Most sitcoms get off to a rocky start, especially if they are built around a standup comedian. Early episodes tend to have the star of the show mugging from time to time, delivering material as if it were part of his stand up act. When the show finds a way to make it work (“Seinfeld”) it’s a beautiful thing, but when it doesn’t (the early years of “Drew Carey”) it is almost painful to watch. “Home Improvement” not only made it work, but the show quickly found a formula in its first season that would last for it’s entire run.
There are few people out there who don’t know who Tim Allen is. His grunting, growling, “more power” approach to life quickly captured him attention as a standup comedian and earned him the show “Home Improvement”, which eventually would run eight seasons on ABC.
The show centers on the life of Tim “the Toolman” Taylor (Tim), a family man with a wife and three kids. Tim stars on a local home improvement show (hence the name). and is a “more power” kind of guy, always attempting to make things bigger and better, whether they be his lawn mower or his bathroom. He is also a bit inept, with ideas that extend beyond his abilities, but thanks to the help of his assistant Al (Richard Karn) things always come out right in the end.
Tim has that same approach to his family as well - the emotional side of having a family confuses Tim at times, and fortunately he has an assistant with that as well, this time in the form of his neighbor Wilson (Earl Hindman) who attempts to guide Tim with wisdom and knowledge that no man knows, but a next-door neighbor always seems to possess.
The first season of the show quickly steps into the formula that would guide the show through it’s duration: Tim encounters some problem, typically a man-doesn’t-understand-women-or-family problem, talks about it on his TV show (allowing the opportunity for Tim Allen’s stand up material), messes things up further, gets advice from Wilson, bungles the words of the advice although he understands its meaning, and everything works out in the end. Although the formula can become a bit trying at times, it does get swapped around often enough to keep things entertaining. Sometimes Tim’s wife Jill (Patricia Richardson) is the one getting advice from Wilson, or sometimes the plot focuses on a misunderstanding between Tim and Al, rather than Tim and Jill. And of course, don’t forget the plucky Taylor children, who can always be counted on to get into trouble.
Surprising for a show in its first season, “Home Improvement” also managed to pull off quite a couple of impressive guest appearances, most notably Tim’s nemesis in the world of home improvement, Bob Villa. Villa not only appears, but mocks himself a bit, and isn’t afraid to get involved in some physical comedy as well. His guest stint went so well, it led to more Villa appearances in future seasons.
With a solid formula, an excellent cast, and plenty of Allen’s popular material, it’s no wonder “Home Improvement” managed the success it did. What is impressive though is that it started out almost as strong as it finished and kept most of its cast throughout, a rarity in the world of television and sit-coms.
I’ve gotten to the point that I don’t expect much from television releases on DVD. If the show is of DVD quality I’m pretty much happy. If the producers choose to add in a few commentaries or a retrospective look, that’s just gravy. My expectations for television shows on DVD are nowhere near what I expect from a movie though. That’s a good thing too, since “Home Improvement” offers little other than the show.
The big feature on the three-disc set is “Loose Screws”, a featurette about the shows most hilarious moments. Actually, there is no featurette to it. It’s simply similarly themed quick clips from the season put together. It’s probably a really funny watch if you’re reminiscing about the show, but if you’ve just watched the entire season than recapping some of the moments is a bit redundant. After all, you just saw them in the context of their episode, where they tend to be more hilarious.
The only other extra included are commentary tracks on three episodes - one per disc - by producer/co-creators Carmen Finestra and David McFadzean. With all due respect to the show’s creators, the show is based on the stand up comedy of Tim Allen. Where is Allen??? It’s uncommon for me to want to hear one of the show’s stars in a commentary track, but in this case it just seems like the right thing to do. Instead you get three commentary tracks with people nobody has heard of, talking about another man’s comedy. I’d much rather hear Allen throw in his wit and comedy stylings as he talks about the episodes and the material’s inspirations. Or maybe that’s what the producers were afraid of. Allen doesn’t strike me as one to “toe the line”. Perhaps they were worried his comedic candor might be too much?
That’s it for the disc’s features, although the set does include a mini-calendar featuring the Tool Time toolgirl, who in the show’s beginning was Pamela Anderson. I’m not going to complain about a tightly clad Pamela, especially since the calendar image was taken during her heyday. That really makes up for the lack of any other interesting extras... and pretty much makes up for the lack of Allen as well.
I was a big fan of “Home Improvement” when it was on the air, especially in it’s early season when the show stayed really light with its subject manner. It’s great to watch the show on DVD again years later and still laugh at the same jokes time after time.