This story includes details from the “Last Man Standing” series finale.
“Last Man Standing” ended Thursday. Again.
The series finale, “Keep on Truckin’,” marks the end of a long, strange but productive trip for the Tim Allen sitcom, which premiered on ABC in 2011, was canceled after six seasons in 2017 and then revived by Fox in 2018. That led to three more seasons and a total of 194 episodes.
The last installment – the first Allen has written for the sitcom and the second half of Thursday’s one-hour goodbye – was super-meta. The theft of Mike Baxter’s 1953 Ford pickup truck – owned by Allen – served as metaphor for the departing series, as jokes targeted Allen’s former ABC hit “Home Improvement”; his “Toy Story” character, Buzz Lightyear; and “Last Man” savior Fox for canceling the series a second time.
Allen appreciates the sitcom’s long run, but is puzzled why “Last Man” can’t remain standing.
“For those of us that loved what we were doing, on the surface it makes no sense. It’s doing well for Fox. Why not keep it going? I can only guess that it’s finances. Eventually, it’s a zero-sum game as shows get” older and costs get higher, Allen says. “The zeitgeist of network TV being what it is, (the longevity) is amazing. I’m grateful, humbled we did nine years. At the same time, I’m supposed to be grateful for this feeling of tremendous loss?”
Fittingly, the hourlong finale veers between two core settings: Outdoor Man, Mike’s fishing, hunting and sporting goods store, and the Baxter home, where the now-grown daughters of Mike (Allen) and Vanessa (Nancy Travis) and their families are still regular visitors.
The first half, “Baxter Boot Camp,” manifests the work-and-family vibe as eldest daughter Kristin (Amanda Fuller), a married mom and rising executive, tries to find balance, while Vanessa and middle daughter Mandy (Molly McCook) give foreign exchange student Jen (Krista Marie Yu) a backyard camping primer that’s more hazing than teaching, but always affectionate.
The all’s-well-in-Baxterville appetizer leads into the true series closer, which finds Mike in the garage fussing over the vintage truck. Vanessa joins him, and they reminisce about trips they’ve taken in the vehicle.
Not long after, the truck is stolen. Mike laments with a nod to longtime fans: “I had that truck 10 years. That’s longer than I’ve done improvement on this home.” When the truck’s signal on a vehicle-tracking system is disabled, it’s “no longer on the network,” friend and neighbor Chuck (Jonathan Adams) explains.
“Stupid network,” Mike says. “Stupid, stupid network.”
Alas, despite the best efforts of Mike, Vanessa, Chuck and friends Ed (Hector Elizondo) and Joe (Jay Leno), the truck is gone for good. Mike is upset, but Vanessa is brought to tears, again connecting the truck to happy Baxter memories.
How does one honor a dearly departed vehicle? If you’re Mike Baxter, you hold a memorial “to say goodbye to something that’s been part of our lives for 10 years,” with all the series regulars present. Youngest daughter Eve, who’s at the Air Force Academy (an explanation for the mostly absent Kaitlyn Dever) ), even appears via tablet.
“She wanted to be there,” Allen says of Dever. “We wanted her there.”
Family and friends talk emotionally about the truck, and it soon becomes clear that their sentiments are thinly veiled representations of what the actors are feeling.
“It was really tough to get through. Hector said, ‘I often say, don’t get attached.’ And he meant all his life doing theater, movies, you just don’t get attached” to particular projects, Allen says. “And then he said, ‘I made a mistake on this one.’ And he was right.”
But “Last Man” taps the brakes before getting too sappy, as son-in-law Ryan (Jordan Masterson) questions a memorial for an inanimate object.
“But it’s a truck,” he says, skeptically.
Later, as Mike and Vanessa converse with Eve and family members buzz about, Mike expresses gratitude as viewers see the last of this happy family: “Right now, I just want to enjoy this moment with all of you.”
But that’s not exactly the end: “Last Man” closes with Mike’s traditional video blog, ostensibly a promotional outreach for Outdoor Man, but really Allen’s chance to break the fourth wall and speak to viewers.
Mike, who’s anti-IRS and more conservative than most contemporary TV characters, starts by offering “a big thank you to everyone who’s watched these vlogs, all 194 of them.” He then vents mildly about “makers and takers,” people who get things done, like running a successful business (or TV show), versus those who make excuses or don’t even try.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about makers and takers because I had something very valuable taken from me. Somebody took my truck. Ten years of attention to detail. Poof! Gone,” he says, before finding inspiration in a Ronald Reagan quote.
Finally, the character – and actor – close with a heartfelt observation: “I loved every moment of that show – I mean truck. It was a classic from a simpler, happier time, you know, the truck. And that’s something that can’t be stolen from me.”