Do you enjoy a good story with compelling and memorable heroes and heroines? This monthly column features homeschooled characters in literature and film. Wish you had your own copy of the book or movie? Just click on the product image or text links to go to the author’s site or Amazon to buy it!
By Tab Olsen
Okay, I realize I’m kind of late here with this review of the Tim Allen comedy Last Man Standing. I’m sure many of you have probably already watched this series, but hopefully I will have some new information for you. For instance, did you know that the show has not just one, but two homeschool connections?
I don’t normally watch TV, so I had never even heard of Last Man Standing — at least not until earlier this summer, when it was announced that ABC decided not to continue the popular sitcom after it’s sixth season. With all of the hullabaloo about the series being cancelled because of Tim Allen’s conservative politics, I was curious and started watching it on Netflix. As soon as I saw the first episode, I was completely hooked! I’m already up to Season 5.
In the show, Tim Allen plays Mike Baxter who is the marketing director for an outdoor sporting goods store in Denver, Colorado. (The exterior shot is actually of the Bass Pro Shop in Rancho Cucamonga, California.) The ham radio station used on the set (featured in Season 2, Ep. 18 and Season 3, Ep. 9) is an actual working station. This inspired more than two dozen members of the crew to get their amateur radio licenses. Even Tim Allen is an amateur radio operator in real life!
Tim Allen’s character, Mike Baxter, is a conservative Christian who stands by constitutional and biblical principles. (Kyle, who works for him, is also a Christian, which is made obvious in certain episodes.) It’s nice to see a modern show with a strong father figure. Mr. Baxter is pro-gun, owns weapons, and sells firearms and hunting gear at the Outdoor Man store. He lectures his kids about Democratic policies and government overreach. He despises nosy bureaucrats, doesn’t believe in global warming, and has a fully stocked emergency shelter in his basement.
Mike is the odd man out in a house full of women — namely his geologist wife, Vanessa, and their three daughters. Kristin, 20, is a single mom who works as a waitress and has a son named Boyd. (She got pregnant in high school and had to finish her classes online, but at least she didn’t abort the baby.) Mandy, 17, is a fashion plate and Kardashian fan. Eve, 13, is a tomboy who takes after her dad. Mike’s wife and his other two daughters tend to be more liberal.
I like the way they keep everything current with what is going on in the world. There are all the digs at political correctness, social programs, universal health care, gun control, illegal immigrants, recreational marijuana, the EPA, etc. And yes, Tim Allen isn’t afraid to make fun of Obama and Hillary. Seriously, hearing him talk about these things is just like being at home, listening to your own dad!
But it’s not totally one-sided. The series also shows perspectives from all ages and different opinions. In fact, the character of Ryan Vogelson (Boyd’s father) is very left-wing. And yet there are times when both Mike and Ryan can agree on things like freedom of speech. Sometimes Mike is even able to persuade Ryan to see his point of view.
Last Man Standing is a show that teens and adults, both male and female, will enjoy watching. It’s a shame how so many sitcoms have evolved into vulgarity that somehow passes as humor, so it’s refreshing to actually find a sitcom that is truly laugh-out-loud funny and not offensive. [Note: it’s rated TV-PG for mild language: He**, Da**, A**, and occasional innuendo between two married people. They celebrate Halloween and Christmas. Also, the dad likes to drink beer and the mom enjoys drinking wine.]
Last Man Standing is a true representation of the traditional American family, made even more real by its references to current politics. As you watch the characters resolve everyday issues with humor and love for each other, you will feel like they’re part of your family too. Even though I understand that no show can go on forever, I don’t think they should have taken this one off the air the way they did. Seasons 1-4 are available on DVD. I’m guessing – hoping! – the last two seasons will be out by Christmas.
But what does any of this have to do with homeschooling, you ask?
Homeschool Connection #1
In Season 5, Episode 4, Boyd gets suspended for acting up in class. Boyd complained that school was boring, but when his dad Ryan took him on a visit to the science center, he had a lot of fun learning. Ryan realized, “Whatever problems he’s having at school is not because he doesn’t want to learn, it’s just that he needs more individual attention.”
Mike tells Ryan that he should consider taking Boyd out of public school. Mike even offers to pay for private school, but Kristin and Ryan decide to homeschool Boyd instead! At it happens in most families, Mike and Vanessa didn’t like the idea of their grandson being homeschooled, but soon they came around. Here’s how their conversation went:
Mike: “At first I thought it was a bad idea, but I did some research and I’m sure you know this, but homeschooling’s become a valid option.”
Vanessa: “I’m concerned about Boyd’s socialization.”
Mike: “You know, they do get together with other homeschool kids, they go on field trips…”
Vanessa: “You need trained teachers to help prepare kids for college.”
Mike: “I talked to my chancellor buddy at UC Boulder. They like homeschooled kids. They’re independent, they’re critical thinkers.”
Vanessa: “I still think public schools have a lot to offer.”
Mike: “But you know, public school hasn’t worked well for Boyd.”
Vanessa: “Look, I get it, obviously Boyd needs more individual attention.”
Mike: “Imagine what an amazing teacher you’d be if you only had one student.”
Vanessa: “Yeah, I’d have that kid in college by 14.”
They really did their research, covering all the typical arguments and providing a quick overview of homeschooling in a nutshell. This is the episode that I left off at, so I can’t wait to see if they continue with this theme.
Homeschool Connection #2
Here’s another homeschool connection: I love the character of Kyle Anderson, played by Christoph Sanders. He is so cute and clueless! The middle child of two brothers, Christoph was born on April 21, 1988. And he was homeschooled! (The character he plays is so sweet and naive, I can totally picture him having been homeschooled too.)
In his hometown of Hendersonville, North Carolina, Christoph was known as a good kid who treated everyone with respect. He participated in extracurricular activities like soccer and the Boy Scouts, and he attained scouting’s highest rank of Eagle Scout. When asked about the difference scouting made in his life, Sanders said, “when you spend that much time working on something, it becomes a part of you. Being an Eagle Scout affects your outlook on your fellow man.”
Christoph is an avid outdoorsman who likes hiking, camping, and surfing. He also describes himself as a “pretty great” cook. While growing up, he had originally planned to be an engineer. He took drafting classes at Blue Ridge Community College for two years. Then he was accepted at UNC-Wilmington, but soon he decided that acting was what he really wanted to do instead.
Christoph first became interested in acting at the age of nine when he started taking classes at the Flat Rock Playhouse, the State Theater of North Carolina. “I’ve always enjoyed performing,” Sanders said. “My parents said, ‘We heard about these classes at Flat Rock.’ I signed up and ever since I’ve kind of been addicted to it.” He got his first agent when he was 12 and at the age of 16 did a series of television commercials in Georgia for General Mills.
After completing the basic drama classes, Christoph moved on to an intermediate level, and eventually he was invited to join Flat Rock’s YouTheatre company. He gained membership in its elite conservatory, where he took advanced drama and acting courses. He graduated from the conservatory program at age 18.
While Christoph was acting in local stage productions, his dedication to the craft was noticed by Flat Rock Playhouse Associate Artistic Director Scott Treadway, who said: “He’s going to bust out because he has the talent, discipline and above all else he has a good head on his shoulders. Christoph is a perfect example of what the industry needs in terms of young people.”
Christoph moved to Los Angeles in 2007, to seek work as a professional actor. When he first went out there, he knew one person in the business and she introduced him to her manager, who said that she would be happy to represent him. He got a spot in a TV pilot within his first three months in Hollywood. After that, he went through an eight or nine month period of auditioning, trying to get regular work. In 2008, Christoph worked on the TV series Ghost Whisperer starting midway through season three until the show’s end in 2010. That’s when he started Last Man Standing.
In a 2008 interview with the Blue Ridge Times News, Christoph gave the following advice to anyone who aspires to be an actor: “I’d say keep a good work ethic and never stop trying. If you get told no, keep trying, keep going out there. You really have to develop a thick skin. You just have to keep trying and never stop learning. I take two different acting classes every week, because it’s like with any other job, practice makes perfect.” I look forward to seeing what Christoph does next!