‘Family Tools’ could use some retooling

I’m not sure what Kyle Bornheimer did at some point to tick off the universe, but the actor keeps landing TV gigs that look like something he’s doing to pay off a karmic debt. Since I first spotted him a few years ago making his primetime series debut in Worst Week, a CBS adaptation of a British hit about an affable doofus who kept inadvertently screwing up plans for his own wedding, the talented and likable actor has been cast in one weak show after another, often playing a cheerful yet befuddled soul who can’t quite navigate the world around him.
That’s certainly his role in Family Tools, premiering tonight on ABC, which casts Bornheimer as Jack Shea, a 30something guy who has spent most of his life trying to win the approval of his gruff father, Tony (J.K. Simmons, The Closer), a self-made man who has built the family handyman business, Mr. Jiffy Fix, from the ground up.
Jack is fresh off a string off career failures at police academy (he shot himself in the foot), the Army (he shot his lieutenant in the foot) and seminary school (where “they failed to appreciate my ideas on making the Bible a little less long and preachy”) when he receives a text from his Aunt Terry (Leah Remini, The King of Queens) summoning him back to his hometown of Mapleport. Tony, it seems, has just suffered his fifth heart attack, and Jackie firmly insists that it’s time for Jack to take over the business.
Jack is unhappy to realize that his dad has no faith in his ability to run Mr. Jiffy Fix and to discover that he’ll be sharing a cramped basement space at home with his eccentric younger cousin, Mason (Johnny Pemberton). He also gets absolutely no respect from Darren (Edi Gathegi), Tony’s troublemaking assistant, but he’s determined to do his best, although you’re likely to spend much of tonight’s premiere wondering, as I did, whom Jack is going to wind up shooting in the foot by the end of the half hour.
Yet another adaptation of a Britcom (White Van Men), Family Tools is pleasant enough but painfully sitcom-generic. It’s fun to see J.K. Simmons working his comedy chops again after years in such darker fare as HBO’s intense prison drama Oz and NBC’s Law & Order, and Remini proved she knew her way around a punchline during her long run on The King of Queens. Mostly, though, the show – or at least this first episode – looks like another career non-event for Bornheimer, who really deserves so much better than this.
Family Tools is the second sitcom in the past few months built around an adult son’s puppy-like crusade to win his dad’s approval. The other was 1600 Penn, a promising and well-cast NBC family comedy that got thrown off balance by the over-the-top, beamed-direct-from-Mars performance of Josh Gad as the black-sheep son. Watching Bornheimer struggling to make Family Tools work through sheer charm and comic timing made me wish he had landed Gad’s part in the NBC sitcom. I seriously doubt that we’ll be talking about either of those comedies come next fall, though, so it’s probably academic.

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