Someday someone's going to write an academic thesis titled, "The Guy Behind the Fence: Home Improvement and Tim Allen's Deconstruction of Manliness." You wouldn't think masculinity was a rich enough topic to provide fodder for 25 episodes of a sitcom--let alone eight years of one--yet in almost every episode Wilson (Earl Hindman), the never-fully-seen neighbor of TV host Tim Taylor (Allen), spins out some new bit of earthy wisdom (fondly parodying the homilies of Iron John author Robert Bly), which gives Tim some skewed perspective on his latest domestic muddle.
The second season of Home Improvement had a few recurring plotlines (Tim's show, Tool Time, gets a female producer, played by a pre-News Radio Vicki Lewis), but most episodes follow the classic sitcom format of introducing a problem and resolving it in twenty minutes, with plenty of punchlines along the way. Tim's wife Jill (Patricia Richardson) gets annoyed because Tim can't keep from glancing at other women (in this case, future Tool Time babe Debbe Dunning); Tim wants his youngest son Mark (Taran Noah Smith) to take karate classes because other boys keep pushing Mark around; when Jill gets a job at a women's magazine, she creates a spouse-compatibility quiz that inspires Tim to create a quiz of his own. The competitive urge--be it with his long-suffering assistant Al (Richard Karn) or over neighborhood Christmas lights--constantly gets Tim into trouble, culminating in a riding lawn mower race with real-life home improvement guru Bob Vila. Like most sitcoms, Home Improvement offers comfort food comedy; despite minor conflicts, the Taylors' family life is dependably functional and warm. Fortunately, Allen's humor has just enough sting to keep from sinking into treacly sentimentality. The cast also includes Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Zachery Ty Bryan as Tim's older sons and Pamela Anderson, who left after this season to become an international sex symbol on Baywatch. --Bret Fetzer