Situation comedies – sitcoms – have been a crucial component of television for decades.
Everyone has their favourite shows. My list includes The Jack Benny Program, The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, M*A*S*H, All in the Family, Cheers, Night Court, The Cosby Show, Newhart, Frasier, Father Ted and others.
In particular, I’ve always had a fondness for Home Improvement.
This great sitcom ran from 1991 to 1999 on ABC. It starred standup comedian Tim Allen as Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor, host of a suburban Detroit home improvement show, Tool Time. It was a male-oriented sitcom, focusing on power tools, sports, cars and attractive women. This is likely why I and other men naturally gravitated toward it.
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Actress Patricia Richardson played Tim’s wife Jill. They had three sons – Brad (Zachery Ty Bryan), Randy (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) and Mark (Taran Noah Smith).
The supporting cast was equally memorable. Wilson (Earl Hindman) was Tim’s wise, sage-like neighbour whose face was always partially obscured by the fence between their two properties. Harry (Blake Clark) was a friend and owner of Harry’s Hardware, which was frequented by semi-professional slacker Benny (Jimmy Labriola). Lisa (Pamela Anderson) and Heidi (Debbe Dunning), the beautiful “Tool Girls,” also served as important characters for their beauty and brains.
It was Tim’s endearing friendship with his Tool Time co-host, Al Borland (Richard Karn), that really stood out.
The quiet, laid-back and flannel-wearing Al was Home Improvement’s comic foil to Tim. He wasn’t portrayed as either a straight man or shrinking violet. Their dynamic can be explained as two characters with diametrically opposite views forming a true friendship based on mutual respect and a grudging acceptance that both are set in their ways and won’t change. From Tim’s jokes about Al’s weight and beard, to Al’s gentle prodding of Tim’s lack of knowledge of tools and lower popularity on Tool Time compared to him, it’s a comedic pairing for the ages.
Allen and Karn formed a real-life friendship during Home Improvement’s eight seasons. They’ve maintained it ever since.
It was revealed by Variety last August that Allen and Karn would reunite for a new TV series, Assembly Required. History picked up 10 episodes of the unscripted reality series where talented builders and craftsmen competed by making unusual and intricate projects in their home workshops. This included high-tech leaf blowers, ultimate dog houses, street sweepers and mobile car wash units.
The two actors were joined by April Wilkerson, a YouTube personality who gained fame by posting widely-viewed videos of do-it-yourself projects. Winners received $5,000 cash prizes and finalists earned tool kits from iFixit.com. There were plenty of laughs, kibitzing and good fun in every episode of this light-hearted show.
I reached out to the affable Karn about Assembly Required. He was kind enough to send along some intriguing insights about the show’s first season.
“Because of COVID-19,” he wrote in an email, “we had to have everyone work from their own workspaces.” In his view, this was “great but also hard on the video relays” and it was “tough doing it from home over Zoom.”
I think many of us can identify with this!
“It was great working with Tim again,” he wrote. Since the “dialogue wasn’t written for us,” he noted “the dynamics were more us than a character. There was no real going back to make the scene ‘work’ or be funnier, so very different from a sitcom.”
That must have made this experience more interesting – and, one assumes, challenging.
He also pointed out a few differences between working on a sitcom versus a reality series. “With a sitcom we had five days to rehearse and shoot,” he noted, “plus a couple weeks for the script to be ready. With this show, we did the whole season in a couple weeks. The contestants had five days to finish the big build. We filmed the first part, then broke for a month or so and filmed the second part.”
Will there be a second season of Assembly Required?
History hasn’t announced anything yet. One hopes they’ll renew it.
Each episode showed significant degrees of improvement, confidence and comfort with the show’s reality-based format. There’s definitely an audience for competitions of creative, home-based construction in the U.S., Canada and beyond.
With Allen and Karn at the helm, and the knowledgeable Wilkerson backing them up, the world of power tools can be their oyster.
From Home Improvement to Assembly Required, this talented comedic duo needs to stay on the air. Give them the green light, History – and you’ll hear echoes of Allen’s memorable “RRR” grunt from coast to coast.
Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics. For interview requests, click here.
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