Last Man Standing





Paul Asay

TV Series Review

For much of the 1990s, comedian Tim Allen ruled the sitcom airwaves with his popular show Home Improvement. (Everyone say, “Ar-ar-ar!”) After the show’s eight-year run, you might’ve thought Allen would’ve said everything he had to say about family or manliness or power tools.

But you would’ve thought wrong.

In a rare feat, Allen heads another successful sitcom—one that  has actually lasted longer than his old one (albeit, in an age of fragmented viewership, one that hasn’t drawn quite the ratings). And while Last Man Standing will take its final bow in this, its ninth, season, Allen is grouchier and (in his own eyes) manlier than ever.

Of Testosterone and Tiaras

Allen plays Mike Baxter, a dealer in gear for the discerning sportsman (camouflage, rod-and-reel sets, maybe the occasional bazooka) who’s now making sales pitches on this newfangled thing called “the internet.” But he’s not just trying to sell a better set of waders: He’s on a crusade to help men get a little more … manly.

“We baby-proof our lives now,” he grunts, waving a Bowie knife in front of a webcam by way of refutation. “Bumps and bruises were the way that you learned,” he commiserates with his business partner, Ed. (He’s saving his “I walked through 17 feet of snow to get to school, and it was uphill both ways” story for sweeps month.)

Perhaps Mike feels he needs to expend some extra testosterone at work before it’s completely annihilated by the waves of estrogen that wash over him when he gets home.

Mike and wife Vanessa have three grown daughters, and all three are a big part of Mike’s life. And, in their own unique ways, they push him. Sometimes they push him into a kinder, gentler view of the world. And then sometimes they just … well, push. I mean, spending so much time with a wife and three daughters (not to mention, in Season 9, a granddaughter) would be enough to make even a manly man like Mike start fiddling with carburetors and binge-watch Chuck Norris movies. Right?

To Affinity … and Beyond!

Now, Mike’s not onscreen just to teach us a thing or two about how everybody else needs to change their tune. He’s there to learn how he has to change his, too. He’ll do most anything for his daughters.

But despite the fact that Last Man Standing weaves those moments of tenderness and bonding into the laughs, it’s earned raspberries from many television critics, who’ve called it a tired, tortuous glorification of Neanderthalish behavior. A few have accused it of homophobia: In the pilot, Mike frets that if his grandson Boyd attends a school that teaches “sensitivity and tolerance,” it’ll lead to the lad “dancing on a float.”

I’ll accuse it of making fun of pretty much everybody, even the grumpy middle-aged men it caters to. This isn’t a tirade about how traditional manly values are being subjugated so much as it’s a statement about how we all get off track sometimes—enhanced by a laugh track. It’s not trying to say, “Aren’t women silly?” It’s more like, “Aren’t we all a little silly?”

Which doesn’t mitigate the fact that Last Man Standing is a little silly itself—and a little loose with its content. Yes, the show is one of the only truly conservative outlets on television. But Mike and the fam still trade sex-oriented jokes and prime the pump for some toilet humor too. And foul language can be harshly suggestive as well.

Episode Reviews

Jan. 3, 2021: “Time Flies”

Mike Baxter, like everyone else these days, soldiers through the coronavirus pandemic—one that the show suggests will last through 2023! Mike invited daughter Molly and hubby Kyle to live with them at the beginning of the pandemic, and they’re still there when it comes to a close—with their own daughter, Sarah, in tow. So now that COVID has finally left the premises, is it time for Molly, Kyle and Sarah to move out as well?

Meanwhile, Mike’s business associates, Ed and Chuck, drink a whole bunch of tropical blender drinks. It’s grizzled Ed’s idea: He serves daquiris and Blue Hawaiians to his not-so-appreciative friend. He complains that he and Ed used to share after-work drinks, but they consisted of scotch—“booze the way God intended it to be.” He complains that these drinks are the sorts that “tourists barf over the railing at cruise ships.” He adds later that he used to pour many of the drinks into a houseplant, which is no longer with them. “It was a suicide,” he somberly says.

Mike’s wife, Vanessa, pours herself a glass of wine as well. We hear a few references to God, many of which are at least semi-reverential. We also hear “a–,” “crap,” “d–n” and “h—.” Kyle says that he’s off to teach a Bible story and encourages others to go. No one, however, seems particularly interested in the study’s subject: the book of Leviticus.

April 19, 2019: “Yass Queen”

Mike’s daughter Mandy, a fledgling fashion designer, needs money to create her own line of clothing—and she goes to her parents for help. Meanwhile, Mike’s business partner, Ed, hands self-recorded tapes of his life—tapes he hopes to turn into a book—over to his employee (and Mandy’s husband), Kyle.
Kyle hopes that Ed’s future book will make the jump into the movie world, “like the Bible or Air Bud.”

A few jokes have a bit of sexual subtext. Mike drinks a beer. Someone talks about how he likes to tell stories at bars, on boats and while standing at urinals.

A computer screen (on which we watch Mike’s episodic vlog) features ads along the side, including one from an alien abduction club that invites people to “join your own kind and share abduction and probing stories (good and bad).” There are references to dead animals, and Mike tells Mandy, “Not a lot of deer hunters need yoga pants.”

Characters say “d–n” and “b–ch” once each.

Last Man Standing: Jan 20, 2017 “A House Divided”

Mike and Vanessa are fed up with the overt affection that their live-in newlyweds, Mandy and Kyle, show each other in public areas of the household. “It’s like being at the zoo!” Vanessa says. But Mandy says that she learned all about public affection from Mike and Vanessa, who would “grope each other” the entire time she was growing up. The couples agree to keep their kissing and cuddling behind closed doors.

Mandy’s and Kyle’s public affection isn’t R-rated; just a lot of kissing and tickling and mushy talk. Still, this episode gives us a quote that we Plugged In reviewers could use whenever describing the problem with even God-honoring sexual content on screen.

“We’re married now!” Kyle says. “It’s legal!”

“Slaughtering hogs is legal,” Mike retorts. “You want to see that in the living room?”

Mike and Vanessa, meanwhile, find the restrictions exciting. Soon, they’re talking about having sex in Mike’s office, and we see them both climb suggestively into a closet together. (When Mandy and Kyle find them, Mike claims they were doing a “moth inspection.”) We see the married couple kiss and hug, and Mike’s boss, Ed, agrees that they go overboard. They make marriage look good, he says, which in turn influenced him to marry again and again. Now he writes “alimony checks to three women who hate me.”

Mike makes several crude double entendres during a business vlog that involves himself, a snowmobile and Mother Nature. There are references to erectile dysfunction ads. Mike jokes that he and Vanessa should charge people to watch them. There’s a veiled reference to masturbation.

Youngest daughter Eve accuses her eldest sister of lying. But, she adds, “It doesn’t matter. Except to God, which isn’t really my problem.” Kyle says his childhood taught him that parents just “threw stuff at each other and gave their kids money to lie to the judge.” We hear that someone was shot in the upper arm. There’s a reference to a crude hand gesture. We hear “d–n” and a misuse of God’s name, each once.

LastManStanding: 10112011

“Last Baby Proofing Standing”

Much to Mike’s consternation, the Baxters baby proof their home to keep Boyd safe from all danger. Meanwhile, Mike pushes his middle daughter Mandy to get a job—eventually helping her snag a position delivering pizzas. Vanessa is aghast: Why not just get her the graveyard shift at an all-night liquor store, she asks sarcastically. “‘Cause she’s not old enough!” Mike says. But this is a guy who’s all rough on the outside with a warm and tender center. And we soon see him tailing Mandy during her first night of work, just to make sure she’s safe. (Of course he gets maced when she mistakes him for a stalker.)

References are made to drugs and alcohol use, and Vanessa’s frustrated when she can’t open the wine cabinet because of all the baby proofing. She struggles to open the toilet, too, and as a measure of last resort urinates (offscreen) in her grandson’s baby potty. Mike says paisley patterns are “flowers that are shaped like sperm.” A crack is made about Russian mail-order brides. Characters misuse God’s name a half-dozen times. They also shout the words “Mother Father” (two or three times) in such a way that they mimic a very serious profanity.

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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