|Home Improvement - The Complete First Season|
|DVD TV Shows|
|Written by Dan Macintosh|
|Tuesday, 23 November 2004|
“Home Improvement” is the sitcom vehicle for Tim Allen’s tool-loving manly worldview, as well as a fairly standard family show. Although Allen’s main character Tim Taylor makes a living hosting “Tool Time,” a TV program that exists for the purpose of demonstrating home improvement tips, he is nevertheless relatively inept when it comes to actually doing the construction work. It’s up to his “Tool Time” sidekick Al Borland (Richard Karn) to demonstrate the proper way to perform each task, while Taylor merely talks the talk. On the one hand, this show is an excellent forum for Allen’s physical comedy and witty one-liners. On the other hand, it’s also a solid family show, where various occurrences revolving around the workbench are utilized as metaphors for how to resolve everyday domestic issues.
Tim’s wife Jill (Patricia Richardson) adds a little necessary feminine Southern charm to this primarily male household. Their three boys are Mark (Taran Noah Smith), Randy (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) and Brad (Zachery Ty Bryan). One of Jill’s biggest responsibilities is being a parent to her three sons -- and also her husband. Naturally, Tim is always looking for ways to improve his own home, but more often than not he ends up making things even worse. His motto is that everything – including almost every conceivable home appliance – can be improved upon by simply giving it more power. In many episodes, Jill can be seen trying to reign in Tim’s wild ideas about the assumed benefits of mechanical empowerment.
Jill must also serve as the lone calming influence on her boys, since their father is sometimes just as troublesome as they are. In one episode, Jill complains to Tim about the family’s recent dinner outing, where the boys’ table manners were atrocious. What intensifies her anger is that, while all this mealtime chaos was going on, Tim seemingly did nothing to stop their misbehaviors and even appeared to approve of it. In order to rectify this uncivil situation, Tim takes it upon himself to teach his three young sons a few basic dinner table social skills. He promises Jill that that evening’s food will be consumed without incident, so during the afternoon of the big meal, he engages these young ones in a mock dinner ritual. It all pays off with a trouble-free meal.
As a dad, Tim is constantly trying to balance passing down his love of manly virtues, without ever sacrificing the teaching of essential moral values. Since he consistently gives the impression of just being a regular guy, instead of a nearly perfect “Father Knows Best” figure, his father-to-son advice never comes off as high and mighty. Instead, his words of wisdom are closer to tips from one peer to another; they’re all in this together, one gathers, just trying to do the best they can.
Tim’s relationship with his wife is much less equal, however. Tim knows that Jill will always view his behavior as a little uncouth. One of his unspoken goals is to prove to her that he’s not really as bad as she thinks. Of course, their interests and hobbies couldn’t be any more different. Jill loves opera, while Tim cannot stand the sound of it. As for fixing stuff, Jill is at best tolerant of his passion. In one episode, Jill excitedly plans a classy dinner date for just the two of them. There is just one problem: this date happens to occur the exact same day as a big Lions football game. (The show is set in a Detroit suburb.) In a funny restaurant scene, Tim decides to bring along a concealed radio with an earpiece, in order to still catch the game. This way he can kill two birds with one stone. But before long, Jill catches on to Tim’s little scheme, and naturally reads him the riot act.
We don’t learn a whole lot about Jill except that she wants to one day become a psychiatrist. For the most part, though, she is the “straight man” for Tim’s antics, the upstanding one who offers contrast to his consistently off-balance behavior.
The show also focuses on a few of Tim’s other personal relationships. One of these involves Al, his “Tool. Time” assistant. Unlike the softness he shows toward his wife and kids, however, Tim shows Borland nothing but wrathful and sardonic disdain. Tim is always making jokes about Borland’s supposed lack of a personal life, but as much as Tim may put him down, Borland never comes off as someone who doesn’t have himself together. You get the impression that professional jealously fuels much of Tim’s banter. And while Borland may not ever lose his cool over Tim’s verbal abuse, it’s still quite obvious that he doesn’t appreciate all the mean-spirited ribbing. But like Jill, Borland has a nearly endless supply of patience for Tim’s constant foolishness.
Tim also engages in recurring conversations with his fence-obscured neighbor Wilson Wilson (played by Earl Hindman), which are consistently fascinating encounters. Unlike Tim’s primitive persona, Wilson gives off the impression of being a refined, mature adult who seemingly knows at least a little something about everything. He’s never at a loss for good advice about Tim’s seemingly endless stream of troubling social situations. Whenever Tim is confronted with a personality conflict he cannot resolve on his own, or a situation that cannot be easily solved by boosting it with a little more power, he chats over the fence with Wilson. Wilson is usually doing something complicated and creative, such as carving a canoe out of a hunk of wood, whenever Tim calls over to him. And more often than not, Wilson’s verbal replies contain polysyllabic words that aren’t a part of Tim’s everyday vocabulary. This causes Tim to ask Wilson to spell his words, although Wilson never shows off his spelling prowess in these situations. Instead, Tim takes Wilson’s advice to heart, and usually ends up using it to make his family life better.
The best part about “Home Improvement” is the way it always contrasts Tim’s big talk with his relatively humble walk. Like with most men, Tim attempts to give off the impression that there’s nothing out there that he cannot fix with his own two hands. But just as with so many of his mechanical projects, there are many situations he cannot resolve all on his own. The big lesson here is that it’s okay to ask for help, and it’s not always so bad to appear vulnerable – even if you think of yourself as a self-reliant manly man. Tim may be a little overly confident at times, but he’s never nearly as stubborn as, say, Archie Bunker. Instead, he knows that he needs to admit that he’s wrong now and again.
Chances are you won’t come away with any truly helpful home improvement ideas after watching this show. But you might get a few giggles out of it, and more importantly, be reminded that in families – as with houses – there’s always room for a little improvement.