Remember “Traffic Light,” which was on Fox, like, last season? It was only the most recent kinda-funny casualty in the male-panic genre, in which suburban trios of guys expose their inner Peter Pans, mostly by playing videogames and whining. In that regard think of ABC’s “Man Up!” — paired with “Last Man Standing” in a thematically compatible if not particularly appealing block — as “The Hangover: Part TV,” exploring the tired question of whether modern times have produced an over-evolved generation of girly men. Alas, it’ll take more than sociology to pump up this stale sitcom.
Producer-writer Christopher Moynihan also co-stars as Craig, a member of the central group, who escape from their daily duties by playing a first-person shooter game as they chat to each other wearing headphones. The anchor is clearly Will (Mather Zickel), whose brother-in-law Kenny (Dan Fogler) is divorced and chafing at the fact his ex (Amanda Detmer) is dating the man of anybody’s dreams (“NYPD Blue’s” Henry Simmons).
As always, Fogler plays a tightly wound ball of rage, potentially dragging Will into his madcap capers. Then again, Will spends a lot of his time wondering about whether he can measure up to the manliness of his father’s generation. As such, Kenny’s antics — or in the premiere’s case, Craig potentially triggering an ass-kicking by pissed-off groomsman after crashing his ex-girlfriend’s wedding — only provides an opportunity to test what he’s truly made of.
Finally, there’s Will’s beautiful/patient/much-smarter-than-he-is wife Theresa (Teri Polo), who may (at the risk of over-thinking things) bear less of a resemblance to her onscreen brother, Fogler, than any sibling pairing in modern TV history.
Although some of the situations are relatable — Will’s anxiety about finding his 13-year-old son an appropriate gift, for one — and others goofily arbitrary (Kenny’s obsession with Tobey Maguire), it’s presented in such a familiar single-camera manner it would be easy to mistakenly assume “Man Up!” is a rerun of recent sitcoms past.
If there’s a surprise here, it’s Simmons’ comic chops as the perfect physical specimen who has replaced Kenny, though making that a regular element — as opposed to a gag for the pilot — offers a sense of how broad “Man Up!” is going to be.
As for the show’s future, that almost entirely depends on Tim Allen’s performance as its lead-in — once again leaving these men, oddly, at the mercy of an earlier generation. Then again, even if Allen’s show works, this companion half-hour is so thin there’s still a chance ABC will wind up tossing “Man” overboard.