Last Man Standing stars Tim Allen as a father of three who works as a media spokesman for a company that caters to men. It’s been called Home Improvement with daughters. But just because the formula is the same doesn’t mean the shows are the same.
Even if Al’s in both shows.
Home Improvement was a relatively progressive show about a young father adjusting to the changing gender roles. Last Man Standing has Mike Baxter as a conservative father fighting those changes. But Last Man is as much conservative propaganda comedy as the Colbert Report. So those on the left and the right who fear/trumpet it as most conservative show this side of Fox News, sit back and see why you’re wrong.
Tim and Mike are both media spokesmen. But Tim does cable TV, which keeps him mostly in Detroit and near his family. Mike, as Outdoor Man, spent most of his time traveling to exotic locations to showcase products. Forced back home by his wife’s promotion and the cancellation of the Outdoor Man catalog, Mike is forced to deal with the broken family he neglected.
Consider the oldest kids on both series. In Home Improvement the oldest son Brad got into some trouble for vandalism in his early teens (caused by embarrassment by Tim hugging him in front of his friends). But he ended high school with the choice between pro soccer and college. Mike’s daughter Kristin got knocked up at prom by a guy that later abandoned her to go off and do his own thing. She struggles when she tries to go back to college.
“An abandoned daughter chooses a runaway coward as a boyfriend. No fucking shit.” – Carl Jung
Randy, the middle Taylor boy, went off to Costa Rica for social justice work. Middle Baxter daughter Mandy is a self-centered Kardashian wannabe.
Youngest Taylor son Mark goes goth for a while, but eventually chilled out. Youngest daughter Eve constantly tries to please Mike and mimics his angry conservatism. This will lead to an awkward Thanksgiving dinner freshman year of college when she brings her rugby playing ‘friend’ home.
Nice to meet you, Mr. Baxter. Eve has told me a lot about you.
In Home Improvement Tim and Jill are a 90′s couple that seek a more equitable home life. Jill also holds her own against Tim and is ready with a witty retort to his excess masculinity.
In Last Man Standing, wife Vanessa says keeping secrets from Mike is part of the success of their marriage and in the election episode makes a show of not revealing her choice. There are also constant references to her drinking, which is a good sign she’s an alcoholic.
What do you mean it’s only your second cask of wine of the night?!
Of Men And Mentors
Men are not born men, they are born boys. They require older men to show them the ways to manliness. Done right, it leads to great things. Done wrong, well.. you get Mike Baxter.
Tim Taylor’s father died when he was eleven. He found mentors in Mr. Binford and his next door neighbor Wilson. Mr. Binford saw in Tim not only a show host, but the son he never had. Mr. Binford was there at the birth of every one of Tim’s sons and gave Tim the loan to buy his house. Upon Binford’s death Tim honored him with a 21 nail gun salute.
Mike’s relationship with his father and brother is strained at best. Mike’s sole mentor is his boss Ed Alzate. Ed is an admitted bad communicator, with four ex-wives and several estranged daughters. He is cheap and isn’t above mooching off his underpaid employee Kyle. Mike hates neighbors, so even if Wilson were living behind him her would never speak with him.
The highly political Mike Baxter refers to socialism as “the s word” in his house and bags on Obama (despite voting for him). But as stated before, the true representative of capitalism is cheapskate Ed.
On Home Improvement Wilson mentions he broke up with his first girlfriend when her neo-Marxism and his laissez-faire capitalism didn’t meld. Yet Wilson is the most giving person on the show, always willing to lend a tool, a hand or an ear. With his advice he could build a media empire that would bankrupt Oprah, but chooses giving it away to whoever needs it.
WHY ISN’T THIS MAN A SAINT?!
Tim vs. Mike: The Two Visions of America
Mike and Tim represent two side of America: one of progress,and one of tradition. In 1776 Mike would be grousing about those militant traitors while Tim would accidentally cause the Boston Tea Party while trying to hot-wire (hot-sail?) a British ship. In the early 19th century Mike would grouse about the cramped and dirty industrial cities, while Tim would venture out with the pioneers. Late 19th century Mike would complain about all those immigrants while Tim would look at the railroads they built and think “More Power”
Also: “Uh Oh”
Home Improvement was Tim Allen’s lighthearted comedy of the 90s, a time with a great economy and social progress. Tim’s antics reminded us not to get too ahead of ourselves in an age of abundance.
Last Man Standing serves as a greater warning of our conservative excess. America’s returned from ten years of war abroad to find ourselves adrift and our homes, if not foreclosed, in disorder. Ultimately the answer lies neither in the Tea Party (represented by Mike) nor the far left (represented by many characters). Like Home Improvement before it, Last Man Standing is the story of America, and Mike Baxter is America.
Follow Philip Moon @Philip_R_Moon