and Paul Chi
October 17, 2011 12:00 PM

Last Man Standing

ABC, Oct. 11, 8 p.m. ET/PT |

COMEDY

Tim Allen starred in one of the most popular family sitcoms of the 1990s, Home Improvement, but his return to series TV after more than a decade away is one of fall’s weakest shows. In Last Man-by no means a radical departure from Improvement-Allen plays Mike Baxter, a regular guy who works for a sporting-goods company and at home is surrounded by regular women: In addition to his wife (Nancy Travis), he has three daughters and a grandson. The basic setup is that Mike often feels less like a lion in charge of his pack than a rooster facing a challenge from his hens. Allen and Travis, who are both better than your average comic actor, seem aware that they’re trapped in a particular kind of cookie-cutter sitcom hell, forced to laugh their way through stale gags about kids while other new TV comedies explore family life with clever, contemporary touches: Over on NBC’s Up All Night, stay-at-home dad Will Arnett hopes to seduce working wife Christina Applegate with a romantic dinner of ricotta-based gnocchi from a Gwyneth Paltrow recipe. Mike Baxter probably thinks she’s still with Brad Pitt.

Enlightened

HBO, Oct. 10, 9:30 p.m. ET/PT

COMEDY

Enlightened might look like one of those Showtime vehicles for distinguished, fortysomething actresses, but it’s more unsettling and enigmatic. Laura Dern is Amy Jellicoe, an executive who suffers a breakdown after a workplace affair goes wrong. She returns, post-therapy, with a precarious spirituality that slips into seething resentment when she’s relegated, literally, to the basement. Enlightened is a comedy, but not a relaxing one, and it might be unwatchable if Dern, who’s excellent, didn’t allow Amy’s laughable obtuseness to be pierced by glimmers of empathy and acceptance. If you loved The Secret, this one is not for you.

Charlie’s Angels

ABC, Thursdays, 8 p.m. ET/PT |

ACTION

The enduring piece of ’70s junk, which made a star of Farrah Fawcett, has been revived with Annie Ilonzeh, Minka Kelly and Rachael Taylor chasing down crooks on legs so improbably long they should be able simply to step over rooftops. Done without any of the smart silliness that made Drew Barrymore’s 2000 movie reboot so much fun, the show is just vixen nostalgia. Didn’t anyone consider Charlie’s Vampires?

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