Picture a show about a father who has to stay home and take care of the kids for the first time ever after his wife goes back to work full-time. What if he were as dumb as Mr. Bean, how badly could he mess it all up? Maybe he turned his daughter’s clothes completely black after a really bad laundry accident and the whole school thought she wanted to be Wednesday Addams from “The Addams Family”, or burned his wife’s favorite pan black and brown on the stove after getting distracted by his youngest daughter’s marker-in-mouth emergency and had to lie to his wife about how he burned her favorite pan because he didn’t want her to worry? How funny and heartwarming would that be?
That was what “Man with a Plan” promised when it first came out, featuring Matt Leblanc from “Friends” and “Episodes” as the lead, the kind of funny family shows with a dumb but lovable lead dad character like Bob from “Good Luck Charlie” or Homer from “The Simpsons,” who attempts to be a good dad but fails every step of the way.
The pilot delivered on its promises. It had a father named Adam, played by Matt Leblanc, completely new to parenting, facing problems asking his kids to clean up after themselves and budding heads with his daughter’s preschool teacher, who asked him to be the room parent. The plot centered more on Adam’s relationship with the kids and his wife, Andi, and that was fun to watch. The problems between him and the teacher seemed like an added conflict and it worked well for that particular episode. The kids lacked personalities but it was still full of promises. It had 7.42 million viewers, 1.6 demo rating, compelling relationships, and even some really funny moments.
However, during the next few episodes, problems arose. The show’s initial premise of the dad taking care of the kids by himself began to disappear because Andi, the wife of Adam, was very present in every single episode. However, that was nothing compared to the show’s real problems. The conflicts Adam faced at his daughter’s preschool, which was only interesting as a subplot, became more prominent. Instead of focusing on the family and Adam’s relationship with the kids, the show focused more on Adam’s relationship with the evil teacher who always got her way and two other boring parents (Lowell and Marie). Adam’s kids faded into the background and only appeared for a few seconds in every episode. The audience only had a chance to know the kids as flat characters who only cared about phones. Even in the thanksgiving episode, the show spent very little time focusing on the family, but instead focusing on the preparation for a school meal for the parents. With the disappearances of the kids, and the constant appearances of the boring characters at school, the show barely stuck to the “family theme” it initially promised, and it quickly lost its appeal. The viewers dropped from 7.42 million to 5.95 million, and the ratings dropped from 1.6 to 1.1.
During episode 6, “Holey War,” something changed. The showrunners apparently figured out what was not working, because they changed the show’s focus from the boring “Pre-school drama” to Adam’s relationship with the family when one of the kids put a hole in the wall and Adam and Andi had to figure out who did it. Even when the teacher showed up as a minor character and gave Adam some parenting advice, it was actually quite hilarious.
In the episodes that followed, the show gave the kids more and more screen time as Adam dealt with them on issues such as online friendships and even sex. The egotistical teacher Mrs. Rodriguez, the awkward character Lowell and the uninteresting typical parent Marie appeared very rarely, and sometimes not at all.
In episode 12, “The Three Amigos,” the show eased the three boring characters back into the show with a brand new spin. The teacher wasn’t the main antagonist anymore, but instead had a funny storyline about her having had an erotic dream about Adam one night. The weird and awkward Lowell actually helped Adam and Adam’s brother Don, who has always been a nice component of the show, with a multimedia presentation for their client, showing the audience he could do more than just being infatuated with Adam. Marie, however, was the flat character she had always been.
In the “Valentine’s Day” episode, Adam and Andi went out for a romantic dinner, putting Kate in charge of keeping her younger siblings safe at home. Since the plot revolved around the parents and the kids, the kids had a chance to show the audience more about themselves. Kate was responsible, Teddy was playful, and Emme showed the less innocent side of her the audience might not have noticed before. The uninteresting characters only appeared very briefly for one scene. It was easily the best episode they’ve aired so far and it showed how much the show had evolved.
It was the epitome of the show’s transformation from having boring storylines and centering on uninteresting characters to a potentially good show with substance and centering more on interesting and complex characters.
Written by: Curtis Han, RM Entertainment Contributor