“People should matter more than ideas.”
That’s a line from the Dean Koontz novel, “The Silent Corner,” which I recently started reading, but it reminds me of the message in the season premiere of Tim Allen’s resurrected sitcom “Last Man Standing,” which debuts on its new network, Fox, on Friday Sept. 28 at 8/7C.
After six successful seasons on ABC, “Last Man Standing” was unceremoniously canceled in 2017. Considering the good ratings the show generated on a Friday night, Allen and his co-stars were stunned by the decision. Many believed the reason was that the show was too conservative for ABC, but the network insisted it was for economic reasons and because it didn’t fit into its move away from a Friday night comedy block.
Fans of the series refused to let it die quietly, and eventually made enough noise to get Fox to pick it up in its old time slot. The season 7 premiere, which was made available to fans early on Twitter, demonstrates the show and cast are comfortable picking up right where they left off. Well, almost. There were a couple of cast changes along the way.
The episode begins in the Baxter family living room with Mike (Tim Allen), his wife Vanessa (Nancy Travis), and son-in-law Kyle (Christoph Sanders) delivering a lot of jokes about the change in network. Then the show gets down to what it often does best: politics.
Though “Last Man Standing” is often called conservative, that’s not really accurate. It’s certainly got a conservative character (Allen’s Mike Baxter) expressing his views, but there are also liberal characters expressing their views. Each side has gotten to make valid points amid the jokes. In essence, “Last Man Standing” might better be called the most bipartisan show on TV. Allen himself has said that the majority of the series’ writers are liberals who are able to poke fun at themselves.
Mike’s main foil in regard to politics is usually his other son-in-law, the very liberal Ryan (Jordan Masterson). This episode finds Ryan in a major depression about the state of the country and unable to tear himself away from the constant breaking news alerts on TV. Mike tries to explain to him that politics and politicians shift back and forth (“Sometimes it’s my guys, sometimes it’s your morons.”), but Ryan believes the end is near.
Mike encourages him to get his mind off politics and do something relaxing, so Ryan comes up with “protest yoga.” But ultimately, Ryan decides to move his wife and son to his own homeland of Canada, a decision that doesn’t go over well with the rest of the family.
In the end, a mini-crisis prompts the politically-divided Baxters to work together and remember that they love each other, regardless of their political views. And Mike even convinces Ryan of a better way to make a difference than moving away. He gives him the necessary papers to become an American citizen, so he can have a vote that affects the outcome of the next election. For all of Mike’s pontificating, he is willing to promote civic engagement, even if it involves opinions he doesn’t share. And Ryan respects him for it.
This is the approach that has made “Last Man Standing” a cut above other shows that deal with politics. There have been potshots at politicians on both sides of the aisle, but the stories remain grounded in the idea that your family and friends are human beings that you should care about and support, regardless of their politics. You don’t have to agree with them on everything or even avoid discussing politics, but you should keep love at the center of the relationship.
In the divided, angry America of today, that’s a message that should be heard.