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Scott D. Pierce: 'Family Tools' tries but fails to be funny

Published April 29, 2013 7:28 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Nobody makes a bad show on purpose.

Except for those intentionally awful made-for-TV movies on Syfy. ("Sharktopus," anyone?)

But outside of that, the producers and writers and stars and network executives behind a TV show want it to be good. They want people to watch it. They want it to run for a long time. And they want it to make them rich.

So, clearly, nobody was trying to make ABC's new sitcom "Family Tools" (Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., Ch. 4) a terrible show. It just turned out that way.

The premise is rather simple. Cranky ol' Tony Shea (J.K. Simmons) just had a heart attack, so he can't keep running his contracting/handyman business. At the urging of his sister, Terry (Leah Remini), Tony reluctantly turns the business over to his beyond-bumbling son, Jack (Kyle Bornheimer).

Oh, by the way, Terry refuses to let the EMTs into the house to treat the stricken Tony until he agrees to call Jack. Really.

The basic problem with this comedy is it's not funny. Everything about it — including the physical comedy — is entirely predictable.

Try to guess what happens when Jack handles a nail gun. Just try.

"Family Tools" is trying to be the next "My Name Is Earl" or "Raising Hope." It was written by Bobby Bowman, who wrote for both of those shows.

But it lacks their heart. Simmons and Bornheimer are very likable actors, but the characters in this show are more like cartoons than real people.

The cast also includes Edi Gathegi as Darren, Jack's co-worker; Danielle Nicolet as Liz, Darren's younger sister; and Johnny Pemberton as Mason, Terry's oddball son.

No, they weren't trying to make a bad show. But this is where it gets a little insulting to our intelligence. Do ABC programmers think we're going to get confused because they've put a show with "Family" in the title right before "Modern Family"? That we'll watch accidentally?

Actually, the funniest thing about "Family Tools" is the title. It's about a family business in which they use tools — and they are tools! Hilarious!

OK, not hilarious. But it's still funnier than the rest of the show.

And the network is sending some decidedly mixed signals about "Family Tools." ABC added it to the schedule during the May sweeps, which would seem to indicate that it has confidence in the show.

But if it had confidence in this series, why did ABC cut the episode order from 13 to 10 in the middle of production? That's a clear vote of no confidence.

TV shows are expensive to produce. ABC has a lot invested in "Family Tools," so it has to air it.

But nobody is ever going to confuse "Family Tools" with "Modern Family."

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.