Television Review

‘Family Tools’ is a not-so-noble failure

From left: Kyle Bornheimer, Johnny Pemberton, and Leah Remini in “Family Tools.”
From left: Kyle Bornheimer, Johnny Pemberton, and Leah Remini in “Family Tools.”ADAM TAYLOR/ABC/American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.

Why, on so many levels; why? It seems tragic that, given the number of comedy writers out there, ABC didn’t come up with a stronger vehicle than “Family Tools.” The show, which premieres Wednesday night at 8:30 on Channel 5, is just another set of prefab sitcom tropes pasted together with cheap jokes. The ensemble, led by Leah Remini and J.K. Simmons, has as much chemistry as an organic farm.

Maybe ABC and the other networks think viewers don’t want smarter shows, but then the success of more carefully crafted comedies such as “Modern Family,” “How I Met Your Mother,” and “Archer” disproves that. Good does not always equal noble failure.


At one point early in its resurgence, in the first half of the 2000s, the single-camera sitcom connoted originality and a degree of intelligence. If the show wasn’t prodding viewers with a laugh track, then it was probably aiming for something a little more sophisticated. “Scrubs” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” were good examples. But, as “Family Tools” once again proves, a single-camera approach no longer suggests anything special.

The show, based on a two-season British series called “White Van Man,” revolves around a family handyman business called Mr. Jiffy Fix. When Simmons’s tough guy Tony Shea is too sick to work, he hands over the reins to his bumbling son, Jack (Kyle Bornheimer), who has just dropped out of seminary school. They live together with Tony’s sister, Remini’s Terry, as well as Terry’s oddball son, Mason (Johnny Pemberton), and kookiness ensues around the house. Kookiness also ensues when Jack goes out on jobs with his assistant Darren (Edi Gathegi), including kookiness with a nail gun and kookiness with hand drills. There are a few successful jokes here and there, and some able physical comedy involving Bornheimer and Gathegi, but those moments get lost in the shuffle of predictability.


The cast members are fine individually, even while they don’t mesh naturally. Simmons can be scary and hateful, as anyone who watched “Oz” must remember. Vern Schillinger — the name still chills. But he swings over to comedy effortlessly. Remini is, inevitably, Remini, but her brassiness fits the part. And Bornheimer plays the classic well-meaning doofus to a T, although his TV failures, including “Worst Week” and “Romantically Challenged,” may mean that viewers are no longer amused by that overused sitcom figure. I found the less-known actors slightly more interesting — Gathegi, whose timing is perfect, and Pemberton, whose timing is perfectly offbeat. They add a welcome bit of sly to this bland try.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com.
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