When “Last Man Standing” taped its last episode several weeks ago, cast members were grateful they finally got a chance to say goodbye.
When the series was cancelled in 2017, there were no farewell parties, just a lot of shock that the No. 2 comedy on ABC wasn’t sticking around.
Luckily, Fox picked it up, put it back on the air in 2018 and gave star Tim Allen and company ample time to complete unfinished work.
“I loved every second of this experience,” Allen says during a Zoom conference. “You don’t know how much affection I have for all of these people. These were not comfortable weeks. I was counting off the hours and I did not do well with this. In a very moralistic way, I’m glad it’s done because I can’t feel this way anymore.”
When “Home Improvement” finished its run, ABC begged for more seasons. Allen, though, was ready to leave and didn’t think about the end until the last five or 10 minutes of the show. “For whatever reason, the end of the nine-year stretch on (‘Last Man’) was very difficult,” he says. “I had health problems letting go.”
Luckily, Allen got plenty of set pieces (including the vlog set) to remind him of the series. “I’ve got a crapload of stuff out in my warehouse,” he says. “I mean, literally, it looks a little peculiar at this point.”
Both “Home Improvement” and “Last Man Standing” are career highlights but the 67-year-old says he felt closer to Mike Baxter in “Last Man” than he did Tim Taylor in “Home Improvement.”
In the first series, “I was just a comedian doing a TV show. I had no idea that you couldn’t go in there and say, ‘This script stinks.’ But (‘Last Man’) was such a collaborative effort.”
Executive Producer Matt Berry says Allen got to know his character so well he’d tell the writers, “Mike wouldn’t say that,” “and we’d listen and we’d say, ‘Why? What about it is incorrect?’ and he’d tell us and we’d adjust it.”
While some tried to read into Baxter’s political leanings, “Last Man” wasn’t crafted as a conservative show. “The fact that Baxter had an anti-government point of view is just interesting,” Allen says. “I always thought it was Archie Bunker with a college education.”
Adds Executive Producer Kevin Abbott: “We always viewed this as a show about a family. There were a lot of issues that were dealt with over the years but in the last season, not much, because we were airing midseason and we didn’t know who was going to win the election when we started to shoot. We really had to veer away from a lot of things. Do I believe this show will be remembered having some political content? Yes.”
Allen says the company was comprised of people from different political viewpoints. When networks tried to steer the conversation away from politics, they resisted. “What I’ve always appreciated about this group is its very broad range of attitudes. We all didn’t like being told, ‘I don’t think you should be talking about this.’ We really pushed it a little bit. I admire that.”
Nancy Travis, who plays Vanessa Baxter, Mike’s wife, says the show’s fans have been incredibly enthusiastic and unhesitating in approaching her. “I’m always surprised by the passion with which they say they love the show and how much they watched it – specific moments that I don’t frankly even remember.”
For her – and the other actors – the relationships “Last Man” fostered are most important. “It’s the deep amount of trust (that allowed) us to take risks,” she says. “In the execution of the stories, it just made it very carefree and joyous.”
Co-star Hector Elizondo, who plays Baxter’s business partner, says the series had a rocky start “and it showed us we had a very, very resilient corpus. It got to the point where we were truly family.” To have the series end a first time was “a traumatic experience. It was unusual and a first for me.”
Now, he and the others can move on knowing they had the closure they didn’t get the first time around.
Helping Allen move forward: guest star Jay Leno. He showed him how to reboot his standup career, indulge his love of hot rods and restructure his production facility.
“Sometimes, he’s like an absolutely brilliant actor or somebody who’s acting like an actor,” Allen says.
Adds Elizondo, “He was just fun to have around.”
Now, the cast says, they'll stay in touch because they bonded so well during the series' run.
"There's something about that stage that became a second home," says Amanda Fuller, who plays Kristin Baxter.