Tool Time is about more than just home improvement, it’s about man improvement.
—Tim Taylor (Tim Allen), “Rites and Wrongs of Passage”
Despite his muscle-headed tendencies, it’s hard not to love Tim Taylor. Home Improvement‘s second season, now available on DVD, proves again that a guy with a penchant for belching and a love of sports so great he’ll lie, cheat, and steal his way to courtside seats, can be endearing.
It might be typical, in sitcoms, to love the belching dad, but it’s not so typical that standard sitcom set-ups—the school play, the dancing class, swapping the dead pet for an identical match, Christmas—remain funny after years of repetition. There’s no explanation for Home Improvement‘s staying power, though an indefatigable affection for sitcoms (something this writer suffers in spades) helps. That, and Tim Allen is a damn funny guy. When Tim Taylor’s wife forces him to attend a dance class, his strutting about the like a drunken monkey (in front of Anne Miller, no less) is adorable.
Allen’s acting is similar to his stand-up comedy, on which the series is based. His performance looks like rehearsal; he doesn’t appear to take any scene seriously. His focus wavers, this body twitches, and he never seems in the moment. Tim (the character) looks real. This fact is most obvious during the end-of-episode blooper reel kicked off in this season. When Allen fumbles a line and turns to talk to a fellow actor or someone off-stage, there’s no discernable alteration in character. Conversely, when Richard Karn, as Tim’s cable show sidekick, breaks character, the switch to reality is instantly perceptible. Same goes for Patricia Richardson, who plays Tim’s wife Jill, and Earl Hindman, as his philosophizing neighbor, Wilson. Allen, for all intents and purposes, is Tim Taylor, and it’s hard to dislike a guy who never stops laughing.
Throughout this season, Tim’s grin barely wavers. He has a lot more to be happy about than in the previous season. (Lamentably, the second season’s DVD set is less impressive than the first’s, with the only extra feature a lame gag reel featuring Tim’s “silliest” stunts). In Season One, the domestic battle between Tim and Jill was the crux, usually predicated on one of Tim’s many outlandish schemes to boost power into any and every household appliance. This year, the “more power” stuff is toned down and in place of a man showing off his masculinity at every turn is a couple showing exactly why they’re perfect for each other.
Take the dancing lesson episode. Tim buys Jill dance lessons for their anniversary in response to a great, one of a kind gift she got for him—a steering wheel used by racing driver Mario Andretti. He hates every second of it, but he knows it’s important to Jill and sticks it out, treating her at the end of the episode to a romantic one-on-one cha-cha. Okay, so it’s the kind of ending one can spot from the other side of a very large gorge, but the cool thing about Tim is, he wants to impress Jill. He works to master that cha-cha and sweep her off her feet because he worships her and wants her to know it.
It’s a more common sitcom scenario for the wife to accept the man’s hatred of her pursuits and to go on attending her book club or the opera (Everybody Loves Raymond suffered from this, as has My Wife and Kids, and even The Simpsons). These instances of Tim’s affection for Jill show up throughout this season, mainly through his willingness at least to try to understand her woman’s world.
In “Bell Bottom Blues,” for instance, Tim builds Jill a new closet after confronting her about her pack-rat habits (she keeps clothes she hasn’t worn since the 1970s). She can’t bring herself to part with anything, so Tim makes the closet work for her. Throughout the season, he assists her with the family wills after first complaining about it (in “Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way”), ratting out a buddy who’s being unfaithful to family friend Karen (Besty Randle) after first complaining about it (in “Let’s Did Lunch”), and helping Jill with household duties when she goes back to work… after first complaining about it (in “Abandoned Family”). In our reality TV age, such plotty chestnuts look even better. Here, people are nice to each other and families are solid and loving. That’s my kind of reality.