The TV dad as a concept isn’t the force he once was thanks to a wave of comedy writing and its focus on smartassery. Biting sarcasm just doesn’t flow well out of dads. Veteran funnyman Tim Allen and his newish show “Last Man Standing” are looking to blend contemporary comedy with the ideals and concepts popularized by the almighty Cosby (yeah he’s at one name status around here) two generations ago. We recently spent time on the set of ABC’s “Last Man Standing” and came away feeling that the veteran comic still stands tall among television’s best and most popular dads.
Allen’s character on “Last Man Standing,” Mike Baxter, is very similar to what we all remember from “Home Improvement” back in the day. Instead of being a handy man on a fictional show called “Tool Time” and grunting for more power, Baxter works at an outdoor activities store slinging camping and hunting gear. Somewhat familiar territory right? However Baxter has three daughters aged 13-20 under his roof to go with his wife and the 20 year-old’s preschool-aged son. So how does Tim Allen handle his character’s day job with a house full of women and soon to be women?
“I grew up in a huge family of boys. There were seven of us and I appreciated it and loved it. But I’ve got all girls now too and I absolutely adore the baby girls, especially,” says Allen. “I love women. I actually prefer girls as a parent because they disappoint at a different age. They go through that “Dad’s an idiot” and it lasts a little longer than I’d like. My little brother has girls too and he says ‘about 26 they come back. But from about 18, sometimes 16 on they just think dad’s horrible.’”
In recent television history, the dad usually follows a pretty basic blueprint as the clueless guy that just wants to be left alone, yet always has to dig deep into his heart, not his pocket, to handle most of his family’s problems. Getting him to realize this is where the fun happens. It seems Allen’s “Home Improvement” days, and the days in between that show and the new one, allow him to approach “Standing” with a fresh perspective.
“If you’re around women long enough you’ll see they have cracks in their armor just like boys,” Allen explains.” Boys can be kind of disgusting. You can’t leave us alone for any length of time because we will burn something, blow something up or paint something. We’re just obnoxious. Women attack in a different way. They’re emotional terrorists, I find. They say ‘oh, I’ll get you back’”
In a former life, Allen’s “Home Improvement” had American men throwing all kinds of money at burgeoning stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s as the do-it-yourself revolution took off. If you can’t go back to that well as a plot device, what’s the next best thing to power tools and 2x4s? If you said rifles and rods and reels, you’ve been waiting for “Last Man Standing”
“Construction was my first love. I love the trades. [This show] is the whole other side of that,” Allen says. “I grew up around hunters. I love guns, bows and arrows and compasses and binoculars. I don’t do any of that stuff. I just like the stuff. I shot one animal in my life and didn’t like it. If I had to skin an animal to eat I’d probably eat vegetables. And I don’t like fishing for that reason.”
We’ve always wondered how a guy with so much success as an actor and producer could be so into such hands-on activities and manual labor. Most of us start off as men of meager means where doing it yourself is out of necessity, not a lifestyle choice. Like your favorite rapper from the streets, a successful TV actor, at some point, is going to have people doing the stuff that’s dirty, dangerous and tedious. It’s interesting to see Allen acknowledge where and how his persona and his characters differ however slightly.
Yeah, Allen is a Hollywood actor, but hardly typical. One thing that’s trendy in Hollywood right now is environmentally conscious transportation. No nobody famous is going to take the bus or Metro anywhere. That’s too real. Famous folks and those that work for them and with them making TV and movies are all about the hybrids and electric vehicles. The Chevy Volt is an example of the toy as status symbol and Allen, of course, has his.
“I drive the anti-Volt most of the time: a 612 hp Cadillac,” Allen jokes. “ I just love cars. So I drive the Volt because it’s interesting but it’s like driving a Mac. You’re looking at all of the computers and everything. I like it but I prefer a six-speed very fast, big Cadillac.”
Spoken like a true 21st century TV dad.
“Last Man Standing” airs on ABC on Tuesdays at 8/7 Central and will be back for another season next fall.