“Family Tools” – Season 1, Episode 2, “Now You See Me, Now You Don’t” Review

Rating: 4.2

This second episode of this freshman series had a better major conflict than its preceding pilot.  The pilot focused on exposition and a simple conflict consisting of Jack and sidekick Darren trying to complete their first job.   In episode 2, we get a first look at a typical episode, without the need to first set up the series’ main conflict (how underachieving but likeable Jack is going to successfully run his father’s business).

In this first ‘regular’ episode, we get a more traditional sitcom setup.  But even with a somewhat atypical household (but not that atypical- adult brothers & sisters do often live in the same household), this series can’t help but feel a little too familiar.

This episode depicts two conflicts, and the result is more balanced.   We get to see Mason try to put the moves on his new goth/vampire friend, and we see Jack and Darren fighting for their rights to be heard and treated respectfully, in a business environment where handymen are ignored.   As a side benefit to being ignored, Jack and Darren get to witness all sorts of office improprieties.

About the use of music in this series:   Producers often say, “We’ll fix it in post,” sometimes seriously, sometimes sarcastically.  This means they hope that music, editing, overdubs, etc., can help save a scene.  There have been a whole string of sitcoms whose creators have embraced the urge to add ‘wacky & silly’ music after or during scenes.  The effect of this immediately changes the tone to make the sitcom a more self-aware art form, in that the creators are telling us that ‘this is a crazy situation,’ or ‘take a look at this quirkiness that is about to happen.’  This practice is not bad in all cases, but in “Family Tools,” when I hear that music, instead of increasing the comedic value, it increases my standards and expectations, which results in me thinking that the scene was not really that wacky, or it just reinforces that the scene was unrealistic and unrelatable. Basically, the music doesn’t fix it, it makes it worse.

As an example, there is a scene where a woman is licking the office’s donuts to get back at her co-workers.  This scene does not hold up, mainly because it is completely silly and unrealistic.  It feels like they added wacky music to justify this silliness.  Extreme behavior can be very funny, but the most successful depictions of this behavior stem from realistic characters & well developed motivations.  And that’s the challenge for a lot of sitcoms; they lose us when things get too crazy.  It’s ok for a series to be larger that life, that is, not be absolutely realistic, but we at least want to identify or relate to the issue or character.  And wacky music doesn’t resolve this, it immediately categorizes it as goofy.   Dramatic & suspenseful music can be horribly overused, too, but sitcoms are a major offender of this ‘wacky music abuse.’

Underneath the music lies the real issue I have with this series – I want to see the characters depicted more as real people.  Workplace class prejudice and worrying about your child’s dating life are real issues, but the way Jack and Darren dealt with their prejudice, and the over-the-top behavior and ‘gothness’ of Mason’s friend kept me from better connecting with them.

This episode overall was better, though there is still lots of room for improvement. If the situations and conflicts don’t get too out of hand, that will help us to better relate to and root for Jack, Darren, and family.

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