Revisited: Why Last Man Standing Was Bloody Good Australian TV
No, we're not talking about that Tim Allen show.
Long before Roger Corser was a megababe sleeping with his opposing parliamentary candidate in Party Tricks, he was a megababe sleeping with his best friend’s ex in Last Man Standing.
When it comes to Australian television there aren’t many shows featuring main characters in their 20s. At present, Please Like Me and Wonderland are pretty much the only two shows that focus on twenty-something protagonists.
Premiering back in 2005, Last Man Standing asked what it meant to be young in Australia. It seemed perfect for the demographic. But as with so many extraordinary things, it couldn’t sustain itself for more than one season.
The Lost Gem
If when I say “Last Man Standing” you only think of this Tim Allen show, you’re not alone. I conducted thorough research for this article (read: I told a bunch of people “Last Man Standing is one of my favourite TV shows” and watched their reactions). My conclusion was thus: not many people know this show exists.
I’m not surprised. The show had a very short run from June to October in 2005. It’s nearly impossible to find now. No DVD store in Melbourne stocks it. Netflix doesn’t stream it. It isn’t even on Pirate Bay (not that I checked…). I had to get a Quickflix subscription just to get it on DVD.
Yet the show featured some of Australian television’s heavyweights, present and future. It was written and produced by Marieke Hardy (Marieke bloody Hardy!) and starred a bunch of now-famous Australians – including Offspring’s Asher Keddie, Kat Stewart and Alicia Gardiner (once again playing a nurse).
But it’s not just the pre-Logie Aussie celebs that make it great. Last Man Standing is about a group of young people: Adam (Rodger Corser), Bruno (Travis McMahon), Cam (Matt Passmore) and Zoe (Miriama Smith). They live in Melbourne. They do what most 20-somethings do: try to figure out their lives and not die in the process. As the DVD description says, “when it comes time to pick teams, no one wants to be the last man standing.”
Also, if you ever wanted to see Rodger Corser make a fool of himself while trying to win his ex back, you should totally track it down.
Let’s Talk About Sex
When it came to sex, the show went full bore.
A lot of current Australian television deals with sex in a very distant way – the most visual symptom of this is the fact that there’s basically no nudity in new shows such as Please Like Me.
But Last Man Standing went to town on topics like virginity (and “everything but”), online dating (which was a new concept at the time) and food fetishes – along with more “mainstream” issues, such as sleeping with friends’ exes and one-night stands.
The absence of nudity usually indicates that the show is aimed at a wider audience – TV shows and films with skin aplenty restrict their audience. But it is also symptomatic of television producers and directors’ fear to go there– to transcend boundaries, or even just to show sex (and life) as it is, instead of prettying it up with scenes of gentle caressing.
Let’s Talk About All The Good Things And The Bad Things That May Be
There are plenty of other uniquely Australian themes in Last Man Standing that you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere on TV today.
There’s an episode about ANZAC Day where Bruno wakes up for the Dawn Service and the others mock him for it – because what sort of young person does that? It’s a perspective on ANZAC Day that not many consider. Why should ANZAC Day be important to young people? For that matter, why not?
Bruno also faces a small crisis when his dad retires. It’s a reflection on the typical Australian “Working Class Man”. What happens when the Working Class Man stops, well, working?
In another episode Adam freaks out when he thinks his metabolism is slowing down. Then he has to deal with a gym coach who seems hell-bent on becoming his life coach as well – asking Adam all about his love life and following him to the pub.
There are some great Melbourne-specific references. A girl Adam is seeing decides to talk about where their relationship is going first thing in the morning. Later, Adam complains, “Who wants to have a ‘talk’ before they have a coffee?”
I do admit the show may have occasionally dabbled in problematic gender stereotypes. At one point Adam and Bruno go to a Mitre 10 Mega and spend close to a grand on barbecues. Cam also gets a bit ragey and hits his boss. Classic man. But these are not legitimate reasons to cancel a television show. In fact, they could arguably be read as satire of the Australian bloke – in true Marieke Hardy style. Plus, there are plenty of other sexist television shows still living fruitful lives.
But in so many other ways the show was really progressive for its time. Adam’s sister Marly is gay but no one makes a big fuss about it. When she announces she’s marrying her girlfriend, Alyson, her family is extremely happy and supportive. When she says she wants a baby, everyone around her is supportive too.
In Australia, few TV shows have canvassed these issues for the 20-something audience. The Secret Life Of Us did it aeons ago (before most of us had even hit our 20s) and Wonderland does a decent job of it these days, although its ratings suggest it could be not long for this world.
But these shows don’t have the same grit and don’t cover as wide a range of issues concerning young Australians as Last Man Standing did. I would think that Australian producers would want to make more series like it. Given the present day popularity of similar non-nonsense shows such as Girls, something like Last Man Standing – Australian, dark, millennial – would surely be ready to explode.