So is “Man Up!” a sitcom, a sociological statement or just another collection of stereotypical jokes about the arrested development of the XY chromosome?
The series, which premieres tonight (Oct. 18) on ABC as a sort of Gen Y companion to Tim Allen’s “Last Man Standing,” offers the following setup: a trio of 30-ish guy pals – Will (Mather Zickel), who’s happily married with kids; Craig (Chris Moynihan), the sensitive, impractical romantic; and Kenny (Dan Fogler), embittered by divorce and potentially explosive – wrestle with living up to their idealized notions of adult masculinity while still indulging in soft-seeming escapism, like their intense online video game sessions and fondness for specific non-dairy creamers and fruit-scented body scrubs.
Moynihan, who also created and executive produces the sitcom, says that modern men are caught on the crux of wanting to live up to the tougher, more capable and responsible notion of manhood perpetuated by previous generations and the softer, more self-indulgent lifestyle available today.
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“I think it's a product of luxury,” says Moynihan. “We don't have to do these things anymore because everything is kind of made readily available to us and the opportunities to actually be a real man are few and far between. We are a generation that has a war, and we have the luxury of other people volunteering and doing that for us. Our grandfathers and our fathers, they were drafted and they were made to do it. I think we're starting to socialize and civilize men to the point where…let's be fair, there's a lot of product in my hair right now that my father, at 38 years old, would never have had this much stuff in his hair.”
Fogler – who describes his character as “kind of like George Costanza with hair, a slow burner and then an exploder” – says he thinks “Man Up’s” comic plotlines are an accurate reflection of the current manly zeitgeist. “I think this show reflects what's going on with men right now in society,” he says. “I feel very close to Kenny, and I know that I have a lot of friends out there that will watch the show and say, ‘Hey, that's me up there, man. That's me going through this crisis.’ And I think they'll dig it. I don't think the show is about men being emasculated. It's about men trying to find themselves again.”
Zickel says his character’s marriage to Theresa (Teri Polo) will be different from the typical “wife knows best” angle that’s characterized dozens of recent sitcom relationships. “In terms of the phrase ‘manning up,’ particularly in regards to our marriage on the show, it's a matter of accepting responsibility for the things that a man should do, as opposed to being guilted or cornered into doing something,” Zickel says. “I think my character Will wants to take responsibility for his life. He has certain boyish aspects: he likes to play video games, but he also has a job, he helps with the kids, he's married, he provides, and he takes great pride in that. I don't think he's trying to, get out of things or shirk responsibility. And I don't always think Theresa is necessarily trying to force him to do things that he doesn't want to do.”
Executive producer Victor Fresco (“Better Off Ted”) hopes to mine as much humor from the modern male experience, noting that “life hasn't gotten easier – It's just gotten different. We don't mow our lawns and trim our trees, but in the advent of computers and online, somehow we’re working 12 hours a day, so something went wrong with that idea that technology was supposed to liberate us, but those of us who are lucky enough to have jobs are working harder than ever. I think that's put a lot of stressors on both men and women. You work long hours, and then you are expected, and you want to help out around the house. I'm not of my father's generation where I come home and have a martini and watch television. I want to see my kids, and I want to hang out with them, but it does create more stress as you try and wear all those hats and be super-dad and super-husband.”
It’s a problem that’s never too far out of mind, adds Fogler: “If the electricity went out right now, we'd all be screwed.”
"Man Up" premieres tonight at 8:30 PM ET on ABC