The Bottom Line
- Stars Mather Zickel, Dan Fogler, Christopher Moynihan, Teri Polo, Amanda Detmer, Henry Simmons, Jake Johnson, Charlotte Labadie
- Created by Christopher Moynihan
- Premieres October 18, 2011, at 8:30 p.m. EST on ABC
This concept requires oversimplifying all of the characters’ actions and relationships, so everything can be presented as either manly or not manly. So the male protagonists are obsessed with proving their manhood in cartoonish, annoying ways, and the female characters seem to exist solely to emasculate the men. Nowhere is that more apparent than in Kenny’s ex-wife Brenda, played by the usually charming Amanda Detmer. Brenda is a horrendous, manipulative shrew, and yet her repugnant actions toward Kenny, including flaunting her svelte, smooth new boyfriend Grant (Henry Simmons) during a child’s birthday party, are treated as cute and amusing.
Brenda is far from the only character on this show who’s actually a horrible human being, though. Treated with the same cutesiness in the first episode is Craig’s desperate, romantic comedy-esque effort to win back his ex, who’s about to get married to someone else. He bursts in on the wedding to serenade his lost love with her favorite song, an action that comes across as creepy and borderline psychotic, but again is played for meager laughs. So it goes throughout the whole first episode, with all of the characters behaving reprehensibly toward each other while the show treats their actions as harmlessly amusing.
Man Up! can’t hide behind the creaky conventions of the old-fashioned sitcom like Last Man Standing does. Its single-camera format means it’s less reliant on corny jokes, but the more realistic style only highlights how pathetic and unpleasant the characters are. I’m not sure why TV networks keep giving Moynihan, a grating presence onscreen, his own shows to create and star in. His last effort as writer/producer/actor, NBC’s 100 Questions, was similarly unfunny and annoying, although it at least had a charming lead character to counterbalance Moynihan’s smarminess. Here all three main men come off as unctuous and irritating, for which Moynihan probably deserves most of the blame, since Zickel and Fogler have been entertaining in the past.
If the show dropped its obsession with defining manliness and instead just focused on the relationships among three 30-something friends, it might not be so bad. These actors (even Moynihan) have the potential to develop a genuine, honest dynamic (Teri Polo, as Will’s wife, is also capable of quality work), and the ensemble allows for telling different kinds of stories. But the title and the pairing with Last Man Standing seem to indicate that the artificial gender war will remain the subject, which means that the characters will continue to behave terribly toward one another, the jokes will continue to rely on one central, played-out theme, and subsequent episodes will be just as awful as this first one.