Tim Allen has a message for anybody on the fence about watching the revival of the conservative comedian’s sitcom Last Man Standing: “Who cares what I think?!” the actor-comedian declares.
Fox rescued Allen’s family comedy after ABC axed the show last year, and it’s landed in a post-Roseanne debate over the actor’s politics at a time when Trump supporters are considered divisive. Allen would prefer viewers just focus on his series, which chronicles the life of Republican-ish fishing store owner, Mike Baxter, his wife (Nancy Travis) and their three kids (including Molly Cook replacing middle daughter Molly Ephraim). After his series was axed, Allen famously compared being a Republican in Hollywood to 1930s Germany. Yet at a press junket earlier this month the actor artfully dodged any questions that touched on his political views, preferring to note his stand-up comedy mocks both sides.
We spoke to Allen to get some scoop on the new season of his show — and pin down what he really believes.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How would you describe the show to somebody has never seen it?
TIM ALLEN: There are a few shows I always liked. I loved Mary Tyler Moore. I loved The Bob Newhart Show. I loved All in the Family. I currently like Mom. What we do — this format of live multi-camera sitcoms— is very organic to the idea of a TV network. We aim to give the best we can. We have top-of-their-game writers who write a very emotional piece and to lay comedy on top of it. I’ve been a comedian doing stand-up for 34 years, the purpose is to just make you laugh at the theater human condition.
My character is like Archie Bunker with a college education. He’s a little bit gruff, but he’s also raised three girls. It’s a funny sitcom that’s constantly surprising. It’s not a political show. I encourage the people who say I’m some closeted Hollywood conservative to forget about Tim Allen and what his politics are.
So what’s it like getting back in front of the camera on your same-yet-different show?
I have no explanation for how odd it is that it’s not odd. Everything’s right up and running. When we left we had about six [episodes written] that were so good, and that’s what kept me going through this huge hiatus— we just had so much more show. The first audience was a lot of the people who had written in [to protest the cancelation]. There were a half million people who kept letters going to 20th Century Fox, Disney and to ABC, so it was a very exciting show. [We shot an episode] about the political climate. Next week it’s about the empty nest. [Mike’s] store sells guns, that’s a touchy issue, so we’ll also have to deal with that. So it’s going to be one great theme each week seen through the eyes of a very tolerant integrated family.
Has there been anything different about working for Fox vs. ABC?
Just manufactured differences. They don’t show up on the same [script read-through] dates. Their notes session is the same as it was. We’re just missing some of our buddies at ABC.
You were very disappointed when ABC canceled the show. Do you feel a certain amount of drive to turn this show into a hit given ABC’s cancelation? Like: Let’s show ‘em?
I’m an ABC guy from way back with Home Improvement. That’s like my family. I want ABC to do well. I love everybody at ABC. I was shocked when we got canned when we did because we weren’t finished — that’s where my frustration came from. I want this to be a success because Fox took a shot on us, and the Fox network is a smaller and more aggressive group than ABC and Disney. Of course, Fox is now owned by Disney and ABC. It’s kind of a crazy world, what happened there…
Is it weird to have a different actor suddenly playing your daughter?
We spent 6 years with the previous actor and we love her. Cook is [handling the role] with dignity and grace, and developing a wonderful new character. What she’s doing is difficult but she’s doing a great job.
What’s interesting about the show’s reputation is Mike Baxter is considered to have this blue-collar appeal yet he’s also totally wealthy, right?
“Blue collar” is people who do a lot of stuff with their hands — to me that’s what “blue collar” is. Much to be honored and so misunderstood. You flush a toilet and don’t even think about how cool that is, how that works. Outdoor people seem like they’re not environmentalists but they’re actually the most environmental — they want the outdoors to stay exactly the same so they can go and hunt things. It’s practical. [Mike Baxter] worked his way up, went to college and worked at a small fishing store, and by sweat and equity built it up through 11 stores. So yes, I would guess [he’s rich], but we never really deal with how wealthy this guy is. And he never forgot where he came from.
Despite a lot of assumptions about you online, you haven’t, from what I’ve read, actually ever endorsed Trump. You actually endorsed Kasich right?
Yeah, I endorsed Kasich. Politically I’m kind of an anarchist if you see my stand-up. I’m for responsible government that actually does what we pay them to do. I’ve worked different jobs and I’ve had a colorful past and I pay a lot in taxes. I wish we got more for our money. Whatever political party is for more responsible use of our money — that’s all I meant. In Los Angeles, I’m concerned about the 26,000 homeless people and I do the best I can. I’m concerned about keeping my roads and stuff clean in North Hollywood. Generally, the government is no help and people have to do that themselves. Kasich said that in a speech — that the government can’t do stuff that you won’t do yourself. Jump in! Do whatever it takes to get people engaged — not putting on a hoodie and screaming in the streets — but actually figure out how to help North Hollywood or Encino or wherever you live to get better. My political party is that I’ve never liked taxes, period, so whatever that means … I don’t like paying people who never seem to do what I would do with my money. I always thought it would be funny if I had a little menu on my tax returns where I could tell them where my money would go
If that menu was there, I imagine education would do a lot better and the defense industry would do a lot worse.
That’s what I mean. I’d like to pay teachers more! Fix that school up, and get a trade school near that school. I love the military. I don’t think we need two more attack submarines — for instance, I’m not saying that, but if you look at the [hypothetical tax return menu], I love our soldiers, they need a raise. “Walk softly with a big stick,” I like that. But some of that other stuff? I dunno…
But you’re assumed to be a Trump supporter, and you did attend his inauguration. So I guess what I’m wondering is … it’s been a year and a half, after all we’ve seen, as a self-described “fiscal conservative’ in Hollywood whose TV show dabbles in political humor: Are you a Trump fan, at this point, or not?
You know … it’s a very loaded question. I’ve met [Trump] at the charity event years ago, and that certainly doesn’t fit with the man who tweets. I’ve met a lot of people in private whose public persona is a bit off. My perception is “let’s see what he gets done.” Let’s stop banging on the pilot’s door and trying to pull the guy out of his seat while he’s still flying. You might not like how he’s flying the plane but let’s let him land it. Do I like him or agree with him? … I don’t know. Somebody got this NAFTA thing done. How did that happen? It’s like a slight of hand with this dude. There’s this smoke and smelly food but over here he just fixed a pothole. The theater of this is fascinating. He doesn’t do it very attractively but you don’t even realize the economy is doing better. Is it? There’s so much drama. Maybe it took this type of guy to get stuff done because it was so stuck in the mud. I’m just watching the theater of it and trying to keep my personal opinions out of it. What difference does it make whether I like him?
I’d just want to say again: It’s not a political show. We talk about politics because everybody does. If you want to see me talk politics, come see me at The Mirage in Las Vegas, or any of the concerts that I do throughout the country. My politics are really irrelevant. What I do in my family, what I do in my neighborhood, that may be more of an indication of what I believe. But I wouldn’t want who say, “I can’t stand Trump so I can’t watch this show.” Try to table that. It’s a sitcom that’s really clever where we work hard to make you laugh your ass off.
On a totally different front: What can you tell us about Toy Story 4? How is it different from the others?
If it’s anything near the first read through, it is great. Somehow they were able to advance this wonderful story that could have easily ended with No. 3 being the best of the bunch. It’s emotional and funny and exciting and different and took it to a whole new level. It walks the line between comfort — you know what’s going on — and discomfort — wondering what’s gonna happen. It’s terrifically emotional.
Last Man Standing season 7 premieres on Fox on Sept. 28.