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How will the revived Last Man Standing tackle Trump?

It mostly won’t.

Tim Allen on ABC’s sitcom Last Man Standing
Tim Allen in Last Man Standing.
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

Last Man Standing will be the same show it always was when it returns in the fall on Fox, after a year off the air.

The show aired its first six seasons on ABC, which canceled it in the spring of 2017; many conservatives believed that was political pushback for star Tim Allen’s Trump-supporting views.

But even Allen will admit that ABC had a compelling business reason to cancel Last Man Standing, as the series was owned by the Fox TV studio even though it aired on ABC, which is part of the Disney family. (Ironically, the in-progress Fox-Disney merger means that Last Man Standing will likely soon be a Disney-owned show that airs on the Fox network, which won’t be part of the merger. It’s an exact reversal of the previous dynamic.)

After new showrunner Kevin Abbott said at the 2018 Television Critics Association summer press tour that he felt the cancellation was due to ABC wanting to program Fridays with more shows that Disney owned — something it ultimately did — Allen hemmed and hawed for a bit about how, even if ABC did cancel the show for political reasons, it would never say so, before concluding: “I think it was a financial decision on ABC’s part.”

(Allen has been making this statement, in one form or another, since Last Man Standing’s cancellation; the idea that the show was canceled because Allen supports Trump emerged from other sources.)

Regardless, when Last Man Standing returns, it won’t have Allen’s character, Mike Baxter, become an outspoken Trump supporter, or even a mild one. Mike will continue to skew conservative in his political leanings, but he’s not going to suddenly start preaching the gospel of Trump. This is in keeping with the original show, which actually veered slightly away from politics in the wake of Trump’s unlikely election win.

“If it’s helping his business, he’s probably pro-Trump,” Allen said of Mike. “I don’t know if he’s going to defend him. ... I’m not the character I play.”

Last Man Standing was never meant to be a political football in the way it has become

Mike was always more interested in silly culture war stuff than in any political issues of real substance, and Last Man Standing was never as forthrightly and outspokenly political as, say, Roseanne was, in both its old and new variants. It was never terribly interested in the way political and social issues reached out to affect its characters lives. Last Man Standing was always, first and foremost, a fairly well-constructed family sitcom, if not a terribly adventurous one.

But because Allen’s Trump support has now become conflated with the show’s cancellation, Last Man Standing has become a strange political football, and it can’t really sustain that. That may explain why producers were so intent on insisting, during the show’s TCA panel, that it will be about a family that might occasionally fight over politics but fundamentally gets along.

What’s a little disappointing about this is that if the show really had gone all-in on making Mike a Trump supporter, it might have finally found the extra edge that has too often eluded it. Last Man Standing is a show that treats politics as a minor inconvenience, not something that could legitimately affect the lives of its well-off, white, cisgender, straight characters. They might argue about politics, but only in theory. That makes it easier for them to find common ground at the end of every episode, as the laws of family sitcoms dictate.

Mike has always been a character better suited for the Obama era than the Trump era — an affluent middle-aged white guy driven more by grievances and his feeling that his kids don’t listen to him than any hardcore political beliefs. He’s “arguing with your older uncle on Facebook about transgender bathroom bills when neither of you is transgender,” reimagined as a sitcom character.

And, whatever. Fine. I liked Last Man Standing well enough and will probably watch more of it. But its milquetoast take on politics feels like a bad match for an era when so many families have found themselves irreparably divided over issues the show could engage with but chooses to ignore.

Saying that Last Man Standing will be the same show as ever mostly suggests it will still be the kind of show Allen alluded to at another point during the panel, when he mentioned that he was a little sad not to be able to make jokes about a President Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits. (Allen seems to think Clinton would have been better for comedy, and, uh, say what you will about Donald Trump, but he’s not exactly difficult to crack jokes about.)

Funny? Sometimes, sure. But mostly existing to get a handful of imagined liberals’ dander up before insisting that everything will be alright in the end.