The CBS sitcom Man with a Plan takes its cue from the “mancession” comedies that populated network lineups during the height of the economic recession, focusing on Adam’s (Matt Le Blanc) new role as co-parent after his wife, Andi (Liza Snyder), returns to work full time. Attempting to revive the multi-camera family sitcom for 2016, creators Jackie and Jeff Filgo seek but fail to mine comedy gold from the edgy tone of cable dramedies and the earnestness of many network dramas. There’s nothing easy about Man with a Plan, which leans too heavily on familiar sitcom beats and character types.
Where ABC’s family comedies—Black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat, Speechless, Modern Family—offer an increasingly diverse and complex portrait of American family life, Man with a Plan’s bumbling, self-centered father figure seems palpably regressive. Adam grumbles and groans about his newfound parenting responsibilities, fitting in a few jabs about his wife’s new position while explaining he’s “Daddy Fun Times,” not an “all-the-time guy.”
Recent social, economic, and cultural shifts have made renegotiating the labor of marriage and parenting a relevant and compelling topic for TV again, and the Filgos smartly foreground anxieties about masculinity. The only other dad volunteering at school admires Adam’s “alpha-male energy,” admitting it’s “so great to connect on a masculine level again.” But instead of deflating myths of modern masculinity, Man with a Plan doubles down on them.
Andi gives Adam a pass for “riding shotgun” all these years when he magnanimously agrees to co-parenting duties, but young, more modern-minded audiences might find it difficult to give him credit for a job he should already be doing. The series makes Adam’s cluelessness the butt of the joke and Andi’s frustration when her husband balks at parenting veer uncomfortably toward nagging-wife territory. Thus, Man with a Plan is unable to render its primary characters’ internal frustrations or anxieties as anything other than an engine for tired sitcom plots.
Adam’s immaturity ends up casting the women in the series as exasperated or manipulative scolds. When his daughter, Emme (Hala Finley), admits she’s worried about her first day of school, he suggests, “A real punch in the nose can be a problem solver.” This moment is played for laughs—complete with a laugh track. In a darker, more confident comedy, the line would land its punch. Man with a Plan, however, reuses an old plan for a fundamentally different cultural and comedic terrain.