2 ABC 'men' shows stumble with tired ideas, poor acting

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The oddest trend of fall TV takes off Tuesday night with the debut of a new Tim Allen sitcom and continues with a second, similarly themed comedy the following week; both air on ABC.

The theme: Men are on the decline, the world has become a wussified place.

And it's not just these two: ABC has a third "end of men" show waiting in the wings for mid-season. "Work It" features two guys who can only find work when they dress up as women. Consider that one "Bosom Buddies Redux."

'Last Man Standing'

Tim Allen, famous for his role on ABC's "Home Improvement" (1991-99), bursts onto the set of his new sitcom, "Last Man Standing" (8 and 8:30 Tuesday, WTAE), with a loud, "I'm back!" Later in the episode he gets in a reference to his Buzz Lightyear character from "Toy Story" with a hearty, "And beyond!"

Replaying past hits is no guarantee of future success, especially when Mr. Allen's new family sitcom feels like a rerun. This time Mr. Allen plays Mike, an executive at a sporting goods company. He trades his tools from "Home Improvement" for a crossbow.

Although Mr. Allen's past and present sitcoms and characters are similar, Mike is more overtly political. One daughter mocks his conservatism ("Dad only knows six words and half of them are, 'I blame Obamacare!'"), and Mike evinces a homophobic streak when he suggests that if his grandson continues to attend a preschool that teaches tolerance, it will turn the boy gay.

"You know how that ends up: Boyd dancing on a float!" Mike says, arms waving.

"Last Man Standing" tries to have it both ways with Mike spouting off his man's man shtick (he scoffs at the notion of driving the family minivan instead of his manly truck) while his working-mother wife (Nancy Travis) shakes her head and his daughters yell at him for his cluelessness about the lives of women.

It feels both orchestrated and dated, like a show whose time came and went around the same TV era that "Home Improvement" aired in.

'Man Up!'

At least "Man Up!" (8:30 p.m. Oct. 18, WTAE) attempts to be something other than a retread. It's not all that funny either, but it tries harder.

Actually, on paper, I could see where "Man Up!" might make an amusing script. But some of the performances are over the top. And after "Last Man Standing," the "man jokes" feel tired even if they are a tad more sophisticated.

Next week's premiere episode opens and closes with three guys playing an online video game. Amid game play, sensible Will (Mather Zickel) asks his friends about what to get his son for the boy's 13th birthday. Sensitive Craig (Christopher Moynihan) suggests a journal for the boy to record his thoughts, dreams and poetry in.

"Another place to put all those things is in your vagina," says Captain Caveman look-alike Kenny (Dan Fogler).

Subtlety is not this show's strong suit. That lack of tonal balance dooms the show, especially any time the focus turns to Kenny. Mr. Fogler screams too many of Kenny's lines, making the character more cartoony than realistic.

There are some funny lines for viewers paying close attention. When Will asks his friends to pick out movies on DVD that explore "a boy's transition to manhood," he quickly adds, "Nothing with Brendan Fraser."

"Duh," Kenny says in one of his few understated responses.

At least the characters in "Man Up!" exist on a spectrum with Kenny at the Neanderthal end, Will in the middle and Craig at the sensitive end. But the contrasts are so stark and some of the attempts at comedy so obvious (Kenny gets jealous about his ex's new athletic new boyfriend, what a shock!) that "Man Up!" squanders too many opportunities to say something smart and funny about theories on the end of manhood.

TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.


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