May 9, 2013

THE SKED’S PILOT + 1 REVIEW: “Family Tools”


FAMILY TOOLS:  Wednesday 8:30PM on ABC

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot in the spring and the production of episodes for the regular season: a writing/producing team is hired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics begin to rear their ugly heads. The results can include changes to tone, pace, casting, and even story. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.’

Previously… on FAMILY TOOLS:  When Tony Shea (J.K. Simmons), owner of his own handyman business, has the latest in a series of heart attacks, his bumbling son Jack (Kyle Bornheimer) comes back to town to take over the family trade.  Tony is forced to stay at home with his loving but overbearing sister Terry (Leah Remini) and her teen son Mason (Johnny Pemberton), while Jack has to work with Darren (Edi Gathegi), son of Tony’s oldest friend, who treats Jack with disdain.  (So does Tony, most of the time.)  Meanwhile, Jack and Darren’s sister Stitch (Danielle Nicolet), who works at the local hardware store, have a running flirtation, much to Darren’s disgust.

Episode 2:  The work and home storylines were completely separate in the show’s first regular episode, written by Todd Linden and directed by Peter Lauer–but both were equivalently numbskull and heavyhanded.  Jack and Darren had a job doing repairs at a local ad agency, where the employees, being educated and somewhat well-paid, were universally corrupt, perverse and mean-spirited, literally unable to see the handymen when they wore their tool belts.  (Until the plot required that they did.)  A bitchy but hot girl Jack had known in high school worked there, and as he pretended to be CEO of a corporate handyman empire in order to impress her, and she was ready to fall into bed with him, she ruthlessly stole Darren’s idea for a client presentation, and dropped Jack the instant she realized he was a working man.  Later, they got their revenge by revealing all the terrible things they’d overheard about the employees (and stealing a coffee-maker).  Meanwhile, back home the only real gag was that Mason’s first potential girlfriend was a goth, because a goth girl being, by definition, terrifying is quite the fresh comic idea.

Let’s pretend just for a moment that Family Tools actually matters, and isn’t just a routine piece of network comedy crap that’s going to vanish after its series order is done.  When you look at these two storylines, you see reactionary, parochial “humor” at its most cynical.  One story preaches the moral ugliness of anyone who doesn’t work with their hands–and it’s a safe bet that there isn’t a person on the creative side of Family Tools who’s ever earned their living that way–while the other says that anyone who’s different from the suburban norm is a freak to be feared and ridiculed.  So:  ha ha!

Of course, the message of a comedy counts much less than whether it’s funny, and this show isn’t.  Simmons is so nearly invisible that one longs for his work on The Closer, while Bornheimer’s nice guy idiot schtick is already a drag, and Remini seems to be playing for a live studio audience that isn’t there.  Apart from a brief fantasy sequence where Jack imagined destroying the ad agency’s boardroom, it was a painful 30 minutes of television.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  Change the Channel

PILOT + 1:  Is It Too Late To Bring Back The Neighbors?

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."