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"Home Improvement" The Complete Eighth Season DVD Review

Buy Home Improvement: The Complete Eighth Season (Final Season) from Amazon.com Home Improvement: Season Eight (1998-99)
Show & DVD Details

Regular Directors: Geoffrey Nelson, Peter Bonerz / Regular Writers: Marley Sims, Jon Vandergriff, Elliot Shoenman, Jonathan Pollack, Tracy Gamble, David Maples, Laurie Gelman, Lloyd Garver, Bruce Ferber, Adam England, Jennifer Celotta, Kim Flagg, Billy Riback

Regular Cast: Tim Allen (Tim Taylor), Patricia Richardson (Jill Taylor), Earl Hindman (Wilson Wilson), Debbe Dunning (Heidi Keppert), Taran Smith (Mark Taylor), Zachery Ty Bryan (Brad Taylor), Richard Karn (Al Borland)

Recurring Characters: William O'Leary (Marty Taylor), Jonathan Taylor Thomas (Randy Taylor), Ashley Trefger (Gracie Taylor), Lindsey Trefger (Claire Taylor), Megan Cavanagh (Trudy), Thom Sharp (Jeff Taylor), Blake Clark (Harry), Jim Labriola (Benny Baroni), Danny Zorn (Morgan Wandell), Vasili Bogazianos (Antonio), Peter Michael Goetz (Dr. Hanover), Tom LaGrua (Eddie), Patrick Cronin (Sparky), Keith Lehman (Cal Borland), Casey Sander (Rock), Shirley Prestia (Delores), Joel Higgins (Dr. Lloyd Fields)

Notable Guest Stars: Michael Cudlitz (Kyle), Courtney Peldon (Lauren), Tudi Roche (Carrie), Simon Templeman (Simon Downing-Chubb), Natalija Nogulich (Agatha), Richard Riehle (Detective Roberts), David Starzyk (Detective MacIntyre), Mark Dobies (Scott Keppert), Morgan Fairchild (Herself), Bobby Slayton (Roy Becker), Courtnee Draper (Erica), Bonnie Bartlett (Lucille), Dom Irrera (Ed), Kathryn Joosten (Thelma McCready), Brent Hinkley (Carl), Mike Grief (George), Gedde Watanabe (Nobu Nakamura), Thomas Bankowski (Kenny), Leeza Gibbons (Herself), Oprah Winfrey (Herself), Jay Leno (Himself), Penn Jillette & Teller (Themselves), Francesca P. Roberts (Marge), Jenny McCarthy (Alex), Tammy Lauren (Patty), Polly Holliday (Lillian Patterson), Kyle Sabihy (Gregory), Steve Vinovich (Dr. Hennessy), Fred Sanders (Steve Smith), Charlie Robinson (Bud Harper), Nick Ullett (Dirk Brodsky), Mickey Jones (Pete), Gary McGurk (Dwayne), Mario Andretti (Himself), Janeen Rae Heller (Herself)

Running Time: 622 Minutes (28 episodes) / Rating: TV-PG
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio) / Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired; Closed Captioned
Season 8 Airdates: September 22, 1998 - May 25, 1999
DVD Release Date: June 10, 2008; Clear Keepcase with cardboard slipcover
Suggested Retail Price: $23.99; Four single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9)

Buy Season 8 from Amazon.com / Buy The Complete Series Collection

Page 1: Show and Season 8 Discussion, Discs 1 & 2
Page 2: Discs 3 & 4, Video/Audio, Bonus Features, Menus & Packaging, and Closing Thoughts

All things, of course, eventually come to an end. For a sitcom like "Home Improvement", doing so after eight seasons of consistently high ratings was very impressive. The family comedy series could boast that it was leaving the air based not on an ABC network axe but on a decision made by the creative folks, chiefly star/producer/inspiration Tim Allen. Unfortunately, though, the show enjoyed too long a run to accurately claim it was leaving at the top of its game.
The decline in quality that marred the seventh season only tightened its grip on the writers and actors in 1998-99, making the eighth and final season also "Home Improvement"'s weakest.

Before the sitcom could make its last annual return at autumn's dawn, fans learned some disappointing news. Jonathan Taylor Thomas, the child actor portraying the Taylors' middle son Randy who had emerged as a major teen icon and something of a movie star, was leaving the show, purportedly to focus on his education. (Others would later note that it seemed Thomas was studying how quickest to fall from Disney's star bullpen into indie film obscurity.) "JTT", as Thomas was known in magazines like 16 and Bop, would appear in the first two episodes of Season 8, the second of which sent Randy off to a rainforest program in Costa Rica. The character would return home for the last Christmas episode, airing just as moviegoers were largely avoiding the actor in his last studio vehicle to date, I'll Be Home for Christmas.

When it became clear, midway into the season, that "Home Improvement" was to sign off in May, those paying attention assumed that a series finale would have to yield another return by Thomas. It wouldn't and Thomas' failure to appear in anything but archived clips remains a point of contention and division among the show's offscreen family. (Thomas' excuse cited his grandmother's 80th birthday.)

As little sense as it made that Randy could disappear with few subsequent mentions, reality never posed too high a concern for the series. Thus, it was more the loss of the sarcastic son and his charismatic performer that hindered the proceedings, which already plodded with enough difficulties not to notice the family's missing fifth.

Though unneeded, the short, unique computer-animated title appearances at the start of each Season 8 "Home Improvement" episode find the entertainment value in show identification. Here, a spider web sets the tone for the final Halloween episode. Tool Time begins serving the neighborhood as Tim Taylor (Tim Allen), Al Borland (Richard Karn) and Heidi Keppert (Debbe Dunning) unveil the fully-equipped Tool Time Van.

The rest of the "Home Improvement" core cast and crew remained intact, but they struggled to find a happy mix of trying new things and staying true to what worked in earlier years. Season 8's good episodes tend to feel like retreads of superior ones from the past. The genuinely original ones usually miss the mark. The series is still funny in places; if it weren't, reviewing this set would have required over ten glum hours of viewing. The humor continues to flow from long-established characters and casual societal observations. Attempts to be edgy or racy -- suggestive comments and double entendre turn up a bit -- generally don't work as well as intended. They also stand out, whereas comparable material from earlier seasons (tame by most standards, but certainly off-color for "family" audiences) didn't require suspect laugh track peaks and big pauses. Even at its weakest, the series remains largely passable.

The "Tool Time" material is in a comfort zone for most of Season 8. The implausibly popular cable home improvement show ventures outside the set for more location episodes (some with a newly-introduced Tool Time Van) and keeps celebrity guest stars to a minimum. It's still mostly business as usual for jocular host Tim Taylor (Allen) and sympathetic flannel-clad sidekick Al Borland (Richard Karn). When he's not correcting or suffering from Tim's blow-ups, Al picks up a wealthy love interest (Megan Cavanagh) mentioned here and there, then suddenly made important. Efforts are clearly taken to give Tool Time Girl Heidi (Debbe Dunning) more to do, but the character never really takes shape beyond one-note introducer and Binford eye candy.

Tim's supportive wife Jill (Patricia Richardson) continues to move closer to being a full-time psychologist, though her counseling dilemmas and winding-down schoolwork feel old hat and not so interesting. Two-thirds into the season, a health crisis arises for Jill, yielding the noteworthy hysterectomy 2-parter "Love's Labor Lost." Sage, mysterious next-door neighbor Wilson (Earl Hindman) continues to dispatch wisdom to those in need, not always Tim as past seasons favored.

Wilson Wilson (Earl Hindman), the ever-shrouded neighbor with seemingly infinite wisdom at his disposal, advises Jill (Patricia Richardson) as much as Tim in Season 8. Eldest son Brad Taylor (Zachery Ty Bryan) attempts to impress colleges by mentioning his relationship with his "main mom" in a video resume filmed by the sparsely-seen Mark.

Randy's departure should mean a little more screentime
for the two Taylor boys staying in Michigan. For youngest child Mark (Taran Noah Smith), Season 7's goth stage is a thing of the past, forgotten and never remarked upon. He now carries around a video camera without much purpose or reason, although a weak late-season episode seeks to shed some light on this hobby. Eldest son Brad has a year which revolves squarely on soccer and college plans, but actor Zachery Ty Bryan makes the character entertaining enough. The writers don't much explore the teenaged kids' lives or give them chief focus as in certain past episodes and the gangly Mark is particularly disregarded.

In its final season, "Home Improvement" borrows a page from other long-running hit family sitcoms like "Happy Days" and "The Cosby Show" by bringing in some young blood. Aged between Olivia and Chachi, Tim's twin nieces Gracie and Claire (Ashley and Lindsey Trefger, replacing Season 7's Hooper twins) move into the Taylors' house along with their separated father Marty (William O'Leary). In addition to reaching out to a couple of otherwise ignored demographics, this device lets Tim and Jill do some more of the young child parenting they handled in early seasons. Appearing in just four episodes and being quietly dropped before year's end, the girls are sparse enough that calling them "peripheral" even seems a bit of a stretch. The unstable Marty is mainly there for a running gag of making his undesirable latest job sound respectable.

Because a show that registered as America's 11th most-watched program in its lowest-ranked season isn't going to just disappear, "Home Improvement" starts moving toward a big series finale with a few episodes to spare. The attempt to create major conflict (involving "Tool Time") so as to give the series' conclusion weight comes across as forced, unnatural, and without precedent. It leaves one with a bad taste that disappears only when the show's better times are revisited (happily, at length).

Tim Allen was thoughtful enough to provide syndication audiences with an easy way to instantly distinguish top-notch "Home Improvement" episodes from lesser ones; episodes in which he starts to show his age and some sideburns are from the show's weak latter days. Other ways to tell: at 6' tall, Mark is the tallest Taylor, the opening credits are different, and the family's kitchen is marked by dark counters, thanks to Tom Wopat's adultery-encouraging Granite Guy.

Separated from his wife, Tim's underachieving younger brother Marty (William O'Leary) moves into the Taylor home along with daughters Gracie and Claire (Ashley and Lindsey Trefger). The final episode of "Tool Time" brings back previous guests including the boys from K&B Construction for a rousing performance of Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House."

In writing this summary, part of me feels I'm being too critical of the series' final stretch. It should, however, be apparent that only a real fan could so easily cite where one of their favorite shows starts to falter. "Home Improvement" is a personal favorite, and, though not the show's best, the last two years have little effect on my overall high view of the sitcom. Could and should the show have left on a higher note? Yes. But others have fallen more and from much lower heights.

Disney delivers The Complete Eighth Season today, a full ten months after Season 7's DVD release and easily the longest wait fans have experienced since the sets began in November 2004. Thanks chiefly to the multi-part series finale, the show's final season is its longest. The studio has accordingly bumped the disc count from 3 to 4, also saving space for what is undoubtedly the biggest and most exciting "Home Improvement" bonus feature to date. Despite the extra disc,
Season 8 still reaches stores with the very low list price of $23.99 (which is also where other "HI" sets are at, with the exception of Seasons 3-5, yet to receive their reductions). Though almost entirely absent this season, Jonathan Taylor Thomas still makes the cover and disc art.

No Complete Series collection is being offered at this time. Though popular with other studios, Disney has yet to take to such sets wielding dozens of discs. Perhaps they're just taking their time, the way they did with DVD and television show sets.

Concise synopses of the final 28 episodes follow, complete with critiques and fun facts. As usual, I've attached a star () to my ten favorites. I found the task easier than on Season 7, which may indicate that Season 8 holds up better than its immediate predecessor, but more likely reflects that it's simply easier to distinguish the good from the bad.

Unexcited by the whitewater rafting trip planned for his birthday, Tim would rather play Game Boy in the season premiere. Three years pre-9/11, the Taylor parents are able to see Randy (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) off at the gate of his flight to Costa Rica, with Tim giving him a handheld tape recorder with nuggets of wisdom. Tim's brother Jeff (Thom Sharp) and Jill's sister Carrie (Tudi Roche) are a couple in "All in the Family", an episode which tries to have us overlook the absence of the Taylor boys.

Disc 1

1. Whitewater (22:14) (Originally aired September 22, 1998)
Adding to the show's tradition of paid vacation season premieres, Jill surprises Tim with a whitewater rafting trip for his birthday. They're joined by Al, Wilson, Heidi, and a conspiracy theorist guide (Michael Cudlitz). Back home, Brad and Mark wrestle with a grape soda couch stain.

2. Adios (22:10) (Originally aired September 29, 1998)
When a last-minute opening arises in Lauren's rainforest study program, Randy plans to leave immediately for a year in Costa Rica. The Taylors, and Tim especially, struggle to come to terms with Randy's sudden departure. "Tool Time" lets musicians try out theme song lyrics.

3. All in the Family (22:26) (Originally aired October 6, 1998)
A certain contender for the all-time worst "Home Improvement" episode, this lackluster show explores a romance between Tim's brother Jeff (Thom Sharp) and Jill's sister Carrie (Tudi Roche). The siblings' coupling not only deters Tim and Jill's attempts at intimacy, it also creates a rift between them. The Taylor kids are a no-show, as this was taped before the young actors' Season 8 contracts had been settled.

Brad's uncertain future puts him in the middle of a heated Tim-Jill argument in "Taylor Got Game." Wilson's new girlfriend, Agatha the Dianic Witch (Natalija Nogulich), meets Tim the Flying Monkey at the Halloween party. Sorrentino's waiter Antonio (Vasili Bogazianos, far right) has a knack for showing up at uncomfortable moments, as in this double confrontation from "Not-So-Great-Scott."

4. Taylor Got Game (22:13) (Originally aired October 13, 1998)
While struggling with high school and the SATs, Brad decides he'd rather skip college and play professional soccer in England for Wilson's friend (Simon Templeman). As part of its salute to college, "Tool Time" unveils the Man's Dorm Room.

5. Al's Fair Lady (22:29) (Originally aired October 20, 1998)
"Tool Time" introduces a well-equipped van to serve the community. Tim and Jill join Al for dinner at his wealthy girlfriend Trudy's (Megan Cavanagh) mansion, where Jill objects to the lavish 1-month anniversary gift Trudy gives Al. Brad wishes he could grow a goatee for his team's no-shaving winning streak pact.

6. Bewitched (22:11) (Originally aired October 27, 1998)
Halloween's here and Tim's seasonal pranks appear to have lost their luster. Meanwhile, Wilson disappears after his costume party and it's no laughing matter when Tim becomes a crime suspect. Or is it?

7. Not-So-Great Scott (22:09) (Originally aired November 3, 1998)
It's another weak, sexual episode as one of Jill's counseling patients reveals she had an affair with Heidi's husband (Mark Dobies). Naturally, doctor-patient confidentiality goes out the window as Tim and Jill are troubled by how to handle the subject around their friend couple.

"Hello, old friend." Tim rediscovers the one and only car he called his first in a junkyard "Tool Time" segment. Following a boost in Al's popularity ratings, newly-dubbed "Mr. Likeable" signs autographs for his adoring fans. Feliz Navidad! Randy's back from Costa Rica but no one has time to for him and his hugs.

Disc 2

8. Tim's First Car (22:29) (Originally aired November 10, 1998)
Tim rediscovers his very first car in a junkyard and longs to own it again. In the B storyline, Mark films a video résumé for Brad to send to colleges.

9. Mr. Likeable (22:26) (Originally aired November 17, 1998)
The newest audience ratings reveal that viewers consider Al more likable than Tim. Trying to capitalize on his newfound popularity, Al opts for the guidance of a professional manager, who lands him a movie of the week starring Morgan Fairchild (playing herself), over Tim. Also, Brad advises Mark on how to get a classmate to be more than a friend.

10. Thanks, But No Thanks (22:27) (Originally aired November 24, 1998)
Upon learning that his brother Marty has left his wife and is living in Harry's Hardware, Tim invites him and his young twin daughters to move in with the Taylors. All seems to be well, until Marty objects to the charity.

11. Home for the Holidays (22:28) (Originally aired December 8, 1998)
Randy surprises the family by returning home for Christmas, only to find that things have changed in his absence. Al competes against Tim in the annual neighborhood lighting contest. This is Jonathan Taylor Thomas' final appearance on the show, though it's less a send-off than the earlier "Adios."

Marty, Tim, and Jill weather the storm that is Gracie's tantrum with some Lego play in "Ploys for Tots." Despite the goofy disguises, Al and Tim are still nearly recognized by an old prison buddy (Mike Grief) in "Chop Shop 'Til You Drop." He's got peace and he's got quiet... but Tim still can't channel his ideas into a coherent book in "Home Alone."

12. Ploys for Tots (22:12) (Originally aired December 15, 1998)
Tim and Jill attempt to impart some parenting experience on Marty by teaching him how to say no to his tantrum-throwing daughters. On "Tool Time", Tim selects a contractor via The Contracting Game, a twist on The Dating Game.

13. Chop Shop 'Til You Drop (22:27) (Originally aired January 5, 1999)
Brad buys a car, which gets stolen and resurfaces. That may sound like a contrived lot to fit into 22 minutes, but it's the perfect springboard for a "Home Improvement" return to form as Tim and Al go undercover in an effort to prove that a car shop is selling stolen parts. The B storyline lets Mark revel in cooking. More than any other, this episode reveals awareness of the series' past, referencing a number of earlier incidents.

14. Home Alone (22:11) (Originally aired January 19, 1999)
All by himself for the weekend, Tim tries to write the book he's been putting off. Instead, he tarries, procrastinates, dreams, and entertains distractions with inner monologue as we purely celebrate the character Tim Taylor and his simple-mindedness. TV personalities Oprah Winfrey, Jay Leno, and Leeza Gibbons all give self cameos in Tim's dream, while Sixteen Candles' Gedde Watanabe plays an erroneously-booked "Tool Time" guest.

15. Knee Deep (22:05) (Originally aired February 2, 1999)
While "Tool Time" is filming inside the Taylors' house, Brad falls down the stairs and injures his knee, putting his soccer scholarship and future in question. Not as annoying as they are today, Penn & Teller do a bit of magic on "Tool Time."

Al and Tim recreate American Gothic, Grant Wood's famous painting of an American farmer and wife. Art imitates life when Tim Taylor writes the book on Man, much like Tim Allen did twice over the course of HI's 8-season run.

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Page 1: Show and Season 8 Discussion, Discs 1 & 2
Page 2: Discs 3 & 4, Video/Audio, Bonus Features, Menus & Packaging, and Closing Thoughts

Home Improvement on DVD: Season 1 • Season 2 • Season 3 • Season 4 • Season 5 • Season 6 • Season 7 • Season 8

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Reviewed June 10, 2008.