Friday, October 23, 2015

Last Man Standing and Dr. Ken Reviewed: "The Road Less Driven" (#5.05) and "Dr. Wendi: Coming to LA!" (#1.04)

Yeah, because that's exactly Obama's plan, to invade Texas so that he can take away everybody's pit (it makes sense in context)

What is it? multi-cam "adult" (well, family/more well-rounded age demo-wise) sitcoms for both, each half-hour (24 minutes) length
Where did it air? ABC for both. Always Broadcasting Crap.
Who stars in it? In Last Man Standing's case Tim Allen who at least as far as show concept simply let himself go, also starring Nancy Travis who used to be a thing here and there, along with Kaitlin Dever who had some notable guest roles but nothing real meaty in terms of an actual starring role, the still unfortunately named Molly Ephriam (yeah I'm sticking to that) and some chick named Amanda Fuller. For Dr. Ken it's Dr. Ken Jeong (duh), perpetual scene-stealer Dave Foley and a bunch of no-names. Margaret Cho did co-star on "Wendi in LA" but - opps - turns out that was the next episode. You can tell I really cared to correct that info, especially after the "reception" I received over it on IMDb.*
Why are we reviewing this? Because I thought it would be nice to compare some so-called "adult" multi-cams on broadcast, but after again my "reception" on IMDb, yeah, you fucking tell me. 

Last Man Standing premiered around the same time as Jessie (about a week and a half afterwards actually) and given that Jessie has just come to an end after what's still an exceptionally long run on Disney Channel, LMS feels positively ancient by the standards this blog is used to. Heck, with five episodes into its fifth season it's been around a pretty good while by any real television standard anymore. Though it premieres on one of the "big" networks it's not too dissimilar from the type of material this blog normally covers, at least when it started out. Airing on Disney Channel's parent company (or is it the other way around?) ABC, LMS is the latest (well, really the only one since Home Improvement) Tim Allen vehicle about a family consisting of all three children being daughters, hence the incredibly strained pun of the show's title. Being a family sitcom, and having three main characters be tween-teen girls, there's naturally going to be a lot of crossover demo potential between this show and Disney Channel. Molly Ephriam, who both plays the middle daughter and takes home the crown for most awkward last name of the cast, played a bit role in Raven-Simone's College Road Trip (which also featured Suite Life's Brenda Song) while youngest daughter Kaitlyn Dever's going to be mostly known for her recurring role on the very much un-Disney Channel-like FX drama Justified (another show that recently ended) where she proved herself quite capable of kicking ass and taking names alongside Timothy Olyphant's Marshall Raylan Givens (and as a side note, she's friends with Disney Channel's Stefanie Scott and Peyton List in real life). In some ways perhaps LMS is trying to be the "adult" version of Good Luck Charlie or even Girl Meets World (or I guess an updated, bizarro-version of Boy Meets World), or at least trying to throw back to the TGiF days when the distinction between kiddie show and family sitcom was much thinner, if existent at all (back in the days when "kiddie show" almost inevitably meant a cartoon with talking animals in it). 

And like a lot of attempts to revive this seemingly lost sitcom genre, LMS was a mixed bag. You might even say its execution was, well, a bit lumpy in the batter. There were several spots that were perfectly smooth and of the right, uh, consistency necessary to make the formula work, but the mix included too many tightly wound bubbles of tension that couldn't be worked out even with several hard whacks of a rolling pin. You can go back to the 2011 Internet archives and read what the critics had to say and it was a little bit all over the place, but if you ask me the blame more often then not went to the adult parties responsible - the crew themselves, Nancy Travis and, yes, even the great Tim Allen himself. Again, like Jessie (or at least the later seasons of Jessie) the show lost focus it never had to begin with. It couldn't decide if it was going to be a mature yet still light-hearted comedic look at a teenage girl's life, or if it was going to stick to its star guns and have the daughters just be side characters hovering around Allen's orbit, or what kind of personalities the characters would even have outside of some lightly defined stock tropes. Again, just like Jessie in its best moments, or, say, Good Luck Charlie or Girl Meets World or any other good show normally covered by this blog that you'd like to pick, it had its flashes of genius. I remember a few Season 1 episodes that really stood out and really shone when it was just about the girls, or at least during scenes that were nothing more but an invisible fourth wall of cameras staring at three girls trying to figure out how to be girls, students, sisters, friends, and all the other roles the world wants to throw at them and looking at each other for help with a laugh track being completely optional. When you're trying to figure stuff out like this, in that moment it can feel like the weight of the world, but in those episodes, or at least in those individual scenes, the show never forgot that trying to navigate high school isn't the same as trying to solve the African hunger crisis, and so yeah, it had some light-hearted fun with it, but at the same time it recognized that for someone trying to figure out who she should be, who she needs to be for friends and family and for others, and when figuring out the square root of x7 is a legitimate concern that effects your outcome the next day, all of these are weighty topics that damn right deserve some reverence and sympathy.

My biggest disappointment with the first season of LMS was that these precious family moments were too far and few between, and they were by far the best moments otherwise yet another disposable generic multi-cam sitcom had to offer. I had shared on comments from Television Without Pity, AV Club, IMDb, any relevant discussion forum, all the way to shooting off e-mails to the writers that I wanted more of this, that I wanted more of these funny yet poignant and touching moments with these three girls and that these three were the best things the show had to offer, screw Tim Allen. I had imagined the show climbing into its sophomore streak more seasoned, more attune to what had worked and what not, and giving these girls more deserved, greater due. Eve, Mandy and Kristen would up the bonding and the character moments and can supplement the main comedic delivery of Allen and Travis but at the same time provide the material necessary to make this sitcom rocket into the greats of Norman Lear and Larry David. 

Nope.

While it turned out that Good Luck Charlie and even Jessie were able to deliver on exactly what I had been looking for without I even knowing, LMS instead went into probably the strangest direction you might expect from the show with even a remaining shred of realism. Not only did it go in the totally opposite direction of greater moments and character-building with the daughters, but it decided to double-down on Allen's Tim Baxter, a slight straw Conservative in the All in the Family vein and instead have Allen play the character as completely serious. The focus of character, the satellite characters around him, and the whole show rapidly pulled away from its initial premise to almost strictly cater to the Thanks Obama! crowd. Instead of trying to ditch what didn't work and emphasize what did, the show became increasingly an after school special-like prime time lesson in why the right wing is awesome. Instead of trying to become good and get rid of the shit, it just became even shittier in a really bizarre, shitty direction.

And the strangest thing of all, it worked. Ratings started to stabilize and even climb and it lived a healthy life where it still resides in the infamous Friday Night Death Slot airing opposite Jessie Prescott's life that feels like a party every day, Riley Matthews taking on the world and that Dog with the Blog. I guess pandering to a base that feels marginalized by virtue of having a minority as President is a legitimate television tactic. 

And so it is that version of Last Man Standing, the version that has managed to persist for the past 4 seasons, that we'll look at tonight. We'll also be looking at what follows after, Dr. Ken since it's proving to be the breakout comedy hit of the season so why not. I saw last week's episode and I was suitably impressed. We'll see if it can keep that up this week. I don't know if Mike or Nick are going to join in today - I hope so, but I'll understand if it's not their thing (hell it normally isn't my thing, especially Last Man Standing).

So tonight's Last Man Standing was...not what I had expected. From a review standpoint I was actually kind of disappointed because I was fully expecting to rip into this one and really I was hoping to contrast it with both Dr. Ken and your typical Disney Channel show on what not to do. Alas, I was denied that opportunity at least tonight. Before I get into the review itself I just want to selectively paste what Shipping Wars are Stupid already added to in the comments, to emphasize what kind of show LMS eventually transformed into:

I understand that Last Man Standing found its niche audience with conservatives and with evangelical Christians. They brought the Duck Dynasty guys on. They pray. They believe in God. And that's all great. 

BUT..The problem is the characters, particularly Allen and the youngest daughter, are all terrible people. The thing is, the show is too over the top with the conservatives values. 

Every episode can be summed up like this: 

"Tim Allen's character is a funny jerk, but he's right. America is being ruined by liberals like Ryan [Unknown: Kristen's husband, who after having a child while still in high school has by this point in the show grown into establishing a family of her own and is played by a completely different actress because reasons]. The military is greater than anything else." 

My problem is that Allen's character has to learn to get along with Ryan and the other supporting characters in every episode. A show about running a Cabellas wannabe store would be WAY more interesting than what this show has become. 

So, I haven't watched the show in years. 


With the exception of last season's finale, this was the first time I've seen a full episode of Last Man Standing from start to finish since they made the changeover to the new format I guess and I decided joining in on Jessie's penthouse party evv-r-y-daay! with lounge entertainment provided by Chyna Parks and standup by Stan the Dog was preferable. Yeah, like I said before, and like Shipping Wars are Stupid says, they made the characters, particularly the main character (as it turns out his name is Mike Baxter, not Tim, shows how long it's been since I've seen this) and the strange avatar of a character already on the show that is his daughter stupid beyond belief. Yet again, like Jessie, they devolved in character development into the wrong direction. Instead of being a lighthearted straw Conservative who nonetheless was just trying to learn to adjust to situations he found uncomfortable, he just became the living personification of bumper sticker slogans. His daughter Eve (Dever), instead of being a relatively complex character (at least for the show) last child who was struggling for an identity that would separate her from her older sisters, also became a personification of see girls can be conservatives too bumper sticker slogans. And so on.

Anyway, on to the episode! This episode begins with the girls (wife included) giving Mike a birthday present, which turns out to be a '67 Impala with a 427 big block (so far all of this is real car words used accurately, but really for the purposes of the show they're meaningless beyond "hurr big motor muscle car").  The cold opening thus consists of all the jokes about how a car can completely take over a man's romantic and family life away from the actual women in his family in exactly the manner you'd expect, cue intro. Between the women and the car, you can take a wild guess which is going to be the focus of the A-plot. The B-plot consists of Eve asking Nancy Travis (I don't even remember what the character's name is anymore) if she can go to some concert or some thingie overnight and stay with her friends, to which Nancy Travis says yes, then Mandy (Ephraim) complains that she never let her stay out with friends overnight at that age. Then Nancy Travis explains to Mandy that it's because Mandy reminds her too much of herself, and that Mandy has proven her wrong by being so mature, at which point Mandy gets upset that she's turning into her mom. This B-plot lasts less than three and a half minutes, takes all of two scenes and it's all we see of any of the daughters this whole episode. I know in my Good Luck Charlie and I Didn't Do It reviews I complain about excessive plots taking away from the main plot but this is just ridiculous, especially on a comedy show that struggles to have interesting plots no matter how much time is devoted to then.

So yeah, this episode is pretty much 21 nearly uninterrupted minutes of pure A-plot, completely void of fillers and animal byproducts. Once upon a time, back on Home Improvement, Tim Taylor sold his '46 Ford hotrod to a car collector, and then immediately regretted it, going back to said car collector's fancy garage in trying to talk him back out of it only to walk away in failure, but not before learning a valuable lesson in how nostalgia is all about the journey, not the final destination, and also meeting Jay Leno in a cameo as the collector's mechanic. Well, this episode is pretty much the exact inverse of that, complete with, yup, Jay Leno as Joe, the mechanic the kids and wife bought the Impala from. In fact Joe is sooo attached to the car that he pretty much ends up stalking Mike and fixes the car up for him right in his own garage. So the joke of the A-plot is a clingy friend (or non-friend) plot, ok. Mike tells Joe to go sod off but Joe tells him that he can put the original transmission in the car to make it worth better (car nuts go, er, nuts for "all original" after all). Mike's suspicious that Joe's only saying this in order to force himself upon Mike again, so he tricks Joe into letting him and his cohorts into his garage and tries to see if this phantom transmission exists, only to get caught in the act. Joe kicks Mike and friends out of the garage and then Mike walks home to find a large empty space in his garage where a blue 1967 Chevy Impala used to be. It turns out that Joe stole the car but only to put the transmission in it and then stuff about friends and conflict resolution.

Needless to say the plots are pretty weak. This particular episode rises and falls on jokes and their delivery and I have to say Tim and Jay play off each other well. If you've paid attention to my reviews you know I tend to be a sucker for meta-humor and it was all over the place, so, sure, I'm up for it. Jay even takes a shot at Mike's Thanks Obama! idiot mentality (see the quote intro into this review). So, yeah, a decent episode and if anything a return to the granted somewhat stilted and unrefined form of the show's very first season, but it beats the hell out of what the show turned into.

I keep forgetting I Didn't Do It's Sarah Gilman (the most underrated of that cast) is occasionally in this show for some reason. I've never seen her in it because that would require watching Last Man Standing.

Final Grade: C+
Episode MVP: Yup, Jay Leno. Tim Allen is a still distant second. Absolutely nobody else comes close (though barely anybody else has even been given screen time).

And we're off to Dr. Ken which is a show about...Dr. Ken. Or more precisely, that guy from, uh, what was that show again? The Office? Parks and Rec? The Korean guy who played the Thai guy from the Hangover movies. Except he's a doctor in this one because I guess in real life he actually was a doctor before discovering that being an Asian caricature is far more lucrative in American society. Dr. Ken, the character himself isn't too bad, mostly just a normal albeit insecure guy - not only insecure about his own physical shortcomings but insecure about his financial success and self-conscious of how people view him through that filter of envy. His insecurities tend to override all other aspects of his personality - last episode had him groveling to his boss to give Saturdays back to the nurses because he was worried about said nurses thinking of him lording his privilege over them. This episode we have Dr. Ken meets Dr. Kevin O'Connell, the pale Irish dude and other offensive Irish stereotypes leaped onto him (seriously it's a major part of the dialogue gags in the first third of the episode) only to discover that not only is Dr. O'Connell actually another Korean but basically looks like Ken Jeong only minus all the fail. So yeah, it's one of those episode, your standard green with envy plot. Ken becomes so pre-occupied with exposing Kevin for whatever nonexistent faults he can find to where he inevitably only makes an ass of himself and it's Kevin who ends up coming to his rescue, cue the end credits scene where the nurses (including the male one) literally fight over Kevin. 

I keep forgetting the great Dave Foley was in this one (especially considering how much he was in last week's episode). 

Final Grade: C+. Again, this is pretty much your standard sitcom fare to the point where there really isn't much to talk about. All the humor is dialogue and sight-driven, playing off Ken Jeong's own acting skills and ability to play off of characters rather than actual plot or character development or for that matter much in required skill from other actors. This is pretty much as singularly-focused a Ken Jeong vehicle as you can practically get.
Episode MVP: ...yeah, Ken Jeong is pretty much the only person doing actual acting in this one, almost by design, so I'm not sure if Episode MVP is even validated in this one at all. if this was last week's episode it would've went to Dave Foley, hands down, like it should.

*BTW I've received more disciplinary action on IMDb for reporting trolling and complaining about bullying than other posters had for using censor bypassing to use racial slurs so yeah not too happy about how the IMDb boards are run and moderated right now.

4 comments:

  1. Oh God. Unknown, my friend, you went there. Last Man Standing...where to begin?

    I guess I should say that I'm a stridently liberal feminist. My sister and a person I consider to be like a brother both serve in the Navy. I'm a Christian but I dislike having faith used in a pandering way or in a shove-it-down your throat way. I prefer to show my faith through my actions.

    I actually left a church I went to through all of high school due to the homophobia, anti Catholic attitudes and the arrogance of several leaders. Much more on that will come when Sean and Christian review Girl Meets Belief.

    I understand that Last Man Standing found its niche audience with conservatives and with evangelical Christians. They brought the Duck Dynasty guys on. They pray. They believe in God. And that's all great.

    BUT..The problem is the characters, particularly Allen and the youngest daughter, are all terrible people. The thing is, the show is too over the top with the conservatives values.

    Every episode can be summed up like this:

    "Tim Allen's character is a funny jerk, but he's right. America is being ruined by liberals like Ryan. The military is greater than anything else."

    My problem is that Allen's character has to learn to get along with Ryan and the other supporting characters in every episode. A show about running a Cabellas wannabe store would be WAY more interesting than what this show has become.

    So, I haven't watched the show in years.

    I do like Nancy Travis though. She's a delight.

    And Dr. Ken is harmless. I saw like ten minutes of last week's episode as background noise.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, I finally found what TMC-4 posted essentially behind my back. I've complained about that poster before - he doesn't have an original bone in his body, instead basically stealing other's opinions from around the 'net to post on IMDb as if his own. I've complained about him before. He's basically a troll who thinks he can outsmart the system through the use of quote blocks.

      Delete
    2. For what it's worth, he did have a point on my comment.

      The episodes that come to mind (I've seen bits and pieces in the background) that make me hate the characters were when Eve badmouthed a girl Mandy brings home who needs help. And Mike Baxter making fun of his female neighbor just really pisses me off. Every argument these people have were brought on themselves.

      Delete
  2. Lies and bullshit, every single goddamn word. I could pour out a can of alphabet soup and the result would likely be more coherent than the garbage I just read from both you and Shitting Wars.

    ReplyDelete

Yup it's another "the future of this blog" post but this time we're talking about videos, Patreon and Jim Sterling

So, despite the whole "future of this blog" thing being featured first and most prominently in the title and being the most import...