Stream it or skip it?

The new reality TV show Assembly required is remarkable because it brings together Home improvement co-stars Allen and Karn, this time playing themselves in place of Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor and Al Borland, respectively. But it’s also a fun Chopped-style competition where three machineheads can put together interesting projects based on boxes of parts and tools sent to them, as well as whatever else is in their workshops.

Opening shot: After a warning that a person should not attempt the challenges in Assembly required without “extensive training” and safety precautions, Tim Allen says “Only the French would make a fire hat that looks cool.” He wears a gold-plated fire helmet. Richard Karn says it looks like a police helmet.

The essential: In the first round, the three contestants, all working in their own workshops and zoomed in with Tim, Al and YouTube handyman April Wilkerson, work to create a Class A fire extinguisher from the parts and tools sent to them, along with things in their workshops. They have 90 minutes to complete the task. As the contestants drill holes in the tanks given to them and attach nozzles and pumps, Tim and Richard comment on what the contestants are doing – sometimes the contestants can hear them, sometimes not. They demonstrate in front of the camera and the top two advance to the next round.

In round two, the two remaining competitors 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 which can also be used in the winter to melt snow and ice. Creativity is encouraged. A contestant models his blower after his favorite WWII aircraft; the other fashions an armored dragon around his leaf blower. As part of the round, April modified the gasoline blower motor spark plugs so that they needed to be re-spread to work. The trick is to see when each competitor would be able to figure this out.

When the fans are complete they are shipped to Tim and Richard to play with and test. They tested the blowers’ power by blowing a pile of leaves from one side of a parking lot to the other. Then, they tested the heat given off by each one by organizing an ice block melting contest.

Assembly required
Photo: History

What shows will this remind you of? The “Tool Time” segments of Home improvement mix with Chopped.

Our opinion : We give producers of Assembly Required, which was created by Allen, which is an EP with Karn and a host of others, credit for navigating filming around COVID protocols. Instead of having the contestants come to a studio and do their jobs, they made the show work by having the contestants work in their own studios. It fosters their creativity because they’re in an environment they’re comfortable with, and it allows Tim, Richard, and April to be together in their studio (resembling Tim’s garage).

But if the show only had a few random hosts, it wouldn’t be as interesting to watch. That’s because Karn and Allen’s 30-year friendship translates into their comfort with each other. They play familiar roles: Karn is the one who is sincere and encouraging, Allen is the one who growls, swears and shouts “More power!”. Both, of course, are funny in their own way, but seeing them joke around like they’re on the set of Home improvement is definitely a comfort.

Wilkerson is basically an actual Al in this mix; she’s the one who knows her stuff, and she’s the one responsible for making “adjustments” designed to throw off competitors. However, it seems both competitors figured out pretty quickly that their fans weren’t starting due to a gapless spark plug.

Most of the time, however, you’ll want to watch Assembly required for the camaraderie between Allen and Karn, which comes through when they test/play with devices made by competitors. The show may not just be a machinehead’s dream, but it will also be fun for anyone who misses Home improvement.

Farewell shot: Karn declares the winner, who receives $5,000 and a cute portable tote with a toolbox inside.

Sleeping Star: Wilkerson, of course, because she’s the one who really knows what she’s doing. And she gave a great “hack” on using cardboard to replace a missing gasket on an engine.

The most pilot line: The product placement is atrocious, even for a reality contest. Competitors used Google Nest Hub smart displays to communicate with Tim and Richard, and when they said “Hey, Google”, our devices at home responded. Uncool. Not to mention the lingering looks at the Ram truck the camera gave just before the practice round.

Our call: SPREAD IT. Assembly required is a fun competitive spectacle, even if it lacks some of the detail that true mechanical enthusiasts 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 technology, but he’s not fooling himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Slate, Salon,,, Fast Company and elsewhere.

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