Last Man Standing Tim Allen stars in this ABC show, beginning on Tuesday.
“I am the man!” Will (Mather Zickel) hollers lustily into his headset after scoring a kill in a combat video game. His wife, yelling from another room, orders him to pipe down.
“I’m the man,” he repeats in a meek whisper.
“Man Up!,” which begins next Tuesday on ABC, is one of several new sitcoms that make fun of men, so much so that the word “man” itself is treated as a joke. ABC’s other emasculation comedy starts this Tuesday and is called “Last Man Standing.” It stars Tim Allen, the onetime star of “Home Improvement.” Mr. Allen plays Mike, the marketing director of an outdoorsman’s catalog who has to stay home to tend to his three daughters when his business retracts to an online shopping site.
“Man Up!” is about Judd Apatow-ish men who are treated as children. “Last Man Standing” is a little less humble and more of a backlash against all the man bashing. Mike is an old-fashioned hunting-and-fishing man’s man, disgusted by his daughter’s mani-pedi-loving boyfriend and outraged by his grandson’s politically correct day care center (Mike is chided by a teacher for calling the boy “champ,” because the word “implies victory over another person.”)
Like so many other men on television these days, the put-upon heroes of “Man Up!” and “Last Man Standing” are victims of a changed economy and a new social order in which men are the new women.
Men have always been the butt of sitcom jokes, but in the days when they really did dominate the weaker sex, they were mocked more for their manliness than their metrosexuality. Husbands like Ralph Kramden and Ricky Ricardo were bossy despots who never quite understood that their wives were really running the show sub rosa. Even henpecked husbands on shows like “According to Jim” and “Everybody Loves Raymond” erred by being blunderingly male: Jim paid his sister-in-law to pick out jewelry he could give his wife; Raymond erased the wedding tape by recording a football game over it.
Nowadays men get on their wives’ and girlfriends’ nerves by not being manly enough. On “Man Up!” Will’s wife, Theresa (Teri Polo), taunts him for drinking his coffee with a hazelnut nondairy creamer.
“Your grandfather fought in World War II, your father fought in Vietnam, but you play video games and use a pomegranate body wash,” Theresa says acidly.
“Are you saying I’m not a man?” Will asks.
“You are man-ish,” she replies.
CBS has its own variation on the theme, “How to Be a Gentleman,” which began in September and is already slated for cancellation. It’s a modern “Odd Couple,” adjusted for recession and the role reversal of men and women. Andrew (David Hornsby) needs to man up when the new owner of the men’s magazine he writes for decides to appeal to a younger, nonreading demographic. Andrew enlists the help of a Neanderthal personal trainer, Bert (Kevin Dillon, “Entourage”), to teach him how to be less of a gentleman.
It isn’t just that Andrew is too courtly; his real problem is that he is too womanly. Bert takes him to a bar to coach him how to have one-night stands, and Andrew ruins everything by trying to call the gorgeous cellist he picked up to ask for a second date. As Bert knew all along, the cellist just wanted a one-time hookup.
It used to be that the woman sat by the phone waiting for a man to call. Now it’s the man who tortures himself wondering if she’s just not that into him.
On “Home Improvement” Mr. Allen played the star of a DIY television show who was clumsy around his own house. In his new role as Mike, a downsized dad, Mr. Allen has a video blog on which he rants against the feminization of the species.
The focus on men’s failings partly reflects that female viewers outnumber men; network executives, it seems, know what women want. But the devolution of man has been a topic of talk shows, pop psychology and books for years. The New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd published the book “Are Men Necessary?” in 2005, before the economy collapsed. Since then, books, articles and blogs about the changed status of men have abounded. This year alone, Dan Abrams argued that women were better at almost everything in his book “Man Down.” And Kay S. Hymowitz agreed in “Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys.”
The recession, it turns out, has only made things worse for men, which is why it is sometimes referred to as a mancession. As of last month, the Labor Department reported that unemployment rates were slightly higher for men than for women. Maybe more significantly, studies show that the wage gap between the sexes is narrowing, with women gaining on men.
Perhaps accordingly, there is a faint whiff of hostility mixed in with some of the laughter. ABC has a midseason show called “Work It,” which is a recession redo of the 1980s Tom Hanks cross-dressing sitcom, “Bosom Buddies.” Two out-of-work car salesmen discover that jobs in pharmaceutical sales are reserved for pretty women who can seduce doctors. They get around discrimination by dressing in drag. (They are hired because an executive complains that all the other female applicants think a clinical trial has something to do with Lindsay Lohan.)
On the NBC comedy “Up All Night,” the husband stays home with the baby, so his wife can resume her career. On NBC’s “Whitney,” the boyfriend doesn’t dare propose to his girlfriend because she is allergic to marriage. The heroine of “New Girl,” on Fox, is supposedly a loser in matters of love, but she ends up having to coach and console a male roommate who cannot get over being dumped. There are almost no men at all on the CBS buddy comedy “2 Broke Girls.”
On his show, Mr. Allen is at war with male extinction, and that’s why he may well be the last man standing.