The Complete Eighth Season
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Reviewed by Josh Mahler
ith its jump over the shark firmly in the rear view mirror, and the glory days of top ratings clearly in the past, the eighth and final season of “Home Improvement” still proves a lighthearted escape for the die-hard fans of the series, or even the occasional viewer. Unfortunately, while the series was never considered highbrow comedy by any means, too many of the episodes are watered down as the final season hits all the points on the checklist of an aging series:
1) Clip show? Check.
2) Over-the-top story lines that stray from the usual formula? Check. Three notable examples: the gang goes white water rafting; Tim [Tim Allen] ultimately quits “Tool Time;” and Jill [Patricia Richardson] needs an emergency hysterectomy.
3) At least one of the main cast members leaves the show? Check. Jonathan Taylor Thomas, who played the Taylor’s middle child, Randy, exited the series in the second episode of the season, returning only for the annual Christmas episode, “Home for the Holidays.” That’s right, he even declined to return for the series finale. Ouch.
4) Forced stunt casting to boost sagging ratings? Check. The episode entitled “Home Alone” features cameos by Oprah Winfrey, Jay Leno, Leeza Gibbons and Michael Eisner, with Mario Andretti and Morgan Fairchild, among others, also stopping by during the course of the season.
During its run as one of the top rated shows on television (during the first few seasons, anyway), “Home Improvement” stayed relatively grounded – albeit somewhat silly – in its premise; as a result, you knew what to expect from week to week. Tim frustrates Al (Richard Karn) while destroying something at work; he messes up with Jill and the boys at home; gets advice from his perpetually partially hidden neighbor, Wilson (the late Earl Hindman), at the fence; and makes everything right by the end of the episode. Well, until the following week, anyway.
In season eight, the boys have grown and are often an afterthought to the episodes, and Jill seems to spend more time at the fence with Wilson than Tim does. As often is the case, it is obvious that the writers were out of new ideas to keep the old formula working, and the cast was ready to say their goodbyes and move on.
Special Features: The best part of the four-disc set has to be the 40-minute retrospective, “Tim Allen Presents: A User’s Guide to Home Improvement,” that was recorded before a live studio audience three years after the finale and included on the DVD. Allen takes fans through the show, highlighting favorite moments and scenes, and it feels more personal than the standard look back that many series have done in the past. There is also a five-minute blooper reel from this season, continuing the trend from the previous sets.