I'm doing this a little out of order (this is episode 21) so sue me.

pottery

The boys are playing commandos and rubbing dirt on their faces. Tim makes a predictable makeup joke. Then he goes out into the garage bashes his patella against Jill's pottery wheel. Of course, he's annoyed because he doesn't want her in there making pots in his sacred hot rod building space. But he agrees to let her stay in the garage.

On Tool Time, Tim forgets to put stops in a drawer and flings it across the stage. He blames Al, but Al calls him out. After the show, Al gives Tim the silent treatment. Tim prods him and Al says he's frustrated with Tim's lack of respect for him. He goes on to say that Tim doesn't know jack shit about home repair and Tim says being host is harder than Al thinks. This leads to that time-honored sitcom trope: the role reversal. Tim suggests that on the next show, Al should try hosting while Tim plays the be-flanneled assistant. Al agrees.

Tim has a water fight with Brad and Randy. Jill sneaks up on them and catches him. Tim makes a sex joke, and Jill flips it on him and turns it into a joke about him being the two-pump-chump type.

Tim and Jill go into the garage where Tim welds his hot rod and Jill blasts opera music. Tim compares it to a proctology exam and unplugs her CD player. Tim asks her to leave, and then they have a big fight about whether making pottery is acceptable garage activity. He accidentally shoves his fingers through the one pot Jill has successfully made.

Jill finds Mark tied up in the closet. She confronts Brad and Randy for being little assholes.

Jill makes a schedule so they can share the garage. Tim calls the garage 'his' and they fight about it.

Al hosts Tool Time. He wears a weird tie and unsuccessfully imitates Tim's grunt. He appropriates a bunch of Tim's lame puns. I don't get why Al tries to copy Tim; his whole point was that Tim's hosting style isn't serious enough and that Tim acted like an idiot. Wouldn't Al want to prove that a more serious, knoweldge-based approach to the show is better than stupid jokes and off-topic soliloquies about random shit? I suppose if they actually did that, Al's version would be better and the episode wouldn't be funny (heh) but the way this episode is constructed still doesn't make sense. But whatever.

Anyway, Tim usually uses the show as a space to vent about Jill, but Al -- poor single Al -- doesn't have a wife so all he can complain about is a cashier who bitched at him for buying too many frozen lima beans. We singletons really are pathetic, pitiful wretches, aren't we?

Tim puts an end to the train wreck by getting his finger stuck in an air compressor or something like that. Al rescues Tim and they tell the audience that the 'accident' was staged. Al is very grateful for Tim for not sitting back and watching Al go down in flames. Tim makes another of his trademark puns, Al replies with his 'I don't think so, Tim' catchphrase and everything's back to normal. Whew.

Back at the Taylor house, Tim erases Jill's name from the garage schedule. Randy, the smartest person in the Taylor house, catches him. He chases Randy outside. Wilson is on the other side of the fence, miniature brushes in hand, painting a self portrait. He continues to paint while Tim fills him in on the garage issue.

Wilson hypothesizes that Jill wants to keep her pottery wheel in the garage so that she can 'feel a connection and preserve intimacy.' (Translation: bitches be needy.) He goes into the house and tells Jill that he knows she wants more time with him and she shoots that theory right the fuck down. She says she does it to get away from Tim and the kids. Seems like she should have, you know, not put her pottery wheel in the garage. But whatever. Logic.

Tim and Jill bone down in the garage.

After, Tim tells Wilson he was wrong about Jill's motives and Wilson immediately correctly guesses that Jill wants more time alone. He quotes Khalil Gibran and tells Tim that he can't always dispense his best advice early in the day.

It's an OK episode. Fighting over who gets to use the garage for their hobby seems like a very pre-Great Recession kind of problem. I find it hard to give a shit. Plus, I would have liked to have seen Al be himself as Tool Time host, succeed, and cause Tim to question his whole world view.

But with 7 more seasons to go, I guess that would've been a tall order.

Jill presses the release button on her umbrella as she reaches the top of the stairs at the Belmont station. Rain taps lightly on the fabric as she walks toward the end of the platform. She checks her watch.

The train is late again.

She works as a staff therapist at the University of Chicago. Every day she counsels young college kids through the same issues: anorexia, parental expectations, wild parties, bad boyfriends. Jill likes the work, and it's far more secure than private practice,  but now and again she wishes she could talk to someone older.

The train finally pulls into the station. Jill waits for the door to open and looks for an empty seat, but there are none. She reaches for a strap. The train starts with a jerk.

It's really Wilson that she misses. He was so wise. So insightful. So helpful, especially when Tim did something stupid. When they first left Detroit, Jill was slightly worried that she and Tim wouldn't make it without Wilson. As it turned out, without a TV show that allowed Tim to say stupid things in public or room in the garage to work on a hot rod, Tim and Jill had a lot less to fight about.

They don't fight at all now that the kids are gone. Brad lives in Miami with his insufferable wife who is a little too tan and is forever pushing her hair back from her neck to reveal her newest piece of expensive jewelry. Mark is in rehab again. Randy works for an NGO in Tanzania, but he calls every week and emails every day. He talks about moving back to Detroit and joining the effort to get the city back on its feet, but so far it's just talk.

Jill wishes she had gone to Detroit with Tim, but the semester's just starting and she can't leave now. The kids at the university need her, especially the girls. Sometimes, Jill thinks of them as the daughters she never had.

Jill moves toward the door so she can transfer to another train.

Before he left for Detroit, Tim installed a water softener in their brownstone. He didn't try to 'soup it up' like he did with the dishwasher, blender and countless other appliances he destroyed in the Detroit house. The chute he built to feed the water softener salt into the brine tanks actually works. Jill isn't sure whether Tim couldn't figure out a way to add "more power" to a water softener or is just getting old.

Jill changes trains and gets off at 59th Street. As she walks toward the University, she catches her reflection in a store window. She looks so old. Some people say they're surprised to see how old they look. For Jill, what surprises her is that she's never liked her reflection more than she does now.

Off_Sides

Tim prepares to watch "the big game" with the boys, but Jill deflates his enthusiasm by telling him they are going out for a romantic dinner and he's not weaseling out of it. Jill can't get a hold of any of their regular babysitters so she ends up hiring this weird magician with a phony-sounding British accent instead.

At the fancy restaurant, Jill goes to the ladies' room. While she's away from the table, Tim plugs an earphone into a transistor radio so he can listen to the game. Jill gets wise when Tim appears to get a little too excited over the menu options. (Seriously, endive souffle with mushrooms? Who eats that?) Jill finds the radio and gets mad

Back at the Taylor house, the boys are tying the magician with chains and a straight jacket. He climbs into the trunk and instructs the boys to lock it. He's supposed to escape from the trunk and magically appear at the front door but the trick flops.

Jill accuses Tim of being a "sports addict." A guy at the next table abandons his wife to watch the game in the kitchen with the staff. Jill says she wants to talk about "us". You know, the exact kind of conversation a dude is willing to have on game day. Tim suggests a monster truck rally (really bro?) and Jill says she wants to try ballroom dancing.

Tim is increasingly distracted by the cheering from the kitchen and gets a goofy look on his face. Jill finally gives up and lets him go watch the game. (This is one of those moments where I'm happy I'm not watching Everybody Loves Raymond.)

At home, the magician-turned-babysitter is still stuck in the trunk. The boys hatch a plan to hoist the trunk up and drop it so it will break open. Tim and Jill arrive in time to prevent a total catastrophe.

Tim says it may be difficult to free the man because the trunk has "reinforced polycarbonate butt hinges."

Jill calls the man's son to come with the extra set of keys. On the other side of the fence, Wilson is mending the bellows on his accordion. Tim tells Wilson what happened at the restaurant. He says he loves Jill more than anything but is obsessed with football. His excitement borders on homoerotic. I think that's why football exists.

Wilson says football is a catharsis for Tim, an emotional release. Tim is annoyed Jill doesn't understand that but Wilson says there are probably things that Tim doesn't understand about her. Like shoes and haircuts. Of course shoes and haircuts. Wilson explains that they don't have to understand everything about each other, and concludes with a quote: "Never give a sword to a man who can't dance."

Tim apologizes to Jill and promises to watch less football. Tim and Jill dance in the yard to Wilson's accordion music while the magician sings along.

Aww.

The ending is cute and Wilson's advice is pretty sage. The best part of the episode, which in many ways is also the best part of the series, is the relationship between Tim and Jill. Jill is disappointed but not shrill. Tim fucks up but isn't a complete dolt. In the end, they work it out like rational adults. More shows should follow that example.

tim's mower

Tim and Mark are in the garage, turning the riding lawn mower into a race car. Why? Dr. Freud is probably the only person who could answer that question. But he was nutso in his own right anyway.

Little Mark picks up one of Tim's tool and asks him what it's for. Tim explains that it's a torque wrench, speaking in honeyed tones as if he's describing a beloved draft horse instead of a grubby old piece of metal. Tim says "This is the Yoda of my tools." Uh, pretty sure Yoda would have looked down on turning a riding mower into a speed machine. It's unnecessary and totally un-zen. Un-zen is totally a word.

Jill is gathering cast-offs for a rummage sale to benefit Brad's hockey team. After she threatens to feed them liver if they don't stop fighting, she goes into the garage to find "duck tape". Tim complains and schools her on the truth: "It's ducT tape!"

She promises to return the tape when she's finished, and Tim interrogates her about a screwdriver he found by the sink. When she explains she used it to break ice cubes apart he gets annoyed. It's too bad Orange is the New Black wasn't around at that time -- Tim could have learned that there are far worse things one can do with a screwdriver.

Tim claims the garage as his "sacred territory." He makes Jill swear on a Binford Cordless Ratchet Wrench that she will never again touch Tim's tool bench. Immediately after, Jill puts her hand on the tool bench and says, "Touched it! Touched it, touched it, touched it!" Tim is annoyed, but only mildly. He grabs a fingerful of grease, threatens to smear it on Jill and chases her out of the garage, screaming, "I'm Zorpheus, the tool avenger!"

Little Mark, alone in the garage, picks up the Treasured Yoda Draft Horse Torque Wrench. "I'm Zorpheus!" he exclaims, tossing the wrench into the air. It falls on the floor and breaks. He hides it in the dryer. He goes outside and mopes.

Tim unveils his souped-up riding mower. He puts on a motorcycle helmet and sunglasses and sits on the mower.

"What'd you do, join Hell's Gardeners?" Jill asks. "All you need a tattoo that says 'Born to Mulch.'"

Tim looks around for his torque wrench. "Somebody took it and didn't return it," he says, loud enough for Mark to hear from outside the house, "and whoever that somebody is is gonna be in big, big trouble."

Tim starts searching through the boxes for the rummage sale. He finds the 'swivel base cookbook holder' he made for Jill, which is really just a Lazy Susan with an itty-bitty book light mounted on it. He also finds a really scary-looking hair dryer that Jill says melted all her brushes. Tim suggests keeping it to use as a space heater. Fire hazard much?

Tim is frustrated because he can't find his wrench. Jill jokes that she sneaks down at night and dances naked around a pile of Tim's tools. Sounds like the sort of stripper Tim would have hired for his bachelor party. Jill discovers the wrench in the dryer and they both realize that one of the boys is the culprit.

Meanwhile, Brad and Randy are playing in the yard and stumble across Mark who is hiding. He confesses to them that he broke a tool. Because they're little assholes, Brad and Randy convince Mark that they used to have a brother Peter who broke a tool -- a brother they traded in for Mark.

Tim calls the boys into the house and promptly accuses Brad and Randy of breaking the wrench. Brad asks Tim why he's blaming the two oldest boys and Tim says that they're always guilty. Randy says that a neighbor lady thinks Brad and Randy are perfect gentlemen. Tim retorts, "She thought she saw Elvis last week at the gas station." (Remember when sitcoms made Elvis-sighting jokes? It seems so retro now.)

Brad and Randy rat out Mark, who hides in the tree. He tells Wilson that he's hiding from his dad. Wilson promises not to tell Tim where Mark is, so when Tim comes into the yard, Wilson tries a couple of times to tell him in code. "The acorn doesn't fall far from the tree," Wilson says. Tim doesn't get it, so Wilson tries again: "Sometimes you have to go out on a limb." Because Tim's neurons aren't flexible enough to grasp subtlety or read between the lines, Wilson has to resort to whispering to Tim that Mark is in the tree.

Tim pretends that Mark has run away until Mark finally comes out of the tree. "It jumped out of my hand," Mark says.

"But it shouldn't have been in your hand, right?" Tim asks. Mark replies that he was just playing, and Tim says, "We've been through this before. My tools are not your toys." The missing half of that last sentence: "They are the closest thing I have to a real identity or sense of self."

Mark begs Tim not to send him away "like you did Peter." Tim gets very confused until he realizes that Brad and Randy are behind that one. Tim promises he will never trade Mark away for anything. There's a nice little "aww" moment as Tim carries Mark into the house.

The episode concludes with Tim demonstrating his lawn mower motorcycle monster. THE HANDLEBARS EVEN HAVE LEATHER TASSELS. TASSELS ON A FREAKIN LAWN MOWER. AND HUBCAPS.

Tim revs up the mower, guns the engine, drives full speed in reverse and crashes.

The kid-centered episodes are sometimes less interesting than adult-focused ones, especially when the kids are little. Little kid problems just aren't that interesting. Mark hiding because he broke a wrench? Meh. What I like about this episode is Jill's playfulness and tolerance for Tim's bizarre need to turn a lawn mower into a something else. Could you imagine what this show would be like if Tim were married to the wife from Everybody Loves Raymond? Unwatchable, that's what.

 

Photo credit: Ken Lund via Foter.com / CC BY-SA
Photo credit: Ken Lund via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Tim hates the way Detroit looks now. Everything's empty and falling apart. Sometimes he regrets leaving the city, like if he had stayed, maybe he could have stopped it all. But he knows the problems are too big for one man to solve. Besides, it's not like things were that much better in Indiana.

They stayed in Indiana for three years while his wife Jill worked at her dream job. Then, someone offered her an even better job and they moved to Chicago.

Tim loves Chicago. There's always a sports game to watch. Like Detroit, Chicago has Greek and Polish populations so he doesn't miss his favorite foods, and he goes to the Museum of Science and Industry so often even the janitors know him by name.

But even though he likes his life in Chicago, he still misses work. After leaving Binford and Tool Time, he could never quite find a new career for himself. He tried to get a new show off the ground in Indiana but it only lasted a few weeks. He considered buying a hardware store, but Jill got the job offer in Chicago so he had to back out of the purchase. He tried to get back into selling tools, but no one hires traveling tool salesmen any more. Everyone sells their tools online. That's something Tim just can't get used to.

"You don't have to work," Jill tells him over and over. "You supported me through grad school. Now I'm making enough for us to live on. Why don't you take a break?"

It's a an echo of a conversation they had years ago, when the boys where young and Jill wanted to go back to work.

"It's not the money," he tells her. "I need a purpose."

When she asks, "What purpose?" he can never come up with one.

Tim decides to visit Detroit. He'll visit Wilson, his old neighbor and friend who was always on hand to offer friendly advice.

Driving through Detroit wouldn't be easy. A few years back, Binford closed the doors on its Detroit plant and moved all of its precision machining to offshore facilities. The plant is still empty. Tim doesn't want to see it. Binford Tools gave him his first job out of college and a great career as a TV host that let him spend a lot of time with his family. He cannot count how many times he walked through the doors at the Binford plant to meet with John Binford and talk about sales strategies or new ideas for the TV show.

The idea of the plant crumbling makes Tim sick to his stomach.

"Maybe I could buy the Binford plant and renovate it," he thinks. But what will he put in it? Could he start his own tool manufacturing plant? Or should he hack it up into condos? Tim took a deep breath and felt confident as he merged onto the highway. He'll soon be in Detroit and have the answers he's searching for.

Wilson will know the answer. Wilson will know what to do.

Wilson sits in his backyard, sipping a tonic made from fermented beets. A small fire crackles at his feet. Years ago, Wilson couldn't sit in his backyard in silence because the Taylor family lived next door: Tim, Jill and their three sons. Between the boys roughhousing in the yard, Tim making things explode in the garage and Jill yelling at all of them, silence was rare. As much as he liked the Taylors, Wilson sometimes wished they'd shut up.

But that was years ago. Tim and Jill moved to Indiana so Jill could take a shot at her dream job, and the boys grew up and went off to college. The couple that bought the house from Tim and Jill weren't very friendly, so Wilson never got to know them. They also fought a lot. After a few months, the wife left and the man lived in the house alone before he finally sold it.

The family that moved in after that bought the house during the housing bubble. Wilson felt a terrible sense of foreboding as he watched the family move their shabby furniture into the house. He knew they had paid more for the house than it was worth and that they couldn't afford it.

Wilson was right. One night while he was in the yard meditating by moonlight, he saw the family loading their belongings into the back of a truck. He watched their taillights disappear into the darkness. They never came back.

The Taylor house is still empty. The grass and weeds are almost as tall as the fence. Most of the windows are broken. All of the houses on the block look this way except for Wilson's and the house at the end of the street which burned down to the foundation. There's only one streetlight on the block that still works.

It happened so slowly, yet spread so fast. Wilson would pass a perfectly fine house: clean, grass trimmed, lived in. Then the grass would get a little longer. A little later trash would start to pile up in the yard. A cracked window pane, a storm-torn gutter that no one ever fixed. The city would board the windows and kids with nothing better to do paint graffiti all over it. The grass would grow taller and taller and the house would sag, lean, buckle and rot.

It might catch fire. It might not.

The same story is repeated all over the city of Detroit. Wilson has always had a quote, a factoid or other nugget of wisdom to offer others who come to him for advice. But he struggles to make sense of what's happened to the city he lives in. Did some tectonic plates shift and some how cause Detroit to fall out of the United States? Is the Motor City just a relic of past that no one cares about? Did the rest of the country figure out some way to move on and forget to tell Detroiters the plan?

Wilson stares into the fire, hoping for an answer. He watches the flames shift each time the wind changes direction. He notices that the flames are not so different from reeds or wildflowers that way, everything bending to the will of the wind.

Wilson stands up and extinguishes the fire with the remaining beet juice. In the morning, he'll take his scythe next door.

Tim and Mark work on the dishwasher.
Tim and Mark work on the dishwasher.

When we first meet Tim "the Tool Man" Taylor, he's in the living room in his home in a Detroit suburb, trying to entice his wife and kids to watch his cable TV show, "Tool Time."

"It's a classic," he says. "I'm showing everybody how to install a deadbolt lock."

Predictably, Tim's kids and wife Jill decline to watch the show with him, as deadbolt locks are pretty fucking boring. So boring, in fact, that Jill finds it more interesting to focus on ironing Tim's shirts.

The show then cuts to it's show-within-a-show, and the viewing audience sees the Tool Time set up close for the first time. Tim is on the set with his plaid-shirted assistant, Al Borland, who quietly works while Tim extols the virtues of hiking up one's pants, lest one's tool belt drag one's pants down and reveal one's buttcrack.

Moments later, Tim makes a joke about Al's buttcrack and suggests Spackling it shut. They finally get around to actually doing the damn project -- drilling a hole in a wooden door to add a deadbolt lock -- but Tim refuses to use the proper tool. Instead, he calls on Lisa (played by Pamela Anderson in her garage pinup heyday...Oh, Pam, how time hath ravaged thee...) to bring out a giant-ass drill more suitable for drilling holes in brick walls than in wooden doors. This is the first time that the audience learns that Tim always prefers a bigger, louder tool with "more power" over the tool that's actually right for the job.

But before Tim can do any drilling, makes a puppet out of his hand and impersonates the shrill voice of a nagging wife who does not appreciate big loud masculine tools.

The show cuts back to the Taylor living room, where Jill stands behind the couch where Tim sits and asks if the bitchy hand puppet is supposed to be her. Tim tries to dig his way out of the whole, but fails spectacularly. They settle the argument with a tickle fight/couch wrestling match.

Tim announces that he has to leave -- he's off to Sears to buy more big loud masculine tools. Jill says he can't leave because she has a job interview and needs him to stay and watch the kids. Of course, Tim doesn't remember the conversation. Jill convinces Tim to stay by threatening to put his tape measure in the trash compactor.

While Tim obey's Jill's request to load the dishwasher, they discuss Jill's job interview. She wants to know why he's not more excited for her, and he reveals that he doesn't get it because she doesn't have to work -- he makes plenty of money. "It's not about the money," Jill says. "It's about my autonomy."

Working for any other reasons besides needing money to pay for shit? How '90s. How quaint. How reminiscent of pre-recession bliss.

The conversation then turns toward the dishwasher and the fact that the spray can't get egg yolk off. Tim complains that the dishwasher is too weak and girly. He suggests that he can make the spray stronger by adding "more power". (Would Freud not have had a field day with this guy?) Jill knows all too well what happens when Tim adds "more power" to something and forbids him to mess with the dishwasher.

Jill leaves for her job interview, and Tim goes out into the backyard to complain to his neighbor, Wilson, about why Jill just doesn't get it. Wilson, next-door neighbor to the Taylor family, is a sort of philosopher-survivalist guru that seems like he should be living in a cabin somewhere in Ontario and not in suburban Detroit. His face is mostly hidden by the fence -- because the part was written that way, not, as some people theorized, because the actor had a grotesque deformed mouth unsuitable for network TV.

Wilson counsels Tim by spitting out a bunch of watered-down evo-psych theories about men and their need to sit naked with other men in a totally not-gay way. This leads to Tim and his youngest son, Mark, taking off their shirts and working on the dishwasher.

Tim forgets to shut off the electricity and can't remember which wire is ground. He snips a wire and promptly receives an electric shock. Ouch.

Jill comes home, elated because she thinks the interview went well. What she doesn't know is that the call came through while Tim was working on the dishwasher. Little Mark breaks the news to Jill that she didn't get the job.

Tim tries to console Jill but they end up in a fight. Then the dishwasher explodes. Defeated, Tim finds a fork embedded in the wall by the explosion and yanks it out before going out in the yard for more Wilson wisdom.

Wilson explains to Tim that Jill just wanted Tim to listen to her, not solve her problem. This is a good lesson, folks: when people want advice, they ASK for it. When they simply say, "I'm upset about x" without adding "what do you think?" Then don't offer your damn advice.

The episode concludes with Tim on his show apologizing to Jill over the air. "Just as this sander vibrates in harmony with the grain of the wood," he says, "we men should learn to vibrate in harmony with our wives."

Um, if men could vibrate, women would say "yes" a lot more often, but whatever.

Jill sees the show, thinks it's sweet and makes up with Tim. End of pilot.

Overall, this episode is a fine start to a show about a man being dragged out of the cave by his bright feminist wife and doing the best he can to keep up with her. There's a lot to like about this show, as long as you can get past the grunting and the catchphrases.