Missing the manly men on TV

By Betsy Hart | Chicago Sun Times | June 30, 2011

Get ready for a fall line-up of television sitcoms that feature men trying to find themselves as, well, men in a world where dads race to get to their child and change his dirty diaper before the wives do.

As The Wall Street Journal chronicled recently in “A New Generation of TV Wimps,” some half-dozen sitcoms — yes, a half-dozen this fall — will focus on men finding their way in an increasingly woman-ordered world. Of one, “Work It,” the writers said that “we’re showing how guys are growing and maturing and evolving by listening to women more than they traditionally have.” Does that imply that if women listen to men more than they traditionally have that they are “un”-evolving? Interesting.

Many of the shows will feature a dad as the primary caregiver, of course.

You get the drift. The show that intrigues me most is “The Last Man Standing,” with the lovable Tim Allen, which will provide “regular diatribes about the softening of American men.”

The creators of this show seem to have some sympathy for the plight of real men in a girls’ world, but it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that Allen will most likely end up as a caricature of a “real guy” meant to make real guys look like cavemen.

This was similar to the idea for the character of Alex Keaton in “Family Ties,” the hit 1980s sitcom. His parents were ’70s liberals, but their son, Alex, was a Reagan conservative. Here’s the ironic part: Although Alex was generally intended to be a caricature, it didn’t work — he became a respected conservative voice. The bits of conservative wisdom that got through, probably when the writers least understood what they were writing, made him a hero to conservatives everywhere.

That could happen with “Last Man Standing” if Allen’s character, stumblingly saying some supposedly cliched male thing, actually makes male viewers (and more than a few females) respond with “Right on, brother!”

In any event, “Studio and network executives say that this year they heard more pitches than ever before for shows about the changing dynamics of men,” according to the Journal. Well, all right then — here’s mine (all rights reserved):

How about basing a show on a fellow finding his way in all this who isn’t a joke? Who provides for his family without complaining, roughhouses with his kids, loves his wife, but is sympathetically hopeful for more sex than he’s getting, is trying to listen to her feelings but legitimately wants her to respect him more. Let the next-door neighbor, Mr. Sensitivity, who shops for organic food, cries with his wife over her difficult day at the office, makes sure his child’s diapers are absorbent enough, cautions his son to be careful when climbing the monkey bars — let him be the goofball caricature of this sitcom.

Few viewers, male or female, will cheer this fellow on. And when he asks his wife to go figure out what’s making that noise in the middle of the night? The audience might laugh — a la Woody Allen squeamishly going after a spider in “Annie Hall.” But, they will think he’s about as manly, by any definition, as Woody Allen, too.

Well, in the end, whether we realize it or not, I fear our culture is increasingly celebrating Woody Allen as the uber-male. How is that going over? The success or failure of these new sitcoms will, I think, tell us something about that. Stay tuned.

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