Dave Chappelle's Cursed 'Home Improvement' Spinoff
Dave Chappelle was attacked onstage at the Hollywood Bowl last week and it still probably doesn’t crack the top 5 moments of Dave’s career that he would like to forget.
The top distinction may belong to the time he inked a deal with ABC to star in the Home Improvement spin-off series called Buddies, based on a 1995 guest appearance in the Tim Allen vehicle by Chappelle and collaborator Jim Breuer.
The series lasted just six episodes on air before ABC mercy killed the dumpster fire, and Dave has spent the last 26 years distancing himself from the disaster while trying to prevent the footage that remains from ever seeing the light of day. Buddies is to Dave Chappelle what “The Star Wars Holiday Special” is to George Lucas if 20th Century Fox slapped George’s face on the DVD cover and marketed it as “The Special George Lucas DOESN’T Want You To See!”
It all started when Dave Chappelle and Jim Breuer made a guest appearance on Home Improvement playing two “Tool Time” audience members whom Tim pulls onstage to discuss their relationship issues. The scene is a classic 90’s sitcom men-versus-women segment that revolves around Tim teaching Dave and Jim how to avoid getting nagged.
The duo had chemistry, with Dave being the obvious stand out star. The episode was well received by critics and audiences alike, and as Home Improvement wrapped up its fifth straight year dominating network TV ratings, Walt Disney Studios and ABC were itching to double dip on its success.
The plan was hatched to launch a spin-off series featuring Dave Chappelle and Jim Breuer playing the same pair of friends who captivated Home Improvement viewers in their brief, four minute cameo in the previous season. Much like another catastrophic ABC flop, the decision was inexplicably made to center the tone of the show around a lighthearted discussion of race relations in America.
Basically, one guy is black, one guy is white, and they’re friends. They make jokes about the differences between black guys and white guys. That’s pretty much the whole show.
The broader plot was that Dave and Jim ran a struggling video production company living paycheck to paycheck and scrambling to make rent under the threat of eviction from their landlord, also Dave’s father, played by Richard Roundtree of Shaft fame. Their girlfriends both play featured parts, both supporting and chiding the duo as they attempt to get their small business off the ground.
While the premise for Buddies was shallow and flimsy, sitcoms made it work with far less in the mid 90’s. The real problem with the show was that Walt Disney Studios and ABC knew they had a star in the young Chappelle, but they had absolutely no idea what to do with him.
The cracks began to show during the making of the pilot when the studio made the decision to fire Jim Breuer and replace him with Christopher Gartin. At only 22 years old, Dave Chappelle was already recognizable from his role as Ahchoo in Mel Brooks’ 1993 film Robin Hood: Men in Tights. His cameo on Home Improvement was his first foray into television acting, having previously done stand up on Def Comedy Jam. The studio chose Dave as their rising star, and they worried that Jim Breuer, himself a stand up more known for his physical comedy, was likely to “chew the scenery” and upstage Dave, thus distracting the audience from what they believed to be their prized product.
If you were to create a television series based on the chemistry between two actors, the obvious move to ensure success would be to fire whichever half of the duo you found to be less marketable. Thank god Disney and ABC never got their hands on Abbott and Costello, otherwise we would have been subjected to a whole four episodes of an insufferable sitcom called “Lou” which would dig into Costello’s daddy issues.
Dave saw the writing on the wall. He later said about the making of Buddies, “It was a bad show. It was bad. I mean when we were doing it, I could tell this was not gonna work.” He was right. After just five episodes played to lousy ratings, the sitcom was pulled by ABC leaving the last 7 episodes unaired, which sadly cut a cameo from Kareem Abdul Jabbar, who was to play Dave’s cousin in one episode. The only bright spot in the show was the relationship between Dave and his father, but not even Shaft could save this disaster.
Dave has since disavowed Buddies entirely, hating it to the point where his loathing was used as marketing material for the DVD release. Obviously, Buddies would not be Dave’s only shot at TV success, nor would it be the end of his working relationship with Breuer. Jim would co-star in Half Baked before later turning to the burgeoning field of anti-vax Covid comedy.
Considering the sweeping success that Dave Chappelle would enjoy after he escaped the clutches of Disney and ABC, it’s amazing how badly an out of touch studio can screw up their chance of getting in at the ground floor of one of the most impactful careers in comedy history.
Speaking of which, does anyone remember Mulaney?
Top Image: Wind Dancer Productions / Touchstone Television - Wikimedia Commons / John Bauld
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