Spoilers below for the Season 9 premiere of Last Man Standing, so be warned if you haven't yet watched!

After bidding farewell to viewers without giving Season 8 its originally planned finale, Tim Allen's Last Man Standing was finally able to return to Fox with its Season 9 premiere on January 3 following an afternoon full of NFL football. The downside here is that Last Man Standing is now in its final season (barring another network stepping in to renew it), and the creative team's efforts have been slightly hindered by COVID-related safety protocols. The silver lining, though, is that this allowed for not only some interesting storytelling tactics, but also the return of former series regular Kaitlyn Dever.

While waiting to wrap our eyes around Last Man Standing's big Home Improvement crossover episode, let's take a look at how the show brought Kaitlyn Dever's Eve Baxter back, as well as how and why the Season 9 premiere shifted into the future to set up its final batch of episodes.

last man standing mike and eve

How Kaitlyn Dever Was Used In Last Man Standing's Season Premiere

Fans thankfully didn't have to wait very long to catch a glimpse of Kaitlyn Dever once Last Man Standing kicked off its premiere. The episode began with the Baxter family and friends holding a socially distanced baby shower for Mandy, with most of the guests taking part through a video call. It's here where Dever's Eve Baxter could be seen, and it's sadly the only time that Eve appeared in the episode.

Having most recently appeared in the Season 8 finale in person, Kaitlyn Dever was rocking Air Force duds in front of a military poster within her video square. So it wasn't much of a surprise to see that her baby shower gift to her sibling was an Air Force sweatshirt, though one that would have likely only fit Mandy if she was pregnant with a Kyle-sized baby. It turns out Eve doesn't have a strong grasp on clothing sizes, or her sister's body type. At least the sweatshirt went to a potentially good home, though, with Jonathan Adams' Chuck taking possession of it by the end of the episode, despite having earlier dismissed it for not being Marine garb. (It made for quite a weird callback joke, considering the time jump that took place.)

It's obviously understandable why Last Man Standing showrunner Kevin Abbott didn't get Kaitlyn Dever back onto the set to film her cameo in the season premiere, given the focus on keeping the cast mostly limited due to COVID precautions. But for fans who miss Eve's sardonic presence on a weekly basis, this cameo probably came across as a bit too limited, since it seems like the episode could have brought her back for another video call in the third act. That said, it's possible the producers did get more time with Dever with the goal of sprinkling her appearances throughout the final season, as opposed to delivering longer moments in fewer episodes.

last man standing mike and vanessa hugging in bed

How Last Man Standing Introduced Its Time Jump For Season 9

Like many shows making their TV returns in recent months, Last Man Standing included references to the global pandemic in its Season 9 premiere, with the video call at the top of the episode setting things up accordingly. But rather than giving viewers mask jokes on a weekly basis, the sitcom's creative team made the optimistic choice to push the storyline to a post-pandemic point in the future, and it did so in a pretty amusing way.

After being reminded that the family couldn't go out for a steak dinner, Tim Allen's Mike got inspired to record one of his vlogs, and it's through those video messages and a calendar-flipping animation that Last Man Standing pushed the narrative forward in time. Because Mike vowed not to shave until the pandemic was over, his beard grew longer with each vlog clip, which inevitably led to Allen making the self-referential joke that Mike could play Santa Claus, a fun nod to his work in the Santa Clause film franchise.

The time jump appeared to cap off at some point late in 2023 or early 2024, and it wasn't only Mike's shaved face that signified the future. (And no, it also wasn't "elderly" jokes made at the expense of Héctor Elizondo's Ed.) Rather, the biggest change from the time jump was the introduction of Molly and Kyle's walking and talking daughter Sarah, as adorably played by Sophia McKinlay. Not to mention the fact that Molly and Kyle are living with Mike and Vanessa, with the premiere's central conflict centering on motherhood stress between Molly McCook and Nancy Travis' characters.

Here's how showrunner Kevin Abbott explained to TVLine the creative team's decision to introduce a time jump into the final season:

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.

It's unclear if that will be the only time jump in Season 9, or if Last Man Standing's writers will continue pushing forward in time as the series gets closer to its (second) series finale. It could allow for a grander sense of closure if viewers got to continue watching the extended Baxter family evolving as the season goes on, but then that might have its own semi-depressing connotations when the end arrives.

Following its Sunday-night premiere, Last Man Standing Season 9 will flip to its normal time slot on Thursday nights at 9:30 p.m. ET. While waiting to see if Kaitlyn Dever returns for further video calls and maybe more, head to our Winter and Spring 2021 TV premiere schedule.

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