By now, you've probably seen the billboards for Matt LeBlanc's new CBS comedy Man with a Plan. It features LeBlanc, backlit by heavenly clouds, doing that Clark Kent peeling-off-his-shirt pose. Instead of a Superman outfit underneath, he's rocking a tee emblazoned with "#1 Dad." The tagline? Matt's Le-Back.
You can picture that marketing pitch meeting. Someone suggests "Matt Le-Back" as a joke. There are some chuckles, some groans and a "Heh. Good one" here and there. After a couple of "Anyone? Anyone?" calls for more suggestions, someone's like, "OK, let's go with 'Matt's Le-Back' and call it a day."
That's Man with a Plan in a nutshell: uninspired and unambitious. That sounds a lot harsher than I mean it to be. It's not irredeemably awful or utterly unwatchable or even an incongruent hot mess like Notorious. It's just as lazy as the kids on the show.
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The Friends alum stars as Adam Burns, a self-employed contractor who starts to spend more time taking care of his three kids when his wife Andi (Liza Snyder) returns to work. And bet you couldn't see this coming: Raising kids is hard, guys! Why can't Adam just be part-time "Daddy Fun Times" forever? Why does he have to do Sundae Funday at school? Why can't Andi work and take care of the kids full time like she used to? "I gave you three perfect babies," Adam tells Andi in the pilot. "And as far as I can tell, you ruined them!"
It's that dated recycling of gender roles and stereotypes that's probably the most Liz Lemon eyeroll-inducing part of the show. It presents parenting as purely feminine (the school has "room moms," not "room parents") and — not unlike its lead-in Kevin Can Wait, which features another beloved '90s sitcom star that's not exactly pushing the comedic boundaries either — it makes effeminate men the butt of easy jokes. Lowell (Matt Cook) is a stay-at-home dad/"room mom" who's constantly slack-jawed at Adam's masculinity. He literally remarks about Adam being an "alpha male" at one point.
LeBlanc, for his part, is the best thing about the show. Adam is not the most complex of characters and you can't even begin to compare LeBlanc's performance to his excellent, darkly satirical work on Episodes, but LeBlanc is so effortlessly charming that you're instantly put at ease and feel like you're reuniting with an old friend. Pun fully intended — really, it might as well be called Joey with Kids. LeBlanc also has an easygoing, lived-in chemistry with Yes, Dear alum Snyder, who replaced Jenna Fischer from the original pilot. The Office star, for all of her talents and whom I'd love to see back on TV very soon, was unfortunately terribly miscast, and it was uncomfortable seeing how uncomfortable she was trying to hit the multi-cam beats and punchlines.
And comfort is a big part of CBS' algorithm for success. Man with a Plan is comfortable, if middling. There's something to be said for the familiar and the reassurance it provides. Man with a Plan will also probably find the same success Kevin Can Wait has already found. That's fine too. You just hope it, like Adam, plans on becoming better.
Man with a Plan premieres Monday at 8:30/7:30c on CBS.
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