While it’s never easy saying goodbye, Last Man Standing fans are kicking off 2021 right with the final season premiere for the long-running comedy.
Along with ushering the Baxters back to TV, the show resurrects another fan favorite with star Tim Allen’s Home Improvement character Tim Taylor. While viewers will have to wait a week for the mind-blowing crossover in the January 7 installment, fans will get a look at how the pandemic has impacted the TV family in the January 3 premiere.
Below, showrunner Kevin Abbott previews what fans can expect from Season 9, including familial tensions (as seen in the exclusive clip below), a time jump, and much more.
What has it been like not having a studio audience during the pandemic?
Kevin Abbott: It took a couple of episodes to get our feet under us. It’s quite different. Our process is all built towards show night, and when you don’t have that, you have to figure out other ways to generate the energy. But then we got into the groove. We brought in 25 laughers that we put in individual plastic booths like they’re in a quiz show kind of thing, instead of the audience, and that helped. The first table read, we did it in a large room with everybody six feet apart and plastic in between everything. It really felt like we were doing it in an ICU room. It was not good for comedy.
So we do Zoom, and it takes a little while, but you get used to it. It’s a really veteran group, they’re all great. They pulled together and really stepped up. It’s a shame [though]; I’d like the actors to just have that chance to do the farewell tour with the audience members, especially with some of our loyal fans who’ve come through a lot.
How will the show kick off and how will it tackle the current pandemic?
When the writers met, obviously that was the biggest topic of conversation — how do we deal with everything that’s going on? Not only the pandemic, but certainly the social justice movements, the economic downturns, people suffering. That’s a lot of issues. And since we weren’t going to debut until January…it’s like “OK, do we really want to try to predict what it might look like in January 2021?” [Writer] Erin Berry happened to pitch something that I thought was wonderful, which was we’ll do a time flight. We will move forward a couple of years so that we’re past some of these crises. We’ll be able to talk about them, we’ll be able to talk about how it changed people’s lives and opinions.
Comedy as our mandate is to make people feel better, to make them laugh, to look at the positive, to find the positive in difficult situations, and that was hard if you’re just still stuck in the middle of all of that. So this gave us an opportunity to tell positive stories.
This season also features an epic Tim Taylor and Mike Baxter crossover. What made you decide to do include Tim Allen’s Home Improvement character?
Well, as they always do, the network came to us and asked if we could do something a little different that would be “promotable.” We tell smaller tales about life and a family, so big events are a little bit harder. One of my writers, John Haller, said he was thinking that we’ve had a lot of the Home Improvement cast on in the past. The only one we really hadn’t had was Tim Taylor, and I just thought that was brilliant.
We had to jump through some legal hoops and stuff, but Matt Williams ,who created that show with Carmen Finestra and David McFadzean, were very kind and very nice about it, and allowed us to use that character. Tim had a great time with it and we really enjoyed doing it too. It was a fun, interesting experiment.
Mandy [Molly McCook] and Kyle [Christoph Sanders] move in with Mike and Vanessa [Nancy Travis] in the premiere. How will that affect their relationship?
One of the other nice things about jumping forward a little bit in time is that it allows us to move the characters a little bit in their lives. And what you’re going to see is Mandy and Kyle have made changes in their lives, not just with the birth of their daughter.
They will be interacting more with Kristin [Amanda Fuller] and Ryan [Jordan Masterson]. I think that’s probably the best way to put that. And we’ve got changes in both Kristin and Ryan’s lives as well. They’re going to be doing interesting things. And Mike Baxter and his arc through the season, basically because is our final season, we’re looking at what is Mike Baxter going to do with the rest of his life.
How are the rest of the gang faring in Season 9?
We know that these times are going to affect people’s lives long after the immediate crisis is over and we wanted to reflect that in our characters. So, with Mike and Vanessa, the pandemic has made them think about how time doesn’t seem like it’s guaranteed. We don’t know what’s going to happen. So they are looking forward to the next chapter in their lives. We always talk about doing all these things. So for Mike Baxter that involves looking for who’s going to take over Outdoor Man.
Ryan, who’s been running Bud’s Buds pot shop, they did phenomenal during this time, and he gets courted by big cannabis. So we see whether or not Ryan is going to become a corporate guy. On the other side of the fence, the grill that [Kristin] was running suffered greatly [like many restaurants during this time]. And they have to make a decision as to whether or not to close. Kyle is advanced towards becoming a minister. He has seen the need for faith to comfort people during these times.
And for Mandy, becoming a mother in these times has made her recognize that while she was successful at fashion, she really cares more about being with her child. So she’s contemplating becoming more of a stay-at-home mom. We have an interesting thing with our social justice movement. It would have to start with Chuck. I can’t really give anything away because it will give everything away, but it’s a really great episode that deals with these social justice issues.
Last Man Standing, Final Season Premiere, Sunday, January 3, 9:30/8:30c, Fox