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Home Improvement: Season One (December 4/04), Season Two (June 15/05), Season Four (May 29/06), Season Five (November 23/06), Season Six (June 17/07), Season Seven (August 9/07), Season Eight (November 5/08)

Home Improvement has justifiably earned its place among some of the best family sitcoms of all time, including perennial favorites like Family Ties and Leave it to Beaver. The series doesn't necessarily go anywhere particularly original or groundbreaking - but that's not something that one dwells on, thanks primarily to the charisma of the performers and some unusually sharp writing.

Tim Allen stars as Tim Taylor, the accident-prone host of a home improvement show called Tool Time. His co-host is the loyal Al Borland (Richard Karn), who is forced to play second-banana to Tim's inept shenanigans - even though he's clearly the more skilled of the two. Tim's married to Jill (Patricia Richardson), an exceedingly patient woman who has learned to put up with Tim's insistence that all their appliances be outfitted with "more power." Also thrown into the mix are Tim and Jill's three sons: brawny Brad (Zachery Ty Bryan), studious Randy (Jonathan Taylor Thomas), and eager-to-please Mark (Taran Noah Smith). Finally, there's Wilson (Earl Hindman), Tim's sage-like neighbor who always has a helpful little nugget at the ready - which Tim invariably mangles before the episode's end.

Home Improvement premiered in 1991 to instant success, and it's not difficult to see why. The show has an unmistakably old-fashioned feel to it, with the various characters tremendously likeable and the conflict among them kept to a minimum (unlike, say, Everybody Loves Raymond). At the center of everything is Tim Allen, a performer who has justly gone on to become a successful movie star (Christmas with the Kranks notwithstanding). Allen effectively turns his television alter-ego into a figure that's never annoying or overbearing, no small feat given Tim Taylor's exceedingly headstrong nature.

Home Improvement: Season One assembles every episode from the show's first season, and certainly stands as an ideal introduction to the series - partly because it does feature some of the show's best moments. Some of the highlights are: Off Sides, which finds the boys being watched by a magician who winds up locked in his own trunk; Nothing More Than Feelings, featuring Tim's bone-headed decision to share far too much about Jill with his audience; and What About Bob?, in which Bob Vila makes the first of many appearance on the series.

Season two kicks off with a wonderful episode entitled Read My Hips, which revolves around Jill's efforts to surprise Tim with a romantic meal. Tim, of course, screws it up by drinking with his buddies and showing up well after Jill would've liked. It's the sort of episode that Home Improvement does best; there are plenty of laughs to be had, yet the more sentimental moments don't feel terribly out of place (surprisingly enough). It doesn't hurt that, by now, there's a genuine sense of chemistry between Allen and Richardson; their relationship is completely convincing, and it's not difficult to believe that their characters have been married for over ten years.

Other highlights from season two include: Overactive Glance, in which Tim gets into trouble for staring at other women; Roomie for Improvement, which finds Tim forced to move in with Al after Mark comes down with a bad case of chicken pox; Dances with Tools, in which Tim surprises Jill with dancing lessons as an anniversary present; and Birth of a Hot Rod, which finds Tim attempting to get his hot rod to work.

There are several highlights within season four, including: Don't Tell Momma (in which Tim accidentally drops a three-ton beam on Jill's car), Bachelor of the Year (Al is named one of Detroit's most eligible bachelors, much to the consternation of his girlfriend), and The Naked Truth (Tim walks in on his brother's wife while she's showering). The remarkably consistent tone is matched by some stellar performances, with Allen and Richardson's palpable chemistry one of the more believable elements within the series.

Some of the highlights within season five: The First Temptation of Tim (Tim's new boss wants to replace Al to improve the show's popularity among younger viewers), Room Without a View (Randy gets his own room after Tim converts the basement), That's My Momma (Tim's mother starts dating his old shop teacher), and Eye on Tim (Jill gets jealous after a female reporter puts the moves on Tim during a story).

Though the show was starting to show its age by season six, there are plenty of worthwhile episodes contained within, including: Whose Car Is It Anyway? (in which Jill forbids Tim to drive her new sports car), Workin' Man Blues (Brad's part-time job threatens his schooling), My Son, The Driver (Jill's ominous feelings about Brad's first night driving alone come true), and The Kiss And The Kiss-Off (featuring the brief return of Pam Anderson as the Tool Time girl).

The seventh and penultimate season is undoubtedly a bit more spotty than one might've liked, yet there are certainly a few highlights: Jill's Passion (Jill finds herself on the receiving end of attention from a man, much to Tim's chagrin), An Older Woman (Tim and Jill must dissuade Brad from marrying a girl he just met), What a Drag (Brad is caught with a stash of dope), and Rebel Without Night Driving Priviliges (Randy is frustrated at not being able to drive at night).

The Home Improvement saga came to close at the end of its eighth season, which boasts such memorable episodes as: Adios (in which Randy leaves home to spend a year in Costa Rica), Taylor Got Game (Brad's struggling scholastic efforts force him to consider a career as a soccer player), Mr. Likeable (Al lands a small role in a movie of the week starring Morgan Fairchild), Young at Heart (Jenny McCarthy guest stars as a mechanic that Tim finds himself drawn to), and The Long and Winding Road Parts I-III (the series finale that finds Tim forced to give up dreams of national syndication to placate his unreasonable wife).

Home Improvement is one of those shows that will still be around 20 years from now; it has that sort of enduring, timeless quality that all the great sitcoms seem to posses.

 

About the DVD: Home Improvement arrives on DVD courtesy of Buena Vista Home Entertainment, and there's no denying that the show looks great. There's also a few bonus features included, most notably three commentary tracks with the show's creators, Carmen Finestra and David McFadzean. The set also comes with a short featurette featuring bloopers and wacky clips. Seasons Two, Four, Five, Six, Seven, and Eight come armed with a short-but-entertaining blooper reel. Season Eight also includes a live reunion special.
© David Nusair