Review: History Channel’s ‘Assembly Required’ needs some re-tooling

WTOP's Jason Fraley reviews 'Assembly Required'

Are you nostalgic for the 1990s sitcom grunts of Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor?

You might want to check out the History Channel’s new series “Assembly Required,” which will re-air Episode 1 at 6 p.m. and broadcast Episode 2 at 10 p.m. on Tuesday.

Tim Allen and Richard Karn revive their “Tool Time” banter to judge three craftsmen in building competitions using surprise materials dumped into their home workshops.

In the ’90s, Allen roasted macho stereotypes in “Home Improvement” as an accident-prone husband and father of three sons, namely Jonathan Taylor Thomas (pre-Simba). His conscience was backyard fence neighbor Wilson, whom Allen wanted to reveal as a figment of Tim’s imagination in the finale before his co-creators nixed the clever idea.

Still, the special sauce of “Home Improvement” was its show-within-a-show “Tool Time,” spoofing such shows as Bob Vila’s “This Old House” and Norm Abrams’ “New Yankee Workshop.” Today, these shows are DIY videos on YouTube, but “Tool Time” was a hilarious weekly excuse to watch Tim trick out man caves and blow stuff up.

It’s great seeing the duo back together in “Assembly Required.” Karn shows the bearded charisma that he brought to his flannel-wearing Al Borland and later “Family Feud,” while Allen reminds us of his criminally underrated comedic timing in such hits as “Home Improvement,” “The Santa Clause,” “Toy Story” and “Last Man Standing.”

So far, we’ve heard Allen’s patented grunt, but we’re still waiting for Karn to say, “I don’t think so, Tim.” Once again, they have a female assistant (April Wilkerson) and the word “TIME” written in classic blue font on the shop’s metal door. My guess is that they couldn’t get the rights to “TOOL TIME” but still wanted to wink at the audience.

Episode 1, “Bring the Heat,” saw three contestants create a water-shooting fire extinguisher from an air compressor and metal tank. After one elimination, the two finalists had to build a custom leaf blower doubling as a flame thrower, sporting nifty designs of military green and black dragon metal. My favorite finished second.

Episode 2, “Smokin’ Hot,” will ask three contestants to build a flame-shooting brazing torch before pitting the two finalists in a battle to build the best mobile barbecue grill.

At its best, the competition boasts the same ingenuity of Ed Harris dumping a box of items onto a table for NASA engineers to fix the shuttle in “Apollo 13” (1995) — coincidentally the same year that Allen’s Buzz Lightyear said, “To infinity and beyond!”

At worst, the “more power” tasks are hard to follow. The usually charming hosts are awkwardly forced to watch the challenges on a flat-screen TV showing the contestants in their remote workshops, rather than interacting in person. Surely, Allen and Karn could crack more real-time jokes if they were standing next to the contestants.

This isn’t the hosts’ fault; the blame belongs to COVID-19 and its social distancing restrictions. We can admire the show runners for at least trying to create a new program during the pandemic, but we the audience can feel the detachment.

I promise to stick with it for a few more episodes, but you‘re probably better off watching old “Home Improvement” reruns until the pandemic is over. I hope it isn’t canceled because it has real potential when life returns to normal. Until then, it’s a 2-star reality rehash of a 4-star sitcom with a report card reading, “Needs improvement.”

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

Like WTOP on Facebook and follow @WTOP on Twitter to engage in conversation about this article and others.

Get breaking news and daily headlines delivered to your email inbox by signing up here.

© 2021 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up