky. Kate, the teen, naturally gives her phone more face time than she does her parents. Middle kid Teddy has some, shall we say, personal hygiene issues. At this point, kindergartener Emme's most egregious failing is apparently being unbearably cute, but it's early yet. And all three kids naturally miss their mother's motherly hand.

But Adam believes that as a building contractor, he knows a thing or two about raising sturdy children, too. Like buildings, he notes, they need a good foundation. And, um, joists? A good layer of R-30 insulation? Well, the metaphor loses something as it goes on, but everyone gets the point. Adam may no longer be running Daddy Fun Time, but he's still Dad, and he's going to try to be the best dad he can be.

Daddy Dearest?

If Man With a Plan had been made back in the 1970s, it would've felt like a revolutionary premise. A man serving as the family's primary caretaker? we would've said back then. Whoa! That's just crazy talk! But nearly two decades into the 21st century, doesn't the whole idea feel a little … obvious? It's not like working mothers are a new thing.

Sure, there are important differences between moms and dads. Statistically, moms still tend to pay more attention to hearth and home than dads do. But fathers are more involved than ever in their children's lives these days. Gone are the days when husbands would toss their fedoras on the hat rack after work, slump into the nearest easy chair with their evening paper and smoke a pipe while the little missus made some sort of gelatin-based dinner. It's almost as if executives for CBS—a network not exactly known for its edge or creativity—pulled up a study from 40 years ago and said, "Hey, look at this! More womenfolk are working outside the home these days! Seems like we should do a sitcom about that or something!"

But if the concept isn't all that radical, some of the messages here are—in that they get back to very traditional ways of looking at family.

Adam and Andi say that their children come first, and they act accordingly. They do what they can to give their kids the love and lessons they need to grow into strong, healthy adults—and if that means getting tough when the need arises, so be it. "I'm not your friend," Adam tells his children in the opening episode. "I'm your father. I'm the warden. And it's my job to rehabilitate you."

Naturally, it'd be nice if Adam and Andi themselves held to some of the lessons they're trying to teach their kids. Foul language can escape their lips on occasion. Conversations about sex and gross bad habits can show up on screen to the discomfort of those watching. And even when the parents try to teach their children a lesson or two, those lessons can be kinda terrible. (Adam encourages Emme to sock anyone who bothers her in kindergarten, for instance; "A punch in the nose can be a real problem-solver," he says.)

But this is a sitcom, after all, and we're meant to laugh at Adam's bad advice even as we root for him to succeed as a father. Even if Adam and Andi aren't perfect parents, they are trying to be good ones. And that's nice to see.

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Episode Reviews

Man With a Plan: Oct. 24, 2016 "Pilot"
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