TV's 'Man' problem
Women are getting the most attention and the biggest ratings in the new fall season. Need I say more than New Girl and 2 Broke Girls? But let’s not forget the poor, neglected heterosexual male. To judge from a batch of shows both new and older, guys are struggling — with their masculinity, their needs and desires, and their likability. Let’s do the dudeology:
ABC has paired Last Man Standing with Man Up! for no apparent reason other than that each has man in the title. Certainly Tim Allen’s Mike Baxter, a middle-aged hypermasculine control freak who thinks of himself as one of the last ”real” men, would despise the three Man Up! pals (Christopher Moynihan, Dan Fogler, and Mather Zickel), who play videogames and try to reassert adolescence into marriage, fatherhood, and beyond. We’re supposed to laugh at Allen’s man because he’s a know-it-all whose wife and daughters prove him to be a know-nothing; we’re supposed to laugh at the Man Up! boys because they’re arrested dorks. Given the two scenarios, Last Man Standing gets the advantage (and the higher ratings) if only because, while the Up! guys are better actors, Allen is the more seasoned joke-delivery machine.
Confronting masculine roles head-on is the theme of CBS’ drama A Gifted Man, tucked away on Friday nights where CBS doubtless hopes it will be discovered by the female demo that liked Medium and Ghost Whisperer. Patrick Wilson’s Dr. Michael Holt is a brilliant, chilly brain surgeon lacking much of an emotional life now that his ex-wife, Anna (the diaphanous Jennifer Ehle), is dead. But he is regularly visited by Anna’s spirit, and to be blunt and anatomically appropriate, she helps him to be less of a d—. Whereas the men on Last Man and Man Up! are defeated by smarter women — that’s the fundamental joke on both shows — the fundamental seriousness behind A Gifted Man is that Dr. Holt (whose name resonates as “whole” and “halt,” for an incomplete man whose emotional life is halted by his ex-wife’s death) wins by heeding Anna’s otherworldly wisdom.
Finally, there’s Ashton Kutcher’s Walden Schmidt, the horny, wealthy man-child on Two and a Half Men. Replacing Charlie Sheen’s dissolute-rake character, Walden is the type of tech billionaire who can indulge his regressive, faux-bohemian side because everyone loves him for his money and his body (Kutcher seems to spend 80 percent of his screen time with his shirt off, being hugged by various cast members). As the weeks have gone by, Walden has proved as lackadaisically passive as Charlie Harper was crudely active. Who’d have thought that I’d ever wish one of the crassest male characters in TV history were back on the air? Looking forward to that new FX series of yours, Mr. Sheen… Last Man Standing: C+ Man Up!: C A Gifted Man: B Two and a Half Men: B-