Last Man Standing did not make a good first impression.
Back when it debuted in 2011, I kind of saw it as the death of TV comedy. Admittedly, that's giving way too much power to this latest sitcom vehicle for Tim Allen, which airs Friday nights on ABC. But you have to understand my mind-set at the time.
The brief golden age of "smart" network sitcoms in the early 21st century seemed to be coming to an end. Shows that I had loved in their heydays, such as The Office and 30 Rock, clearly were winding down, both creatively and literally. And if Last Man Standing was representative of the new order of things, well, I wasn't exactly standing up and saluting.
And then when Last Man Standing did reasonably well in the ratings, I threw up my hands. It was petulant, I can admit with hindsight. But I just worried that dumb-guy comedies apparently had won out.
With Last Man Standing now into its third season, I watched a handful of recent episodes to get re-acquainted. And I have to say, while Last Man Standing is not going to win many, if any, awards, it definitely is better than I thought it was.
Last Man Standing is very comfortable, very familiar, in terms of traditional sitcom atmosphere. The cast actually is quite strong, top to bottom. And in a style that CBS perfected years ago with its Monday night block of sitcoms (which now is struggling, but that's a column for another day), Last Man Standing can be naughty at times, in a double-entendre, plausible-deniability way.
Example: In a recent episode, Mike Baxter (Allen) and his wife Vanessa (Nancy Travis) were lamenting the romantic choices being made by their daughters Kristin (Amanda Fuller), Mandy (Molly Ephraim) and Eve (Kaitlyn Dever).
"They can't all win the lottery like you did," Mike says to Vanessa, 25% boastful but 75% tongue-in-cheek.
"Just remember, a lot of people who win the lottery end up killing themselves," a playfully smiling Vanessa replies.
To which Mike adds, "And you remember, they usually end up blowing their winnings."
That may not be your kind of humour necessarily, but you have to admit, it's a spiffy exchange.
To be fair to my initial reaction, I think Last Man Standing has improved from its original starting point, with Allen's character being a comic curmudgeon, set in his stereotypically manly ways and railing against, well, everything. Since then, they've played up the comic and played down the curmudgeon, but there still is the odd Neanderthal moment, and the creators need to remember not to overdo those, as they're the weakest parts of the series.
Nonetheless, sometimes bad first impressions give way to second chances. It turns out Last Man Standing is a decently crafted show with a likeable cast.
I'll try to remember this the next time I feel like having a TV tantrum.