Earlier this year, as the fall schedule began to materialize, two gender-related trends emerged. One said it was the year of the strong woman, the other said it was the year of the weak man. But how closely are the shows that allegedly embody these themes actually following them? We've already looked at how women have been portrayed this fall, but are the men faring?
Last Man Standing
The Background: The ABC show is really just a vehicle for Tim Allen to return to television, but the car he's chosen is a turbocharged Mustang surrounded by Smart Cars. Allen admits the show is Home Improvement except with daughters, which gives him even more reason to grunt and wipe his testosterone all over the place.
The Promise: Allen said, "There’s this little bark. I’ve always felt that men are pushed in a corner. We don’t have many skills. We can’t have babies. The No. 1 reason women are different from men is that they’re able to have children. We don’t have anything left. And this barking produces a new kind of guy." But he also acknowledged that it's pretty much a guy coming home to "four women who are intelligent, fun-loving, and strong." See? He had his cake and ate it too.
What We Got: Not gonna lie, of all the new "men are insufferable wimps" shows this season, this one actually does men (as our bare-chested and hairy forefathers were) the most justice. Allen's character is still a "man," per se, he's just a man living in a woman's world. It's a much different take than the other shows in the category, which focus on spineless whimpering fools.
Final Judgment: Last Man Standing is a typical "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" situation. But at least the "man" on the show can change a tire.
The Background: The series was picked up *after* Tim Allen's Last Man Standing, so it lost a lot of thunder and was largely dismissed as that "other show about men not being manly." Without a major star in the cast, the show has flown under the radar and has mostly been mentioned in passing as people (like me!) write stuff about the proliferation of non-manly shows.
The Promise: Creator and star Christopher Moynihan said, "My grandfather was wounded on the beach in Anzio, Italy, my father was a cop in the Bronx in the 1960s, and when I was in my mid-30s I spent most of my time sitting in El Pollo Loco with my friends talking about Batman. I was just a different kind of guy you know?"
What We Got: This show is different than the rest because it doesn't just feature one guy who's a pansy, it features three of them. The takeaway is this: there are a lot of pansies out there, and not enough exfoliating moisturizer for all of them. Man Up attempts to provide a better cross-section of the men it's trying to bring to light—the mid-30s videogame-playing set—by including more of them. However, they're all the same, they're all paired with women who belittle them, and they're all pitted against "ideal" men with muscles. Instead of these guys being comfortable with themselves, they're always just trying to be something more. Not cool, dude!
Final Judgment: Man Up is by far the most egregious statement that men are sniveling little wimps, and women are the ones who wear the pants, boxer briefs, and jock straps.
How to Be a Gentleman
Background: This CBS sitcom has already been canned due to atrocious reviews and ratings, but the idea was that a wuss who practiced proper chivalry (Andrew) would butt heads with his bro-y high school friend and personal trainer (Burt) as the "dude" tried to make a real man out of the "prude."
The Promise: "The gentleman’s game is just being a mannered, respectful person," creator and star David Hornsby said before the show premiered. "I think that’s where the two worlds collide. You have Burt dragging Andrew to a bar to pick up women. Giving a line to a woman can be a very tacky situation. So Burt has his own angle in to pick up women, whereas Andrew tries to find the higher road."
What We Got: How to Be a Gentleman never tried to pretend that all men are like the lead character, a prim-and-proper stick-up-his-ass who got hammered after drinking half a beer. Instead, Andrew was more of a sketch-comedy character living in the real world, where everyone was more manly, and even more contemporary, than he was. From that perspective, it was really just a show about a clueless guy, and not a statement about the loss of masculinity in society. But the media likes to talk about trends, so there you go.
Final Judgment: How to Be a Gentleman wasn't an insult to men, it was simply an insult to comedy.
Up All Night
The Backstory: The NBC sitcom is a pretty standard "we're new parents" comedy, but the spin is Will Arnett stars as stay-at-home dad Chris, who quit his job at a law firm to stay home with the kiddo while his wife Reagan (Christina Applegate) wins the bread and makes the bacon at her full-time job.
The Promise: There wasn't much focus on Arnett's character, Chris, being a sack-less shlub. But Arnett did, at one point, touch on the idea of today's man not needing to take charge when he said, "The story is not the same as my story, but there's so many universal themes here that I identify with, which are spending my 20s and the bulk of my 30s with very little responsibility outside of my own health and that of my wife, and then of course, culminating with starting a family."
What We Got: For the most part, Up All Night doesn't treat Chris as part of a new breed of man who's skating by while women run the world. Instead, he's like many other new fathers in that he's confused about how to raise a child, and scared of the traditionally feminine role he has to play. The show deals more with how old-fashioned gender roles are changing than it does with pointing at a guy in designer jeans and laughing.
Final Judgment: A harmless look at a stay-at-home dad.
The notion of an emasculated men trend appears to be overblown, as Man Up is really the only show that perfectly fits the mold of pansy guys getting walked on by strong women. The idea that new fall shows like The Playboy Club and Pan Am empowered women was much more severe.
What do you think of this season's "emasculated men" claims? What have various new shows gotten right or wrong?
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom