Last Man Standing: articles

Talking Point

THE sad news that there would be no second season of Last Man Standing came as no surprise. The disappointment that Seven felt about its Melbourne-made drama had been leaking like salty tears from the network since the morning after the show's debut on June 6.

Seven had hoped that Last Man, a funny, sexy drama focusing on the friendship of a trio of mates approaching their 30s, might capture the audience that once spent Monday nights avidly tuned to the exploits of Carrie and co. on Sex and the City.

But regrettably, and fatally for this cleverly written and well-cast local production, it failed to meet the "magic million" mark on its debut, or in the weeks that followed. And as it didn't immediately attract more than a million viewers nationally, both a crucial ratings threshold and a psychological hurdle, one could feel the network losing faith. It hung in for a while, allowing the series a plum Monday night slot, and then started the familiar, frustrating shuffle to later timeslots and different nights.

Seven is a lot less adept at hiding its disappointment than Ten, a network that has worked hard at making a virtue out of some of its programs' limited appeal. Most weeks, Last Man earned ratings comparable to those of a show such as The O.C. but while Ten enthusiastically makes its glossy Orange Country soap look like a hot property, Seven conveyed the sour impression that it was stuck with a lemon.

So the vultures started to circle, to anticipate Last Man's demise and to feast on its carcass with a sense of Schadenfreude. There were the inevitable dark musings about whether Australians were interested in watching home-grown productions if they didn't involve tangos or renovations of property and sagging bodies.

It's particularly dismaying to add this headstone to the cemetery of local dramas that have died young. It's a graveyard that has seen a lot of activity in recent years, and the brutal attrition rate wouldn't be lost on Nine as it nervously launches its new baby, Little Oberon.

It's sad because Last Man Standing, a 22-part series mainly written by the prodigiously talented Marieke Hardy, has a lot going for it and deserves a longer life. As it approaches its 17th episode, the series continues to offer a vibrant collection of characters and a community to care about. At its warm heart is a full-blooded, funny and flawed foursome: sweet-natured food photographer Adam (Rodger Corser), harbouring a passion for his best mate's former wife, Zoe (Miriama Smith); landscape gardener Cameron (Matt Passmore), with his love of women but unable to sustain a relationship; well-meaning but bumbling nurse Bruno (Travis McMahon), generally luckless with women but a great pal to his colleagues on the ward.

The show's skill is perhaps most evident in the evolution of Bruno, a unique character in local drama. Bruno can say silly things without being branded as the clown. He can be sensitive and boorish, clumsy and caring, and he's believable as both a good friend and a romantic interest, even as he bounces around, loudly asserting opinions that more sensitive or sophisticated blokes might only think. Hardy has said that the challenge with Bruno was not to turn him into Nudge from Hey Dad!: the buffoon who lurched in grinning and said something stupid in order to raise a laugh. She succeeded.

It's clear that she holds a genuine affection for all her characters and around the core group, she has woven a robust extended family that further enriches the show's texture. It includes Adam's mother, brother and sister, and her lesbian lover; Bruno's high-spirited parents and Cameron's coldly estranged ones; and Bruno's delightfully gormless housemate. Adam's relationship with his younger brother, Anto (Fletcher Humphrys), is a particular joy to behold, a beautifully drawn, thoroughly believable combination of love and exasperation.

Hardy's characters' conversations are authentic and spirited, just the kind of joshing, cutting, constructive chat that city folk with a history together might have as they mull over their messy lives. I'm going to miss spending time with them.

It's a shame that Last Man won't be standing this time next year.

By Debi Enker
September 22, 2005
The Age