How Home Improvement Set the Bar for Modern Family Sitcoms

Tim Allan – An unlikely father figure

This is something I can only appreciate in retrospect, but a decade prior to Home Improvement’s inaugural season, Allan served two and a half years in federal prison for cocaine possession. Yep, the future Tool Man was busted with roughly 1.5 lbs of nose candy (or, to put that in Amy Winehouse terms, “a Tuesday”). Long story short, I never would have expected this guy…

…to evolve into this guy.

Tim, Al, and Wilson – Precursors to TV’s modern metrosexual

If there’s one thing that can be said about Tim Taylor and Al Borland, it’s that these two men…were men. They tucked their flannel into their jeans. They grunted. They barbecued. They habitually used power tools to fix and/or demolish things. This is man stuff.

But Al also possessed a few non-masculine qualities. He was a momma’s boy. He settled disputes with his (equally bearded) brother over tea. He was emotionally sensitive—far more so than his Tool Time costar. More importantly, he wasn’t afraid to share his feelings with Tim on a regular basis (often to Tim’s chagrin). Despite all this, Al remained consistently popular with Tool Time’s female fans, and he had no less than four different girlfriends throughout the series. All of these things were played up for the sake of comedy, of course, but Al’s character was pretty progressive for a straight American male.

Tim Taylor, on the other hand, embodied more traditional/stereotypical gender roles, but would reluctantly tap his feminine side if it was for the good of the group (i.e., his friends and family). Superficial humor was his go-to defense mechanism, but the Tool Man knew when to lower his emotional drawbridge and let a few metaphorical lessons in. Lessons that usually came from Wilson: the wise, uber-enlightened neighbor.

I didn’t just ruin your childhood with this picture, did I? (Good, because that’s not actually a thing.)


I could go on about my retroactive love for this show, but I recommend catching up on some reruns on your own. Oh, and the next time you watch an episode of Modern Family or The League, see if you can’t spot some Tim “The Tool” Man Taylor moments in there. Just for fun.

  • 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.

  • 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.