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With the revival dominating headlines and ratings, we’d all be crazy not to expect more new seasons of old shows in the future. Considering Roseanne’s specific record-breaking success, ABC has to be eyeing their other blue collar, mega-blockbuster ’90s sitcom starring an outspoken Hollywood conservative: . The show’s leading man Tim Allenhas expressed interest in strapping on a tool belt again, and the time sure does seem right, doesn’t it? If ABC is looking to hold Middle America’s attention, pairing the Conners and the Taylors again wouldn’t be a bad idea.
That’s why I want to get ahead of the curve on this one and make sure everyone remembers what Home Improvement was actually about. When people look back on Home Improvement, they hear a muffled grunt and the musky smell of sweat and leather wafts out from their memory cave. You remember “more power” and the Man’s Bathroom and head trauma, and you probably write off the show as a cyclical family sitcom running through all the same plots. As a kid, I watched every single episode as it aired from the comfort of a UT Vols beanbag chair and that was mainly my takeaway. Then earlier this year I binged all 204 episodes of Home Improvementon Hulu in just over a month and I realized that the show is not just the grunt-fest tool-a-palooza I remember it being. If ABC wants to bring back Home Improvement, it has to remember that Home Improvement was one massive indictment on toxic masculinity.
Think about the formula of pretty much every single episode of Home Improvement: a problem arises either at work or at home, Tim makes it worse by recklessly dumping gasoline on it, he gets advice from his cultured next-door neighbor Wilson, and then Tim fixes the problem by using his newfound knowledge (or at least his garbled but well-intentioned take on it). “More power” may be Tim’s slogan, but it was never the solution. That slogan blew up a dishwasher, turned the washing machine into a mechanical bull, and routinely sent Tim to the hospital. Tim’s machismo always blows up in his face, literally.
That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? But we don’t see it that way because Tim is the lead character, the guy we’re supposed to root for. When he shoots a grill into orbit, it’s rightfully played as a laugh and not as a red flag. But Home Improvement was more than just a live-action Looney Tunes with power tools. In addition to showing how unchecked masculinity can cause emotional/property damage, the show gave us examples of totally different types of masculinity.
Sure, Tim’s sensitive, flannel-clad sidekick Al Borland (Richard Karn) is the butt of every joke. But even though he’s constantly dragged by Tim, the show regularly reminds us that Al is way more popular. Viewers love him, women love him (even if he’s nervous around them), and he knows way more about home repair than Tim. He’d have to in order to survive the exploding pumpkins and powered-up stilts Tim brings into the workroom. Al is unquestionably masculine, but his definition of what it means to be a man is not so limited.
And then there’s Wilson (Earl Hindman), the neighbor with an entire liberal arts college in his partially-obstructed noggin. Wilson is also an outdoorsy guy, except he can name more ancient philosophers than Detroit Lions players. Tim regularly confides in him, listens to him, and takes those life lessons to heart. Tim may act like he thinks Al is lame and Wilson is weird, but the show treats their depiction of masculinity as way healthier than Tim “got his forehead stuck to a table” Taylor.
But all that wouldn’t mean as much if the show didn’t also have a strong, commanding feminine presence that more than holds her own. Jill (Patricia Richardson) is the best sitcom mom of all time, and the fact that Home Improvement didn’t pair steamrolling Tim with a naysaying pushover speaks volumes. The show, which had a lot of women in the writers room BTW, created a TV wife and mother that was funny, tough, caring, career-driven, nurturing, and flawed on top of all of that. The show gave ’90s moms like my own a real stand-in, a mom that existed in-between the brash Roseanne Conner and the terminally cheerful Carol Brady. It’s surprising to say, but Home Improvement was not only concerned with showing varied kinds of masculinity, it depicted a femininity that was way sturdier than anything Tim built (except the hot rod, which somehow did not explode!).
Home Improvement was never a political show, not like Roseanne. Instead of getting into topical issues, though, Home Improvement got to something more guttural: how we treat each other and–to get all Wilson-y–ourselves. At least half, probably more, of Home Improvement’s episodes are about the give and take of Jill and Tim’s marriage. She wants the kids to develop a relationship with the ballet, but Tim wants to take them to a basketball game. Jill wants a romantic dinner, but it’s the same night as a big game. Tim’s psyched for his Super Bowl party, and then Jill gets super sick. And then there are the episodes about Tim coping with the death of his surrogate father Mr. Binford, or his mom selling their childhood home, or his son potentially having cancer. In all of those episodes, Tim learned how his stereotypically dudely leanings got in the way of his real relationships and his own mental, emotional health. The show’s testosterone trappings provided for a lot of hilarious bits (Tim drove a tank through a golf course, remember?), but that raucous comedy coexisted with a consistent examination and, fingers-crossed, broadening of what it means to be a man.
That’s a show we need right now. If we can get that Tim Taylor back, bring him back. Because the Tim Taylor on the original show was not “politically correct” and he wasn’t a “snowflake,” sure, but he was also open-minded enough to listen to those around him–well, only if you were standing behind fence. Yeah, Tim had a blast making a mess of Tool Time in every episode, but he also learned something new every week, mostly learning to look past himself and see the world from another point-of-view. That right there, that’s a valuable tool to have.