Home Improvement‘s third season is its best, as crack-up funny as it is heartfelt. Still, the plotting is not so different from the first two seasons, the only changes being a toning down of the man-grunt thing and the complete nixing of the “more power!” catch cry. Such tweaks mean more time is allocated to the stuff that matters, namely, Tim (Tim Allen) and Jill’s (Patricia Richardson) tender relationship.
Recently released to DVD without extras to speak of, the season still relies on bad puns. One of the weaker running jokes has to do with Tim’s insults against Al’s (Richard Karn) mother. Al never responds, Tim never quits. Frankly, it’s boring. You might say it’s the “more power!’ of this season—pointless and overdone. How many times can Al’s mom be compared to an elephant?
Other overused gags retain hilariousness. Tim’s misquoting of his sage neighbor, Wilson (Earl Hindman), for instance, is ridiculously funny. One of the best of Tim’s muddles occurs in episode, “Arrivederci, Binford”, which centers on his struggle to grieve for his late mentor. Wilson instructs Tim that grief doesn’t always equal tears or overt displays of affection:
In parts of Mexico, the bereaved decorate the grave with smiling puppets, and they eat chocolate coffins. And on the Solomon Islands, they hang the dead man’s arms on his hut. And in feudal Japan, when a Lord died, the Ronin samurai would show their loyalty by disemboweling themselves.
Tim remembers it this way for Jill:
In some cultures they put chocolate puppets in coffins and on the Chinoogie Islands or someplace, they hang arms on aluminum siding. And Ronnie the Samurai—you don’t wanna know what he does.
Tim screws up in similar ways in almost every episode, and it never gets old. He responds to Wilson’s statement that the Koran honors its jesters with, “Yeah, those Koreans know what’s funny.”
Tim remains his ever-dopey sweet self, always one step behind everyone else in his family (and in this season, thank goodness, his penchant for bigger and better household appliances is almost non-existent). Tim, as we know, is the Thursday’s Child of husbands, not exactly sensitive to his wife’s needs. But this season, he seems closer to understanding Jill’s ambitions and frustrations; as the writers leave off the standard sitcom husband/wife guff like the forgotten anniversary, Tim instead engages in eye-opening discussions about 40-ish partners having babies, growing older, sharing sexual fantasies (Jill dreams about Tarzan; Tim prefers Mario Andretti), and working to retain their romantic spark. (Come to think of it, I don’t think a single reference is made to Jill’s housework—a definite step forward.)
In “It Was the Best of Tims, It Was the Worst of Tims”, Tim charms a group of Jill’s work friends, leading to her wondering why he’s less charismatic with her. The show’s original focus—Tim as clumsy uber-goober—is all but forgotten. Tim and Jill warmly and openly discuss their love for each other, even if he fails to keep up his end of the romantic bargain now and again. In “What You See is What You Get,” his computer-simulated “Perfect Jill” features slim hips and enormous breasts. In true Tim style, he makes it up to his lady love the only way he knows how, via tools. He shuns his own week-long Tool Time salute to refurbishment, deciding instead to keep a ratty old table just the way it is and present it as a gift his wife. He, naturally, prefers her the exact same way. Awww.
Tim remains ignorant of how hurtful his jokes can be. Only Wilson (Earl Hindman) can get through to him that he goes too far. Tim’s sincere attempt to explain to Wilson that “Jokes are what I’m all about, it’s why people like me,” offers one of this season’s many insights into Tim the Man, rather than Tim the Tool Man. He’s doing his best to be the best man he can be.