No hold­ing back ‘Last Man Stand­ing’

Tim Allen se­ries re­turns to prime time on Fox

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - FRONT PAGE - Bill Keveney

Tim Allen com­edy re­turns, with tweaks, for a sev­enth sea­son on Fox a year af­ter be­ing can­celed by ABC.

LOS AN­GE­LES – Mike and Vanessa Baxter are en­gaged in din­ing ta­ble ban­ter in a scene from Fox’s re­vived “Last Man Stand­ing” (Fri­days, 8 EDT/ PDT), but be­tween takes, the ac­tors con­tinue the com­edy.

Tim Allen, who plays Mike, cracks jokes and chats with crew about his De­troit Li­ons. Nancy Travis, who plays Mike’s wife, Vanessa, goes faux putupon at one point, say­ing, “I can’t work like this.” Allen jumps at the open­ing. “Dig deep. Go back to NYU,” where Travis stud­ied the­ater, he says. “Breathe in the sub­way smells.”

The play­ful barbs sound like a con­ver­sa­tion a real mar­ried cou­ple might have. But the re­laxed vibe be­lies the topsy-turvy events that got them back 18 months later, to their orig­i­nal sound­stage, which fea­tures the Bax­ters’ Den­ver home and the Out­door Man sport­ing-goods store where Mike is an exec.

“Man,” which cen­ters on Mike, wife Vanessa, their three daugh­ters, in­laws and friends, was can­celed by ABC and benched for a sea­son un­til Fox, which owns the se­ries, picked it up for this fall.

“It’s awe-in­spir­ing to walk out (on set),” Allen says dur­ing a break. “All of us have come back with a re­newed mo­ti­va­tion. Ev­ery­thing’s sharper, crisper, cleaner.”

The can­cel­la­tion was “jar­ring,” ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Kevin Abbott says, but the year away “al­most was a ben­e­fit be­cause every­body came back feel­ing fresher, in­vig­o­rated, like it was a new start.”

Travis cred­its fans for the Fox re­vival: “We were can­celed with over 8 mil­lion view­ers. They re­ally came out. They never gave up even when we gave up. Pe­ti­tion af­ter pe­ti­tion, let­ter af­ter let­ter.”

The sit­com ac­knowl­edges its change of ad­dress in Fri­day’s open­ing scene, as be­fud­dled son-in-law Kyle (Christoph Sanders) can’t find his fa­vorite TV show.

“Why would they can­cel a pop­u­lar show that every­body loves?” he asks.

“Maybe they’re a bunch of id­iots. Just try an­other chan­nel,” Mike replies.

The year off means more than just a dif­fer­ent net­work: “Man” re­quired cast­ing changes af­ter some ac­tors found other jobs. Molly McCook re­places Molly Ephraim as a very dif­fer­ent-look­ing mid­dle Baxter sis­ter Mandy, while Kait­lyn Dever, who plays youngest daugh­ter Eve, will make fewer ap­pear­ances, ex­plained by the fact Eve at­tends the Air Force Academy.

Mike’s grand­son Boyd has been re­cast with an ac­tor (Jet Jur­gens­meyer) about five years older.

“The con­cept of the pi­lot was Mike gets a grand­son that he gets to teach to be a man,” Abbott says. With a 12-yearold, “we have a lot more sto­ries.”

Allen says he doesn’t har­bor a grudge against ABC, where he en­joyed great suc­cess with “Home Im­prove­ment”; he also made sev­eral films with par­ent Dis­ney. “It’s my fam­ily over there,” he says.

And he doesn’t put much stock in con­spir­acy the­o­ries that say “Man” was can­celed due to the con­ser­va­tive pol­i­tics of Allen and his char­ac­ter – at least that ABC would con­fess. They “would have to be dim­mer than a burned-out light bulb to ad­mit it.”

Allen and Abbott say Mike’s po­lit­i­cal view­point, coun­tered by his more lib­eral fam­ily, has made “Man” dis­tinc­tive.

“We tend to think of our show as be­ing about a fam­ily first, but what makes it unique is Mike Baxter be­cause you re­ally don’t see a con­ser­va­tive char­ac­ter on the air who isn’t an id­iot or a vil­lain who is the cen­ter of the show,” Abbott says. (“Roseanne” briefly joined that club last spring.)

Mike’s busi­ness part­ner Ed (Hec­tor El­i­zondo) and neigh­bor Chuck (Jonathan Adams) will re­turn, but “Man” says good­bye to a re­cur­ring char­ac­ter with the death of Mike’s fa­ther, Bud, in the Oct. 5 episode, which leads to son-in­law Ryan tak­ing over Bud’s mar­i­juana shop.

A cul­ture clash emerges this sea­son when the Bax­ters take in a 16-year-old for­eign ex­change stu­dent from Hong Kong. But it’s not be­cause Mike, a Univer­sity of Michi­gan grad­u­ate who has trav­eled the world, is ig­no­rant.

“He’s formed his opin­ions through ex­pe­ri­ence,” Abbott says of the cen­tral char­ac­ter. “If he dis­agrees, he’ll have an in­formed dis­agree­ment.”

“Man” delves into busi­ness­man Mike’s fis­cal con­ser­vatism but also ref­er­ences highly charged top­ics such as the travel ban, guns, drugs and health care, as it has in past sea­sons. But it will gen­er­ally be a glanc­ing blow, not full im­mer­sion, as was the case with the ex­change stu­dent’s ar­rival.

Mike says that “with the travel ban and the wall, you’d think peo­ple would just want to stay the hell out,” Allen says. “It was just a quick joke. I like the fact you’re never sure what he be­lieved in that. … Mike Baxter will al­ways sur­prise you.”

FOX

ROBERT HANASHIRO/USA TO­DAY

Nancy Travis and Tim Allen play Vanessa and Mike Baxter on “Last Man Stand­ing,” which is open for busi­ness on Fox a year af­ter ABC can­celed it.

FOX

Mike (Allen, right) deals with the death of his fa­ther Bud (Robert Forster) on the Oct. 5 episode.

FOX

Kait­lyn Dever, left, re­turns in a smaller role be­cause she is on an­other se­ries, and Molly McCook joins the cast.

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