LOS ANGELES — Mike and Vanessa Baxter are engaged indining-table banter in a scene from Fox’s revived “Last Man Standing” (7 p.m. Friday on WFLD-Channel 32), but between takes,the actors continue the comedy. .
Tim Allen, who plays Mike, cracks jokes and chats with crewabouthisDetroit Lions. Travis, who plays Mike’s wife, Vanessa,goes faux put-upon at one point, saying, “I can’t work like this.”
Allen jumps at the opening. “Dig deep. Go back to NYU,” where Travis studied theater, he says. “Breathe in the subway smells.”
The playful barbs sound like a conversation a real married couple might have. But the relaxed vibe belies the topsy-turvy events that got them back 18months later,to their original soundstage, which features the Baxter’s Denver home and the Outdoor Man sporting-goods storewhere Mike is an executive.
“Last Man,” which centers on Mike, wife Vanessa, their three daughters, in-laws and friends, was canceled by ABC andbenched for a season until Fox, which owns the series, picked it up for this fall.
“It’s awe-inspiring to walk out [on set],” Allen says during a break. “All of us have come back with a renewed motivation. Everything’s sharper, crisper, cleaner.”
The cancellation was “jarring,” executive producer Kevin Abbott says, but the year away “almost was a benefit, because everybody came back feeling invigorated, like it was a new start.”
Travis credits fans for the Fox revival. “We were canceled with over 8 million viewers. They really came out. They never gave up even when we gave up. Petition after petition, letter after letter.”
The sitcom acknowledges itschange of address in Friday’sopening scene, as befuddled son-in-law Kyle (Christoph Sanders) can’t find his favorite TV show. “Why would they cancel a popular show that everybody loves?” he asks.
“Maybe they’re a bunch of idiots. Just try another channel,” Mike replies.
The year off meansmore than just a different network:“Man” required casting changes after some actors foundother jobs.Molly McCook replaces Molly Ephraim as a very different-looking middle Baxter sisterMandy, while Kaitlyn Dever, who plays youngest daughter Eve, will make fewer appearances, explained by the fact Eve attends the Air ForceAcademy.
Mike’s grandson Boyd has been recast with an actor (Jet Jurgensmeyer)about five years older.
“The concept of the pilot was Mike gets a grandson to teach to be a man,” Abbott says. With a 12-year-oldboy, “We have a lot more stories.”
Allen says he doesn’t harbor a grudge against ABC, where he enjoyed great success with “Home Improvement” and has made several films with parent Disney. “It’s my family over there,” he says.
He also doesn’t put muchstock in conspiracy theories that say “Man” was canceled because of the conservative politics of Allen and his character — at least that ABCwould confess. They “would have to be dimmer than a burned-out lightbulb to admit it.”
Allen and Abbott say Mike’s political viewpoint, which is countered by his more liberal family,has made “Man”distinctive.
“We tend to think of our show as being about a family first, but what makes it unique is Mike Baxter, because you really don’t see a conservative characterwho isn’t an idiot or a villain who is the center of the show,” Abbott says. (“Roseanne” briefly joined that club last spring.)
Mike’s business partnerEd (Hector Elizondo)and neighbor Chuck (Jonathan Adams) will return, but “Man” says goodbye to a recurring character with the death of Mike’sfather, Bud, in the Oct. 5 episode, which leads to son-in-law Ryan taking over Bud’s marijuana shop.
A culture clash emerges this season when the Baxters take in a 16-year-old foreign exchange student from Hong Kong. But it’s not because Mike, a University of Michigan graduate who has traveled the world, is ignorant.
“He’s formed his opinions through experience,” Abbott says. “If he disagrees, he’ll have an informed disagreement.”
“Man” delves into businessman Mike’s fiscal conservatismbut also references highly charged topicssuch as the travel ban, guns, drugs and health care, as it has in past seasons. But it will generally be a glancing blow, not full immersion, as was the case with the exchange student’s arrival.
Mike says“‘withthe travel ban and the wall, you’d think people would just want to stay the hell out,'” Allen says. “It was just a quick joke. I like the fact you’re never sure what he believed in that. … Mike Baxter will always surprise you.”