Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Family Tools

Family Tools
Episode 1: Pilot
By: Carlos Uribe

Family Tools is a show about a screw-up who takes over the family business.

Spoilers Ahoy!

I'm going to commend the creators on an honor most people who work in the industry will never be able to accomplish: they managed to get their show on television. That's basically the only compliment I can give to Bobby Bowman, the creator of Family Tools. Family Tools is actually an adaption of a British show called White Van Man, created by Adrian Poynton. I have no idea if the original is any good but if this version is any indication then it's going to be a comedy that I avoid at all costs. It might not have been an original idea but Bowman still gets credit for getting this pilot to air. The premise of Family Tools is simple. It follows the journey of Jack Shea from being the screw-up son whose had a streak of bad luck into taking over the family business. It's not a bad premise for a comedy but this pilot doesn't execute it very well. There are some key problems that pop up. The first is that there's voice-over that is used very inconsistently. It calls into attention whenever it pops up and ends up being more distracting than anything. It's not like the information being relayed via the narration is crucial to our understanding of the plot. The attempts at comedy largely miss. There is physical comedy but it's very predictable and dull. The family members might love each other but they're mean too each other without having any of the wit or heart to sell either. The workplace humor fails to ever really launch as it's to dry. Oh, look at Jack have to argue over what wood to buy! Oh, look at Jack take off his shoe to annoy a co-worker! Oh, look at how this all smacks of the writer's desperation to get any laugh out of the audience. What's worse about Family Tools isn't the comedy or the random voice-overs. The former can be fixed over time and latter can be phased out. No, the biggest problem with Family Tools is that it just feels very “done-there-done-that”.

The plot is very by-the-book. Jack takes over the family business over the protest of his father. The first obstacle is that he doesn't get along with his co-worker Darren. The two don't get along for some reason. I'm actually not entirely sure why Jack isn't thrilled working with him. His complaints seem petty and their relationship doesn't have the antagonism to sell their rivalry. The two are forced to work together because Jack is forbidden to firing him. When Jack tries to get Darren to quit, it backfires because he accidentally shoots himself in the foot. It's basically a typical sit-com plot that could have worked in the nineties. Just about everything you would predict from a nineties sit-com appears on this show. There's wacky situations, attempts at broad physical humor, and blunt sexual innuendo. It's like the writer is catching reruns of Home Improvement or Gilligan's Island and decided that the shows are still modern and relevant to today's television world. The only change he really made is that he changed up the format from multi-camera to single-camera so he got rid of the laugh track. Only this felt like a show that needed a laugh track for the pacing to work. The series often feels lifeless outside the multi-camera format. This all created a comedy that felt like it belonged in the nineties with the only attempt at modernizing it backfiring. If the writers want to improve this series then they're going to need to find a way to bring this show into the twenty-first century. They're also going to inject some energy into the show so it feels alive. Of course, none of these improvements matter if they can't come up with any funny material.

The main character of Family Tools is Jack Shea. He's supposed to be a straight man with a lot of bad luck. They casted the right person for the job, Kyle Bornheimer, but they didn't give him a proper character to work with. A straight man can be crucial to a comedy that has one but he has to be likeable and a three-dimensional character to work. Jack is neither of those two things. He's a flat character who has very little agency. His only character trait is that he wants to gain his father's approval. That's it. He's not likeable for two reasons. He doesn't like Darren for no real reason. He's kind of rude to him. It doesn't help that he doesn't seem like he wants to take advice on how to run the business. He resists buying the right kind of wood and thinks it's a good idea to have a second van to do “pro bono” jobs. This makes him seem like a jerk who fails not because of bad luck but because he's stubborn. Jack needed to be a character that people could relate to but he's written in a way that accomplishes the opposite. The writers are going to have to retool his character for future episodes if they want him to stay the straight man.

The rest of the characters don't really impress. Darren is Jack's co-worker and he largely acts as a plot obstacle. His personality is supposed to be laidback who doesn't take work seriously He's pretty two-dimensional acting as an antagonist in the pilot. His relationship with Jack is confusing as the series wants them to be rivals but they come across more as friends who like to mess with each other. The father is Tony, who is played by the usually great J.K. Simmons. Simmons can play tough characters in his sleep but Tony's insistence on using the term “fruit loop” really doesn't fit. The aunt who forces Tony to quit the family business and hand it over to Jack is Terry. Her personality I guess is that she has a lot of sass. She has a teenage son, Mason, that basically acts awkward. I'm not sure what he's doing on the show as he doesn't feel like he belongs. The love interest is Stitch, whose whole schtick is that she likes to mess with people. None of the characters really stand out. They're all two-dimensional and none of them are really funny.

The pilot for Family Tools sets up what could have easily been a nineties sit-com but without the laugh track. The plot is by-the-book and predictable while the premise is executed weakly. It's not funny and the voice-over narration is randomly injected throughout the pilot. The main character isn't very likeable and is too flat to really act as a protagonist or straight man. The side characters are all woefully undeveloped. I guess there could be a good comedy hidden in here but there's a lot of work that needs to be done before Family Tools is even presentable.

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