Tim Allen's new ABC sitcom Last Man Standing may present the former Home Improvement star as yet another dopey sitcom husband, but Allen's co-star Nancy Travis says that she gets to be dopey too.
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"They are unlike a traditional sitcom couple, where he's the buffoon and she's the patient wife," Travis tells TVGuide.com. "We toss that ball back and forth. There are episodes where [I'm] just fumbling around and he comes off as the voice of reason. They're both kind of trying to find their way."
Allen plays Mike Baxter, the director of marketing for an outdoor sporting goods store. When Mike's boss (Hector Elizondo) puts him in charge of focusing on the company's Internet sales — and his wife Vanessa (Travis) gets promoted in her job — Mike finds himself spending more time at home with his three daughters: single mom Kristin (Alexandra Krosney), dim, self-centered teen Mandy (Molly Ephraim) and tomboy Eve (Kaitlyn Dever).
Travis, who also recurred in the first few episodes of the CW's freshman drama Hart of Dixie, insists that it's the family dynamic that will emerge as the heart of the show. "It's not going to be as black and white as 'a guy surrounded by girls,'" Travis says. "Part of launching a show is you need a hook or gimmick, and that happens to be the gimmick. But we've shot eight episodes and what is evolving is a show about a real family in the middle of this country where both parents are working. ... It's not your cookie-cutter family — it's a family that is just trying to get through the day and make it work."
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The setup will certainly feel a bit familiar to viewers of Allen's previous ABC sitcom, Home Improvement. While Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor used to grunt and scream for "more power" on Tool Time, Mike takes to YouTube to berate a generation of young men who can't change their own tires.
"Tim is still going to have that point of view of a guy's guy and [come] at it from a more traditional place of 'Men were meant to have guns!'" Travis says. "But he's going to have counterpoints to that point of view within the family. ... Tim is invested in making every scene work and not just going for the obvious joke. He really wants this show to be rooted in something that is real."
As for her character, Travis says Vanessa will deal with everything from being called out for greeting trick-or-treaters in a too-sexy pirate costume to coming to grips with being a young grandmother. Meanwhile, the youngest daughter will feel disconnected because of Vanessa's long work hours while the eldest laments losing the life she planned to have after getting pregnant.
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"We're just trying to find the nuances and break away from the stock ideas and the broad jokes," Travis says."We want to know what makes this family tick and make it really relatable. And I think once you unearth all of that, you find a really funny show."
Last Man Standing premieres Tuesday at 8/7c on ABC.