Women! They go to work now! Who knew?
This is more or less the premise of CBS' new family sitcom, "Man with a Plan" in which Adam (Matt LeBlanc) is forced to take a bigger role in raising his children when his wife, previously a stay-at-home mom, goes back to work full-time. Raising three children isn't easy, which Adam only discovers when he takes a bigger role in his kids' life. They require snacks after school and never pick up their clothes inside the house; Teddy (Matthew McCann), their middle child, can't seem to keep his hands out of his pants.
It feels strangely retro to center a new show around this minor upheaval of traditional gender roles in a family; the deconstruction of the familial unit has historically been one of the obsessions of television storytelling, from "Maude" to "Murphy Brown" to "Mad Men." Even Lucy in "I Love Lucy" pursued work outside her home.
This throwback atmosphere makes it a little difficult to settle into "Man with a Plan," which not only plays up Adam's bristling masculinity but also repeatedly hammers home the idea that parenting is feminine. Adam meets a stay-at-home dad at a kindergarten parents' social who displays a trim, bookish demeanor quite at odds with Adam's Carhartt jacket and blue jeans. Adam stomps and commands; the other dad -- Lowell (Matt Cook), a series regular -- complains about the lack of foreign language curricula for their kindergarteners, his voice occasionally skewing high-pitched. When Adam makes a joke about beer, Lowell's delicate features contort into near-tears. "It's so nice to connect on a masculine level again," he says.
If Adam is a throwback, his wife, Andi (Liza Snyder), is intent on dragging him to at least the later 20th century, if not all the way to the 21st. (Snyder was a late addition to the "Man with a Plan" cast, after the original Andi, Jenna Fischer, was recast.) And together they provide an intimate, loving plausibility to the surprisingly traditional setup. The second episode of "Man with a Plan," which is set in Pittsburgh, revolves around 50-yard-line Steelers tickets in what feels like a far more plausible series of marital conflicts than Adam accusing his wife, as he does in the pilot, of ruining their perfect, hassle-free babies. (Apparently, he zoomed away in his pickup truck as soon as they fell asleep for the first time.)
As far as comfortable, mediocre family sitcoms go, "Man with a Plan" appears to be finding a nice groove, establishing a patter between easy stereotypes and incrementally encouraging Adam to grow. It's not television that aims to tell the viewing audience much new about themselves, but it does posit the idea that with enough love and patience, even a fully grown adult man can be convinced to help out with his kids.