Nov 08 2012

How Home Improvement Set the Bar for Modern Family Sitcoms

Published by at 10:00 am under Editorials,Television

Anybody still remember the ‘90s? We all do. In fact, here at Unreality, we spend roughly 42% of our time contemplating this golden era of neon socks and slap bracelets. Of mood rings and Power Rangers. Of bowl cuts and whatever Jennifer Aniston was doing with her hair at the time. All that stuff.

In fact, Remy and I were just arguing the other week about our favorite childhood sitcoms. And while I hardly think one word justifies his baffling obsession with Blossom, I’ll respect his fanboy opinions. (For now, anyway. That kid is one Goonies reference away from a drunken brawl.) As for me, Home Improvement was hands-down my favorite childhood sitcom, and I’m highly entertained by it even today. This has nothing to do with nostalgia, by the way; I’ll catch a rerun on TBS every so often, and find myself just as amused as an adult by Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor’s antics as I was back in 1996. Which is more than I can say for any other modern sitcom with a laugh track—the yesteryear hallmark of this genre. Half-hour comedies like Arrested Development, Parks and Recreation, Malcolm in the Middle, and Community have since weaned me off the laugh track; now when I hear canned laughter, I take it as an indication that whatever I’m watching probably sucks.


Yup.

But I digress. Home Improvement owned the laugh track, and it was a legitimately awesome show for all the entirely subjective reasons I’m going to list off now. Let’s get to it.

[On a serious note, there are a lot of people in the NYC and NJ area who could use some home improvement of their own in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Click here to see how you can help. Or here.]

Tool Time – A show within a show

In Home Improvement, Tim and Al star in their own…well, home improvement show. And while this isn’t the only sitcom to feature Inception-style show-within-a-show subplots (e.g., “TGS with Tracey Jordan” on 30 Rock, “The Itchy & Scratchy Show” on The Simpsons, “Terrence and Phillip” on South Park), I think HI kind of set the pace in television for this narrative strategy. Tool Time was a central part of this particular show, and its predictable formula acted as a great narrative anchor.

Lisa and Heidi – Family time eye candy

Yeah, so does anyone else remember that Pamela Anderson was on this show? For six years?? That was back when she was at her hottest, I think. No wonder 13-year-old TJ loved Tool Time so much… [Ed. note: boner joke removed] I don’t know which stars aligned for that casting decision to come about, but in the mid-90s, Baywatch and Home Improvement were as close to porn as I could get. Plus, Heidi and Lisa actually inspired the Juggies from The Man Show, a fact I made up just now (but am sort of starting to believe after a little Googling).

Tim’s On-Set Disasters – Physical comedy at its best

If there’s one thing the Tool Man couldn’t stand, it was a lack of power. And if there was one thing he enjoyed doing most, it was souping up power tools and construction equipment to grunt-worthy levels.

httpv://youtu.be/0V9YZ7C88iU

Physical comedy feels like a lost art these days, but it was always a pleasure watching Tim fail spectacularly at whatever tool-related feat he was attempting, whether he was manning a turbo-charged lawn mower…

…pneumatic drywall stilts…

…a “super sander”…

…weed whacker…

…leaf blower…

…or turkey carver.

One thing is certain: working for the Home Improvement props department must have been awesome.

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6 responses so far

  • Steve p

    I watched home improvement but even at a young age I grew tired of it. Every ep was the same, Tim fucked up, Jill yelled at him, he went wo Wilson for advice which never understood, then Jill forgave him because of his idiotic misunderstanding of Wilson’s words. Then in the middle somewhere Tim again fucks p, but this time on tool time, al fixes it, then Tim grunts about man stuff or more power.

    My favs were:
    Boy meets world. Growing up that show practically mirrored my life. It was the first show I could really relate to. Can’t wait for the new series.

    Roseanne (except the few seasons)
    Fresh prince

    The above 2, I am sure I’ve seen every ep of each show 10+ times, but I still catch the on nick at nite every once in a while and still laugh just as hard as the first time.

    I am also going to throw it out there, because I know so many people will bring it up as their favs, but Seinfeld was one of the most boring, repetitive, and overrated shows of all time. And another thing Jerry, every sitcom is essentially about nothing, just because you were the first to mention it doesn’t make you original or clever. Really don’t understand why everyone loves this show so much.

  • Steve p

    PS – as for current sitcoms, most are awful, but Modern Family is by far one of the funniest shows of all time.

  • Gil

    I’ve started to love the show from watching reruns on TBS. I’ve also noticed, to no real surprise, that a lot of the show material was taken from his time as a stand-up comedian. I’ve also been listening to some online comedy stations and when I hear him come on it’s usually some jokes about adding more power to tools, or adding power to non-power tools. That and the grunting.
    As for the physical comedy, I can’t help but think about all the stuff that broke/fell apart in the Bluth model home.

  • GrandWazoo

    Nice segue there. “[On a serious note, there are a lot of people in the NYC and NJ area who could use some home improvement of their own in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Click here to see how you can help. Or here.]”

    I have nothing against trying to get money for the people who need it after the hurricane, but please do it with at least a modicum of decency. Have an entire story be about it, don’t make a crappy pun in the middle of a lighthearted article that segues into earning money for something serious.

  • CR

    I too loved Home Improvement, but I do have one gripe with this artcile. You may not like Two and a Half Men, but that show does not use canned laughter; it is filmed in front of a live studio audience.

  • http://saraclemens.com Sara Clemens

    Probably 90% (if not more) of the laughter you hear from sitcoms filmed in front of a live studio audience is canned. They’re all heavily sweetened in post.

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