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Laughter Suppression: ‘Last Man’ Gets Political

Part of me sort of admires the idea behind the season premiere of ABC’s “Last Man Standing.” Knowing the show was being held until Nov. 2 — days before the presidential election — they’ve churned out an episode about voting, with Tim Allen’s conservative character, Mike, trying to convince his younger daughter to vote for Mitt Romney, while his liberal older kid pushes for President Obama.

LastmanstandingThe execution, alas, just made me desperately pine for the days of “All in the Family.”

Then again, that was a different era, and it was perhaps easier to reduce political talking points to a collection of one-liners. Here, it’s a litany of lame gags, trying too hard to even-handedly dispense barbs at both sides.

Here’s Mike on Obama’s history, referencing the South Side of Chicago: “It runs like a watch down there. You can’t wear one….” Or griping about Democrats taking tax money to fund “gay weddings for illegal aliens.”

On the flip side, the daughter references Romney’s opposition to Obamacare, calls him a robot, and makes a joke about him strapping his dog to the roof. Clearly, someone has been reading Gail Collins‘ New York Times columns.

Finally, there’s Mike’s wife (Nancy Travis), who refuses to discuss her vote in order to maintain harmony in the household. It’s all treated like a big joke, but struck me as perhaps the most tone-deaf element of the half-hour — as if the little woman has to keep her politics secret, lest she unleash a whole new slew of arguments for her, Papa Bear and the Baby Bears. Hilarious!

Such exchanges can work, at least potentially, when they flow out of the characters. Here, they sound about as convincing as two talking heads (excuse me, “political strategists”) exchanging jabs during a typical midday joust on one of the cable-news networks.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with a sitcom trying to be about something. But this just feels like a crass marketing tie-in — cashing in on the happenstance of scheduling and the proximity to the election.

There’s been a lot of talk about voter suppression during this election season, and the episode does include a message to get out and participate, whatever one’s views.

If only “Last Man Standing” promoted some laughter.

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