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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Punch in the Family Tools

Article first published as Punch in the Family Tools on TheTVKing.

I absolutely love Kyle Bornheimer and hope that some day he is a big sitcom star. But I've become pessimistic about the chances of that happening. His first big series, Worst Week, was funny, but didn't last. His second chance, Perfect Couples, was near perfect, especially given his chemistry opposite Christine Woods (Go On), but again, died before its time. Now, we get Family Tools on ABC which is, going by last night's series premiere, by far the least of the efforts.

Bornheimer stars as Jack, the son of fix-it man Tony (J.K. Simmons, Spider-Man, The Closer), who returns home to take over the family business when Tony suffers a heart attack. The business comes with a slacker assistant, Darren (Edi Gathegi, House, X-Men: First Class), and a van. Jack's digs are in the basement of his Aunt Terry's (Leah Remini, King of Queens) house, which he is forced to share with his weird younger cousin, Mason (Johnny Pemberton, 21 Jump Street). Needless to say, it is not a smooth transition.

The biggest issue is that the cast is not used well. Bornheimer is best at playing an earnest, loving man who devotes himself to pleasing others, which is what Jack is and works his hardest to earn their approval. However, Jack is also a directionless loser who was washed out of lots of careers. This takes what Bornheimer does to the goofy, unrealistic extreme, stripping away the layers that make him sympathetic.

Darren is little more than a stereotype, and one wonders how he possibly has worked well with Tony all these years. Tony is just as poorly written and developed, constantly ignoring orders to rest as he spies on Jack, with no consequences. And Mason is just completely unfunny.

The exception to this mess is the relationship between Tony and Jack, which actually does come across as authentic. Not every father can talk to his son, and I really liked the scene in the ambulance where Tony admits he doesn't know why he's harder on Jack than Darren. There could be something here, but the rest of the half hour squanders it.

I wish Family Tools was a solid comedy series. The cast is good, and deserves a win, but the writing doesn't gel. The heart that should sneak into emotional scenes is ruined when, for instance, Terry won't let the paramedics in to help Tony during his heart attack until he promises to take it easy. What kind of sister is that cruel? Are we really supposed to like her after that? And how do we root for Jack when we see just how big a screw-up he is? Or believe that Stitch (Danielle Nicolet, The Starter Wife), who seems like she has her life together, could be interested in him?

I found few entry points to access this material at all. I really want Bornheimer to get a great vehicle a lot of people watch. I firmly believe this is not the ticket.

Family Tools airs Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

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