TV Review: ABC Pairs ‘Last Man Standing,’ ‘Malibu Country’ on Fridays

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CHICAGO – I wasn’t a big fan of “Last Man Standing” when it premiered over a year ago but it looks like a landmark program when compared to the vastly inferior new sitcom with which it has been paired, the new “Malibu Country” with Reba (who apparently goes by one name now) and Lily Tomlin. Both shows hearken back to the old-fashioned TGIF brand of programming, complete with laugh tracks and borderline offensive cliches. Do you miss “According to Jim” and “My Wife and Kids”? ABC has a couple of shows for you.

And I don’t mean that to sound as cynical or negative as it might. The fact is that sitcoms have come a long way in the last decade and what used to be passable in the genre looks cliched now. I have no problem with a well-done family sitcom (“The Middle” borders on being a great show), so don’t presume that I think all sitcoms need to be pop culture parades like “Community.” And there are definite moments in the season premiere of “Last Man Standing” in which one can see what works about the show. It’s not “All in the Family” but it’s trying for that model of an old-fashioned patriarch being assaulted by a new world. On the other hand, “Malibu Country” can’t shake its cliches and even its talented cast looks like they wish they were on a better program.

Last Man Standing
Last Man Standing
Photo credit: ABC

“Last Man Standing” Television Rating: 3.0/5.0
Television Rating: 3.0/5.0

The night starts with the better of the two programs by some stretch as Tim Allen deftly leads an ensemble that includes some talented performers and a writing staff willing to write a few interesting jokes. When I read that the season premiere would tackle the 2012 Presidential campaign, I presumed all of the jokes would be simple and obvious but there are actually a few clever political jabs as Mike (Allen) realizes that his daughters are voting for Obama while he’s a staunch Romney supporter himself. There are thousands of households right now going through the same dilemma — political divisions at the dinner table. It’s kind of nice that at least one family sitcom was willing to tackle it directly.

Having said that, there are still some frustratingly obvious jokes in “Last Man Standing” and I find the family dynamic much more engaging than the workplace one. “LMS” is one of those comedies that kind of wants to have it all — family comedy, workplace comedy, old-fashioned comedy — and dilutes it all down to a very safe degree of humor. The cast works and there’s a joke every once in awhile that’s surprising and so I have to say that “Last Man Standing” is improved over its series premiere but it’s still one of those shows that most people wouldn’t have noticed if it had been canceled instead of renewed.

Malibu Country
Malibu Country
Photo credit: ABC

“Malibu Country” Television Rating: 1.0/5.0
Television Rating: 1.0/5.0

Maybe I thought “Last Man Standing” was better-than-expected because I watched this stinker first. The typically charming Reba can’t find the hook in a show that wallows in two cliches — the redneck Southerner and the pampered Californian. Reba put her music career on hold years ago to support her country music star husband, who the world just found out was cheating on her. So Reba, her mother Lillie Mae (Lily Tomlin), and two kids move to California, where she tries to break into the business in the land of plastic surgery and back stabbing.

What is there really to say about a show like “Malibu Country” that tries to get most of its humor out of jokes about homosexuality (the boy next door claims to be but is caught making out with Reba’s daughter), plastic surgery, or Lillie Mae discovering marijuana lollipops. It’s all such easy writing with such lackluster pacing. It feels much longer than its 22 minutes and it’s just sad to watch someone as talented as Lily Tomlin caught up in this mess. She looks visibly bored. Everyone involved deserves better.

“Last Man Standing” stars Tim Allen, Nancy Travis, Molly Ephraim, Kaitlyn Dever, Amanda Fuller, and Hector Elizondo. It returns on Friday, November 2, 2012 at 7pm CST. “Malibu Country” stars Reba, Lily Tomlin, Sara Rue, Juliette Angelo, and Jai Rodriguez. It premieres on Friday, November 2, 2012 at 7:30pm CST. Both shows are on ABC. content director Brian Tallerico

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