As the television world shifts, and cable networks increasingly try to brand themselves as serving a particular niche, CBS consistently sticks with only two kinds of efforts – really good shows that are almost universally liked, and really bland shows that often manage to be so middle-of-the-road that they hit a magic, “meh” sweet spot that somehow keeps them going.
Man With a Plan, starring Matt LeBlanc, is solidly in the latter camp, and it’s a shame. LeBlanc can deliver, as witnessed by the brilliant Episodes, but this show has so much in common with newcomer Kevin Can Wait that it’s almost insulting. Take a couple of actors who had good runs in sit-coms decades ago, give them basically the same character they had before, and for good measure, we’ll give the shows very similar plotlines. Hooray.
LeBlanc plays Adam, a contractor who has to shift roles when his wife, Andi (Liza Snyder), returns to work after 13 years of raising their three children. Naturally, hilarity ensues as Adam discovers that his children aren’t the angels he thought, and being the “more primary” parent is a pain.
The kids are, at this point, the standard “defined as characteristic” types. The oldest is the manipulator, the middle son can’t keep his hands out of his pants, and the youngest is nervous about starting Kindergarten. The side characters are similarly lifeless as the show kicks off, only serving as the excuse for LeBlanc to raise his eyebrows, look sideways, or reluctantly relent in typical Joey fashion.
What’s even worse, despite the fact that the show has a few worthwhile moments, is that the comedic situations are lame. The Kindergarten teacher threatens not to teach Adam’s daughter unless he volunteers for… whatever nonsensical thing his wife volunteered to do before deciding to go back to work. A stay at home dad Adam meets at the Kindergarten parent mixer (seriously) hopes, creepily, to bond with Adam, being the first adult male he’s talked to in years. It all quickly becomes boring.
It becomes a true disappointment, because when the show is focusing on Adam and Andi bantering with each other, it breaks through to the higher caliber effort that’s buried beneath the cornball plot workings that are so reminiscent of shows that weren’t good thirty or even forty years ago.
Both LeBlanc and Snyder deserve better, and that clearly shows in these moments when they can just work with each other, as opposed to having to connect to the plot they’re in.
As if things weren’t bad enough for this series, which doesn’t think much of you frankly, LeBlanc is forced to shuffle through different gears at various points of the plot. He’s got the charm, and he certainly didn’t get through Friends without serious abilities when it comes to comic sensibilities and timing, but he has a tough time working through a script that can’t decide if he’s an “average Joe,” or an idiot, sometimes flip-flopping within the same scene.
Things are going to kick up as new characters enter the show in subsequent episodes (Kevin Nealon shows up as Adam’s brother), but this is a show that needs a complete overhaul in its approach to turn things around (perhaps ala The Goldbergs), and it’s doubtful that it will get time to do it. For now, it’s possibly the most skippable of the new fall slate.