The new reality competition show Assembly Required is notable because it reunites Home Improvement co-stars Allen and Karn, this time playing themselves instead of Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor and Al Borland, respectively. But it’s also a fun Chopped-style competition where three machineheads get to put together interesting projects based on boxes of parts and tools they are sent, along with whatever is in their workshops.
Opening Shot: After a warning that a person shouldn’t attempt the challenges in Assembly Required without “extensive training” and safety measures, Tim Allen says “Only the French would make a fire hat that’s frickin’ cool looking.” He’s wearing a gold-plated fire helmet. Richard Karn says that it looks like a police helmet.
The Gist: In the first round, the three contestants, all working from their own workshops and Zoomed in with Tim, Al, and YouTube DIYer April Wilkerson, work to create a Class A fire extinguisher from the parts and tools they’re sent, plus things in their workshops. They have 90 minutes to complete the task. As the contestants drill holes in the tanks they’re given and attach nozzles and pumps, Tim and Richard comment on what the contestants are doing — sometimes the contestants can hear them, sometimes they can’t. They demonstrate on camera, and the two best go to the next round.
In the second round, the two remaining contestants do a five-day build. In this case, they take a leaf-blower motor and create a blower with “more power”, as Allen always says, and one that can also be used in the winter to melt snow and ice. Creativity is encouraged. One contestant models his blower after his favorite WWII-era plane; the other fashions a dragon made of armor around his leaf-blower. As part of the round, April modified the spark plugs in the gas-powered blower motors so they would need to be re-gapped to work. The trick is seeing at what point each contestant would be able to figure that out.
When the blowers are done, they’re shipped off to Tim and Richard for them to play with and test. They tested the blowers’ power by blowing a pile of leaves from one side of a parking lot to another. Then they tested the heat each gave off by having an ice-block melting contest.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? The “Tool Time” segments of Home Improvement mixed with Chopped.
Our Take: We give the producers of Assembly Required, which was created by Allen, who’s an EP along with Karn and a bevy of others, credit for navigating shooting around COVID protocols. Instead of having the contestants come into a studio and do their work, they made the series work around having the contestants work in their own workshops. It fosters their creativity because they’re in an environment they’re comfortable with, and it allows Tim, Richard and April to be in their studio (resembling Tim’s garage) together.
But if the show had just a couple random hosts, it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting to watch It’s because Karn and Allen’s 30 years of friendship come through in how comfortable they are with each other. They play familiar roles: Karn is the sincere and encouraging one, Allen is the one who grunts and curses and yells “More power!”. Both, of course, are funny in their own way, but seeing them banter back in forth like they’re on the set of Home Improvement is certainly a comfort.
Wilkerson is essentially a real-life Al in this mix; she’s the one who knows her stuff, and she’s the one who is tasked with making an “adjustments” that are designed to throw the contestants. Though, it did seem that both contestants figured out pretty quickly that their blowers weren’t starting due to an un-gapped spark plug.
Mostly, though, you’ll want to watch Assembly Required for the camaraderie between Allen and Karn, which comes out when they test/play with the devices the contestants make. The show may not just be a machinehead’s dream, but it’ll also be fun for anyone who misses Home Improvement.
Parting Shot: Karn declares the winner, who gets $5,000 and a sweet-looking portable tote with a toolkit inside.
Sleeper Star: Wilkerson, of course, because she’s the one there who actually knows what she’s doing. And she gave a great “hack” about using cardboard to sub for a missing gasket on an engine.
Most Pilot-y Line: The product placement is atrocious, even for a reality competition. The contestants used Google Nest Hub Smart Displays to communicate with Tim and Richard, and when they said “Hey, Google,” our devices at home responded. Not cool. That’s not to mention the lingering looks at the Ram truck that the camera gave right before the testing round.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Assembly Required is a fun competition show, though it lacks some of the detail that the truly mechanically-inclined might want to see. But it’s made more fun by the presence of Allen and Karn.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.
Originally published at https://decider.com/2021/02/23/assembly-required-history-review/ on .