When Last Man Standing returned on Fox Friday, fans were surprised to see Mandy Baxter looking very different. Former series star Molly Ephraim left the show for other opportunities after ABC canceled the Tim Allen-starring show after the 2016-2017 season.
“When the show was canceled… [Molly] got involved in some different things, so when [Last Man Standing] came back, she was not able to do it," executive producer Matt Berry told reporters at the Television Critics Association summer press tour in August, TVLine reported at the time.
“It’s unfortunate," Berry continued. "We love her deeply. She’s a big part of who we were. But [it’s] exciting for us to look around and see who we can get to play that character. We want someone to come in and not play Molly Ephraim. We want somebody to come in and play Mandy. We’ve seen a lot of great actresses.”
Berry and the rest of the Last Man Standing team cast The Ranch actress Molly McCook in the role instead. McCook is a taller actress with blonde hair, and Allen said the goal was not to find someone who looked just like Ephraim.
"It’s a daunting task to replace characters that we love and adore. I come from the acting side of it: I’ve been replaced. It’s very difficult for the actor part of me," Allen told Parade Magazine earlier this month. "Mandy [Ephraim] is a tough one to doppelgänger, so where we're headed is not to doppelgänger. The new Mandy will not look like her because that’s trying too hard."
Indeed, their different physical appearances were the source of a joke in the season seven premiere. Mandy told her husband Kyle (Christoph Sanders) that she changed something about herself, but he could not put his finger on it at first. Later, he figured it out, but Mandy's father Mike (Allen) was still stumped.
Beyond that one joke though, Mandy was written as the same character, executive producer Kevin Abbott told TVLine.
While McCook works hard to earn fans' trust, Ephraim is working hard on other projects. After leaving Last Man Standing, she appeared in the first season of IFC's Brockmire, opposite Hank Azaria. She also had a recurring role in AMC's Halt and Catch Fire season four as Alexa Vonn, and played Jess in three episodes of Hulu's Casual this year. Ephraim also joined Kevin Bigley and Kate Cobb in a five-episode workplace comedy called Parked, which you can check out on Amazon.
Ephraim's biggest project since leaving Last Man Standing is The Front Runner, filmmaker Jason Reitman's new biopic about former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart, whose 1988 presidential campaign was derailed by his extramarital affair. Hugh Jackman has received positive buzz for his performance as Hart.
According to Entertainment Weekly, Ephraim stars as Irene Kelly, a composite character who coordinates Hart's 1988 campaign.
Ephraim has not publicly commented on the Last Man Standing revival. However, she made news last week for sharing her experience with sexual harassment in light of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.0comments
You can see Ephraim in The Front Runner on Nov. 6, and McCook as the new Mandy on Last Man Standing every Friday at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.
Photo credit: ABC