This will shock the exactly one of you who thinks the only reason I don’t like this show is because Obama told me to in language he hid in his teleprompter just for me, but back in the day, I used to listen to a lot of Rush Limbaugh. Now, I didn’t agree with much—or anything—of what Rush said, just to get my biases out of the way upfront here, but I did like the way that he structured his radio program. He’s a fun host, and back when I used to listen (from roughly the late ‘90s through the mid ‘00s), he was pretty good at keeping things clipping along and coming up with stuff to talk about. He was also good at keeping his callers to their points without turning the whole show over to them, and he could be awfully funny when he wanted to be.
Something Rush Limbaugh is particularly good at is something called the, “Can you believe this fucking guy?” rant. (This is something the liberal writer Thomas Frank dubbed the Plen-T-Plaint in his book, What’s The Matter With Kansas?) Basically, the “Can you believe this fucking guy?” rant comes up with some random news item—it almost always takes place in a school—and chastises everybody involved for their lack of common sense. The one I can think of off the top of my head is that story that got passed around a few years back about some school somewhere that punished a kid for bringing a butter knife in. Now, what happened was pretty obviously somebody at some school somewhere interpreting a “no weapons” rule overzealously. It probably all worked itself out in the end. (You never hear the ends of these stories, just the beginnings.) But in the hands of somebody like Rush, a story like this can be expounded on at length—often hilariously—to show how we liberals just want to make the whole world a nanny state. It’s a way of complaining about ideals amusingly, without digging into actual politics.
My point is that Last Man Standing wants Mike Baxter to be the guy who says, “Can you believe this fucking guy?” to pretty much everything he sees, and the more the show perches him between the two poles of his wife and his boss, the better the show is. For instance, the best scene in tonight’s episode comes right at the beginning, as Mike purchases an ancient musket, and Vanessa is worried about having it in the house with Boyd stumbling around. Mike’s rant about how impossible it would be for Boyd to fire off the gun—involving him having to take the ramrod and shove powder down the gun’s barrel twice—was well-written, and it was even better when delivered by Tim Allen. This sort of rant is the kind of thing Allen can deliver in his sleep, and he has a lot of fun with this one.
The problem comes later when Mike kicks all of the snow bunnies out of the outdoors store, because he’s seen the effect that having women like this pictured everywhere can have on his daughters. Mandi, briefly, has wanted to become a fashion model, and Mike is unable to forbid her to do so, even after Vanessa asks him to do so, and then she takes some topless photos. You can’t see anything, but they’re the sorts of things she wouldn’t want getting out, which is why he’s so horrified when he learns that she gave them to a 17-year-old boy. Vanessa cracks that 17-year-old boys are known for their trustworthiness. It could be a sweet moment—especially when Mike learns that one of the models Ed has hired was a classmate of Kristin’s. Mike, of course, is perched between worrying that his daughters will be sullied by the world at large and wanting them to be as independent as possible, and this is a fairly good way of showing that conflict in the flesh, as it were.
But for whatever reason, Mandi’s just not a very good character at this stage of the show’s development, and the storylines involving her are rarely as good as the others. (The exception was last week’s storyline where she wrote her college application essay with Kristin’s help, and that storyline ended up being more about Kristin, who might be the most interesting character on the show, simply because she has something at stake, something to lose.) Mandi’s a holdover from the show’s bland pilot and second episode, where it seemed like everybody involved was making a show where Mike fought back against the shallow world and the women he was forced to share it with. Now that the show portrays those women as having desires of their own, instead of simply rolling their eyes in reaction to Mike, it’s a stronger show. But Mandi’s still a shallow, self-obsessed twit.
This is not to say that you can’t have a teenage girl character who’s a shallow, self-obsessed twit! There are plenty of teenage girls like that, particularly ones who are good-looking and know it, like Mandi. But the show needs to do something more interesting with this type than just have her be interested in modeling. Essentially all of the beats of this storyline fell into place as soon as it was announced, and it’s one that stretches back to the very earliest stories about pretty teen girls. The one time it threatened to become interesting was when the three girls were all going to work on Mandi’s photoshoot together, because I find the interplay between these three actresses fun to watch, and Kaitlyn Dever’s been shunted into storylines with Mike far too often. It’d be fun to see how she plays with her far more conventional sisters, or even with her mom. (That said, I’m sure that’s on the way.)
But, again, the whole storyline was kind of bland, and while I appreciate that it more or less made sense (something that wasn’t happening a few weeks ago), it relied too heavily on a character who’s not especially well formed beyond clichés. That’s why I sparked to that opening scene so much, I think, because it offered Allen a way to deliver a rant that was in character and a lot of fun. It’s hard to come up with believable ways to have your lead character say, “Can you believe the bullshit I have to put up with?” on a weekly basis, but I think—and I can’t believe I’m going to say this—that Last Man Standing succeeds the more it lets Mike be just a little bit like Rush Limbaugh.
- I don’t know why, exactly, but the guest star scenes on the show rarely work for me, and they didn’t this week again. There’s something starting to spark about the main ensemble, and maybe I just want to spend more time with them.
- I don’t know that I need any more storylines about Ed farting around and doing stuff just to show he’s still in charge and Mike defusing the situation and then Ed’s upset and then he admits that Mike was right all along. Blah.
- One thing I really like: Everybody’s wearing winter clothes! The show has seemed to take place in the same “Colorado” that Community ostensibly takes place in until this episode, but this one definitely makes it feel like the seasons are changing.
- Oh, right, Kristin saved her boss’ life. It was all right but mostly unexceptional. I think the Mike/Kristin relationship could be the heart of this show, and this strayed a bit too far from that.
- The Growing Pains 5000: This week, we return to season two of the show, when Maggie took on a job for a school carnival to get closer to Ben in the creatively named episode, “Carnival.” In our new version of this story, Mike not only doesn’t say no to Mandi’s dreams of becoming a model; he auditions right beside her, in an attempt to become closer to her. This, of course, backfires hilariously, as Mike is so in demand as a model that he never has any time to hang out with his daughter.