Like Full House, Roseanne, and Family Matters, Home Improvement was a staple of '90s family television. Unlike those sit-coms about the tribulations of nuclear families, it hasn't received a resurgence of popularity. It followed Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor, a hyper-masculine host of a home improvement show called "Tool Time", his perpetually vexed wife Jill, and their three rowdy sons. Tim continuously did riskier projects in the name of "More Power" both on the show "within a show" and at home, and hilarity ensued.
While it proved a popular series at the time, it butted up against series like Seinfeld and Friends, both about childless, introspective twenty and thirty-somethings living in New York and navigating interpersonal relationships far removed from the well-meaning hi-jinks of Home Improvement. Audience interests changing may also have had to do with Home Improvement's over-reliance on tired tropes, such as the battle of the sexes, the nagging wife, and fat jokes. Here's some of the jokes that haven't aged well, on an otherwise amusing program.
10 THE BUMBLING HUSBAND
Today, viewers have to look to animated series to watch a bumbling husband bulldoze his way through life to the dismay of his wife and children. And it’s even become outdated and awkward on Family Guy and The Simpsons. But this was a common trope of the nuclear family sitcom, and Tim Taylor was the ultimate bumbling husband.
Tim was just smart enough to know his way around a toolbox, but not smart enough to know that “more power” wasn’t the answer to everything. He frequently almost got himself, his assistant, and his family killed with his ineptitude, and it begs the question; what was his health insurance premium?
9 THE NAGGING WIFE
Jill Taylor often didn’t get enough credit for dealing with Tim’s antics. Not only did she have a husband who’s doctors probably collected hazard pay just for dealing with him every time one of his projects landed him in the ER, she had three rowdy boys to raise who were in danger of following in their father’s footsteps.
Much of the time on Home Improvement, Jill got relegated to the role of “nagging wife”, telling her husband (and her sons) to stop running in the house and using power tools in places they shouldn’t. Later in the series, she was at least allowed to express minor resentment at being “just a housewife” while Tim went off to be the breadwinner.
8 MEN LIKE BEER AND TOOLS, WOMEN LIKE OPERA AND ART
One of the overarching themes of Home Improvement was that men liked masculine things like power tools, beer, and hot centerfolds, while women liked cooking, opera, and art. As far as Tim was concerned, hot-blooded American men liked working on fast cars and crushing beer cans on their head because it signified they were real men.
Case in point, when his middle son scored the lead in the school play as Peter Pan and was simulating flight by prancing around the house, he almost had a heart attack at the sight of how feminine it was. Tim also had a bad habit of making fun of Jill’s book club (of which Al was an occasional member).
7 THE DITZY TOOL GIRL
Heidi was marginally better in Season 3, so we’ll focus our attention on Lisa, the “tool girl”, on Tim’s show-within-a-show, Tool Time. Played by pre-Baywatch star Pamela Anderson, Lisa was responsible for bringing out whichever tool Tim needed for a certain project. It was usually some huge circular saw that needed to be wheeled out or a jigsaw that needed to be carried out.
Lisa wore skimpy outfits, and posed with the tools like she was Vana White next to the game board on Wheel of Fortune. She was rarely given anything intelligent to say, and the entire point of her presence was objectification. That could only be done today incredibly ironically, but at the time producers capitalized on her having appeared in Playboy.
6 THE WIFE WORKING THREATENS HUSBAND'S EGO
Right around Season 4, Jill decides she’s had enough of being the stay-at-home mom and wants to go back to school to finish her higher education. She decides to pursue her master’s degree and eventually become a psychiatrist, much to the chagrin of Tim. He’s reluctant to support her in her endeavors because he thinks things between them will change.
What it ultimately boils down to, is Tim is threatened by who Jill will become once she obtains her dreams of being a psychiatrist. He talks about his concern over who’s going to cook dinner, but what he really doesn’t like is that she’ll be smarter than him.
5 AL BORLAND'S SEXUALITY
A recurring joke on the show is that while Tim exhibits all the stereotypically masculine traits that he feels make a man “manly” (being overly aggressive, assertive, and macho), his assistant Al Borland does not. Al is perceived as sensitive, overly-cautious, and lacking follow-through. He also lives with his mother, and never appears to be dating anyone.
This forces Tim to come to the conclusion that Al must be gay, which results in many jokes at Al’s offense. It doesn’t help that Al is a great cook and sometimes joins Jill for her book club. With so much more LGBT representation on TV these days, insulting their community through insinuation wouldn’t fly these days.
4 A MEAN DAD THAT'S WELL-MEANING
Aside from being a bumbling bull in a tool shop, Tim Taylor isn’t always the most understanding of fathers. Meant to be an amalgamation of Married with Children’s Al Bundy and Archie Bunker from All in the Family, he’s the mean dad who means well, and if he’s tough on his kids, it’s because they deserve it.
The problem is, his kids didn’t really do anything to deserve his anger, especially not when compared to the gritty stuff kids were getting into on contemporary shows like Roseanne. When Brad would get caught smoking the smallest amount of weed, it seemed odd that Tim would go ballistic. Kids on shows today delve into much more serious topics with much more grounded parents.
3 ALL THE FAT SHAMING
True, the fitness craze of the ‘80s was still going strong in the ‘90s, and more corpulent people around the country were getting fit thanks to excessive aerobics and roller-blading. But that didn’t excuse the fat jokes that Tim busted out all the time, especially to his assistant Al, who liked to cook. Al took the jokes in stride, but his feelings were hurt deep down (also, Al wasn't even fat!).
Today, in the wake of the body positivity movement sweeping the nation, this sort of joke wouldn’t come off so well. No main star of a “family friendly” sit-com would be caught dead continuously calling a co-star fat as well as his mother and risk losing viewers.
2 MARK'S GOTH PHASE AKA NON-CONFORMITY IS LAME
Tim Taylor and his family were supposed to represent some version of Middle America, with their nuclear household and typical hobbies. Tim was the patron saint of blue collar workers, though his lifestyle wasn’t really akin to one; he went to college, and hosted a popular television series called “Tool Time” to promote Binford Tools.
His sons played sports and had typical teenager interests until the youngest Mark decided to be a network executive’s idea of “goth”. That sort of non-conformity was not okay, and Mark was made fun of mercilessly throughout the rest of the “phase”. Nowadays, the children of a television series often dress in all sorts of alternative ways, and parental figures aren’t bashing their choices.
1 THE PERPETUAL BATTLE OF THE SEXES
One of the recurring jokes on the series was that the “age-old battle of the sexes” was a perpetual war that Tim Taylor was determined to win. He viewed women as “the enemy”, always trying to find ways to thwart his manly nature.
The fact is, his wife Jill was simply trying to get him to be a team player with her and do some chores around the house so that she could feel respected for the hard work she did every day. Often his neighbor Wilson would have to explain this to him...but does a 40-year-old man really need to be told “how women work”?