Home Improvement: The Complete First Season

Nikki Tranter

Tim's determination to add 'more power' to every household appliance or gardening tool speaks to his skewed sense of what it means to be a man.

Home Improvement

Cast: Tim Allen, Patricia Richardson, Richard Karn, Earl Hindman, Taran Noah Smith, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Zachery Ty Bryan
Subtitle: The Complete First Season
Network: Touchstone
First date: 1991
US Release Date: 2004-11-23
Amazon affiliate

Tim Taylor (Tim Allen) sits in his garage, atop the rusted steel frame of what will eventually become a rebuilt classic Hot Rod. Tim, man's man, master of this male domain, shifts invisible gears and grunts an imitation of how his prized car's engine will one day sound. In the middle of this fantastic moment, in walks wife Jill (Patricia Richardson) with a knowing smile. "You were pretending to drive," she chuckles, before snuggling up beside him.

This early moment in Home Improvement's first season encapsulates the premise: a husband and wife can share space, despite their differences. Tim is the car-worshipping, gadget-loving host of his own home improvement show, Tool Time, while Jill is the homemaker, taking care of her man along with their three boys, pre-teens Brad (Zachery Ty Bryan) and Randy (Jonathan Taylor Thomas), and seven-year-old Mark (Taran Noah Smith). This gendered contrast informs much of the show's humor; and if this humor results from stock sitcom circumstances -- the forgotten birthday, the ill-fated camping trip, the attempt at a romantic dinner while the game's on -- Tim and Jill are far from stock characters. Sharp writing and credible performances make their relationship as entertaining to watch as Tim's repeated pratfalling.

Beginning its eight-year run in 1992, Home Improvement was a kind of reverse Roseanne (also created by Matt Williams), centering on the man's position in the home rather than the woman's. Tim's idea of his place in his home is as breadwinner and fix-it man, and unlike some more modern sitcom husbands -- Everybody Loves Raymond's Ray Barone (Ray Romano), for example -- he relishes this position. Not only does he go out of his way to make life easy as can be for Jill and the kids, he's receptive to just about any of his family's desires. The love shared by Tim and Jill and the awareness and understanding of both characters (especially Jill towards Tim) is exhilarating to see in light of a show like Raymond and especially considering that show's popularity.

Tim's determination to add "more power" to every household appliance or gardening tool speaks to his skewed sense of what it means to be a man (the souped up vacuum is a "man's vacuum"), but, he also means to help out. By contrast, Ray is always lying his way out of watching the kids or attending his wife Deb's (Patricia Heaton) book club. Though Tim also considers Jill's interests For Women Only, the difference between the two couples is Jill's relentless understanding of her husband's obsessions.

If Deb rarely goes a scene without referring to her husband's inadequacy as a father or a husband, Jill remains resilient and supportive. Tim's destruction of the dishwasher in Home Improvement's pilot, for example, perfectly demonstrates her patience. "I'll get the broom," she sighs, after her kitchen counter explodes. It's up to Tim to learn his lesson in his own way -- Jill doesn't snipe, but only waits for his apology, which he makes without conniving on her part. When Tim's enthusiasm crosses into insensitivity -- joking on an episode of Tool Time, for example, about her nighttime drooling -- she makes clear her disapproval. When he brings a radio to dinner to hear the Pistons game, though, she laughs off his selfishness, joking about his "sports addiction." No matter how infuriating Tim's perpetual childishness might be, Jill assumes he means well.

And Tim demonstrates his sincerity time and again. In "Look Who's Not Talking", Jill is terrified at the thought of making a speech at a library fundraiser. Without a second thought, Tim enlists Mark to don some earrings and pretend to be part of the fundraising crowd to help Jill practice. In "Jill's Birthday," he surprises her with a video diary featuring important moments in her life, and in "Bubble, Bubble, Toil, and Trouble," he assumes her wifely role while she takes a day off to relax in the spa it took him a month to install in her bathroom. Granted, such displays of affection invariably come after some giant Tim-disaster (forgetting her birthday, ruining her bathroom), but the important thing, for Jill anyway, is that he gets it -- eventually.

Co-creator/producer David McFadzean notes during the DVD commentary for the pilot (one of three episode commentaries by McFadzean and co-creator/producer Carmen Finestra): "We tried to make the arguments between Tim and Jill as real as possible within the sitcom world. We wanted people to identify with them, [to say,] 'Yeah, I've had that argument with my wife before.'" Back in '92, such low-risk arguments between sitcom couples were common. Roseanne and husband Dan (John Goodman) had their differences, but both were deeply involved in each other's lives and the lives of their kids. Home Improvement carries on this theme of family togetherness. Today, when the most popular sitcom on television devotes an entire episode to the husband's inability to say "I love you" to his wife, shows like Home Improvement (and indeed Roseanne -- where's that DVD?) reminds viewers of the good old days in family sitcom land, when sarcasm and cynicism weren't primary comedy ingredients.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.