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

"Home Improvement" The Complete Fifth Season DVD Review

Buy Home Improvement: The Complete Fifth Season from Amazon.com Home Improvement: Season Five (1995-96)
Show & DVD Details

Director: Andy Cadiff / Repeat Writers: Bruce Ferber, Lloyd Garver, Jon Vandergriff, Howard J. Morris, Rosalind Moore, Ruth Bennett, Elliot Shoenman, Marley Sims

Regular Cast: Tim Allen (Tim "The Toolman" Taylor), Patricia Richardson (Jill Taylor), Earl Hindman (Wilson Wilson), Jonathan Taylor Thomas (Randy Taylor), Zachery Ty Bryan (Brad Taylor), Taran Noah Smith (Mark Taylor), Richard Karn (Al Borland)

Recurring Characters: Debbe Dunning (Heidi Keppert), William O'Leary (Marty Taylor), Blake Clark (Harry), Charlie Robinson (Bud Harper), Jim Labriola (Benny Baroni), Sherry Hursey (Ilene Markham), Shirley Prestia (Delores), Bonnie Bartlett (Lucille), Dick O'Neill (Art Leonard), Kristin Clayton (Angela), Jarrad Paul (Jason), Gretchen German (June Palmer), Milton Canady (Milton)

Notable Guest Stars: Bonnie Hellman (Cousin Bonnie), Royce D. Applegate (Frank), Joe Urla (Chris Harper), Ja'net DuBois (Carol), Jensen Daggett (Nancy Taylor), Mariangela Pino (Marie Morton), Tudi Roche (Carrie Patterson), Tracy Letts (Henry), Mark L. Taylor (Bert Russell), Beth Dixon (Judith), Kimberly Cullum (Michelle), Angela Paton (Irma), Lea Moreno (Bridgett), Marla Sokoloff (Page), Troy Evans (Michael McKewen), Tom Poston (The Clerk), Miguel Sandoval (Mr. Jennings), Pat Crawford Brown (Mrs. Kluzewski), Commander Kenneth D. Bowersox (Himself), Rosalind Allen (Kelly Barnes), Bever-Leigh Banfield (Jean Harper), Andi Eystad (Jessica), Joseph Whipp (Kendall), Laura Bell Bundy (Sharon Liebowitz), Patrick Renna (Todd), Vasili Bogazianos (Antonio), James Hong (Dave), Keith Lehman (Cal Borland, uncredited)

Running Time: 598 Minutes (26 episodes) / Rating: TV-PG
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio) / Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: November 14, 2006
Season 5 Airdates: September 19, 1995 - May 21, 1996
Three single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9); Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Six-sided fold-out Digipak with cardboard slipcover

Buy Season 5 from Amazon.com / Buy The Complete Series Collection

Page 1: Show and Season 5 Discussion, Disc 1, and Disc 2
Page 2: Disc 3, Video/Audio, Bonus Features, Menus & Packaging, and Closing Thoughts

Anytime you're in the same place for more than four years, some degree of familiarity and complacency is likely to set in if it hasn't already. That's the dilemma "Home Improvement" was facing in 1995.
Sure, the show had changed nights and timeslots on occasion, it had jostled around the cast a bit with different recurring characters, and it had grown to focus on new things. But at the core, it was the same ABC/Touchstone family sitcom spawned by Tim Allen's masculinity-driven stand-up comedy act. Could a series like this -- which quickly found itself one of the most-watched of the 1990s -- stay popular without reinventing itself?

As you probably already know, the answer is yes. But the fifth season of "Home Improvement" is not exactly like the previous ones, in that more things were changing than usual. Of course, not everything did. The series maintained its 9:00 Eastern/Pacific Tuesday night position, where it was again sandwiched between a new, ultimately short-lived sitcom (this year's was Tony Danza's "Hudson Street") and a returning one (the interminable "Coach" in its eighth season, replacing the rescheduled "Grace Under Fire").

Not everyone who tuned in the year before returned with the new season. "Improvement" saw a significant drop in viewership, having fallen from being the top-rated non-news program in 1993-94 down to third in 1994-95 and now sixth in 1995-96. A little over 3 million viewers were lost from the previous season, with "Home Improvement"'s average Season 5 audience coming in at 15 million households. Such a number today would put "Home Improvement" atop the weekly Nielsen ratings chart and for a sitcom, it would qualify as television miracle. It was pretty impressive then, too, even if it was only 83% of the previous year's viewership. The show was ABC's second most-watched after "Monday Night Football", it heartily surpassed its Tuesday night competition (including Kelsey Grammar's "Frasier"), and only paled next to the five series that comprised NBC's blooming Thursday night lineup ("ER", "Seinfeld", "Friends" plus newcomers "Caroline in the City" and "The Single Guy").

"Tool Time" goes up in smoke in the introduction of new segment 'The Resourceful Tool Man.' Five years into "Home Improvement", we still readily care about Jill (Patricia Richardson) and Tim (Tim Allen), the series' central marriage.

Season 5 takes protagonist Tim Taylor (Tim Allen) and his family in some new directions, while also exploring previously-tread ground in original ways. Tim and his understanding wife Jill (the praiseworthy Patricia Richardson) continue to disagree on matters pertaining to parenting, work, and intervening in friends' lives. Gladly, their conflicts feel neither manufactured nor redundant. Tim's local cable series "Tool Time" still features largely, with a new angle provided by the introduction of Bud Harper ("Night Court"'s Charlie Robinson), Binford Tools' savvy new boss who initially wants "The Toolman" to fire his faithful sidekick Al Borland (Richard Karn). Though Al stays, Bud's shunning of him becomes a regular gag. The new authority figure also creates some job stress and added work for Tim, as his show expands into a pair of Midwestern markets.

Clearly popular with viewers, the flannel-clad Al again commands plenty of screentime not just as an assistant on the job, but as part of Tim's circle of friends. These friends, who share Tim's male-minded sensibilities and his passions for tools, are more present than ever before. The group also includes the raspy-voiced Harry (Blake Clark), free-loading loafer Benny (Jim Labriola), and Tim's sarcastic younger brother Marty (William O'Leary). Their normal hangout is, appropriately enough, Harry's Hardware, a store introduced the previous season that is partly-owned by Al. There, women are out of sight and often the subject of complaints. This season finds Harry's wife Delores (Shirley Prestia) introduced, first as merely a diner waitress, then as a scowling oppositional force. Meanwhile, Al's nature as an unquestionable mama's boy distinguishes him from his less sensitive companions, adding something to the group dynamic. Borland is less frequently the butt of Tim's jokes at work and more often an ongoing comic relief with his unique perspective.

The Taylor boys truly come into their own this season. Of the three, middle son Randy stands out as the most prominent, securing considerably more screentime and storylines than his brothers. His portrayer, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, reached the pinnacle of his bona fide teen icon popularity this year. Though he excels for a 14-year-old actor in his always-interesting featured moments, it was downhill after here, as his latest movie (Disney's Christmas '95 Tom and Huck) performed only modestly in modest release (despite being dang good) and "JTT" approached puberty.

In Season 5, Harry's Hardware is the site for men to gather and air grievances. From left to right: Benny (Jim Labriola), Tim (Tim Allen), Al (Richard Karn), and majority store owner Harry (Blake Clark). Homework takes on an added significance when Randy and Brad end up in some of the same classes. This shot represents the focus given to the Taylor sons this season: Randy (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) in the foreground, Brad (Zachery Ty Bryan) in the background, and Mark out of the picture.

The transition to adolescence is witnessed in the mid-season haircuts of the two eldest Taylor boys, who finally put an end to their long-growing locks (never to return). Brad's (Zachery Ty Bryan) pulled-back ponytail is the focus of one of the season's (and the show's) more entertaining episodes. Brad also gets a smooth-talking best friend (Jarrad Paul) and a fast-talking girlfriend (Kristin Clayton) this season.
While not as comfortable as his (slightly older in real life) younger brother Thomas, Bryan handles the material confidently. Youngest son Mark (Taran Noah Smith, rounding out the thrice-named club) sees his appearances further reduced, with only a couple of dedicated storylines confirming that his actor's graduation from "the cute stage" is a bit awkward.

Though the kids feature prominently most of the time, they are still on occasion sidelined to the extent that you struggle to recall if they were even in some episodes. In those shows, the boys' contributions are limited to one scene of symmetrically-distributed one-line jokes, while the adults hold the focus. Adults also include Tim's newly-introduced mother (veteran actress Bonnie Bartlett) and his old shop teacher (the late Dick O'Neill, returning from a Season 4 guest appearance), who each turn up in a pair of episodes as a romantic couple. There is also, of course, Wilson Wilson (Earl Hindman), the Taylors' insightful neighbor who continues to be shrouded in creative ways (a gag which lands some of the show's biggest laughs) and engage in odd global-inspired activities. He gets to branch out a bit this season, showing up in a variety places besides the backyard fence (even directing Randy's school play) and giving wise one-on-one advice to every Taylor but Mark.

Existing hallmarks of the series continue to show and grow here, from fast, funny visual transitions to the clever weaving of the title logo into opening sequences to amusing hijinks on the set of "Tool Time." There, "The Man's Bedroom" -- a third room in the male fantasy series -- is unveiled, complete with a car hood headboard, pop-out pool table and in-closet neighborhood bar. Observant viewers will even notice two distinct allusions to Toy Story, the groundbreaking blockbuster computer-animated film which Tim Allen lent his voice to and which was released to theaters in November of this season. Meanwhile, this is the first "Home Improvement" season in which none of the boys from K & B Construction appear.

Wilson (Earl Hindman) helps Randy by reciting Juliet's lines for a play that he'll ultimately direct. Al and Tim enjoy showing off the mobile interview area that's part of "Tool Time"'s redesigned set.

Perhaps most noteworthy about "Home Improvement"'s fifth season is the chances that the show is willing to take. It pushes the envelope in a few memorable episodes. In separate shows, Tim and Jill suspect one another of being unfaithful; Jill's fears are depicted as Tim flirts with a TV reporter. That's nothing compared to the dialogue bandied around and images conjured in "The Vasectomy One." With this mid-season episode, the show picked the male birth-control procedure as its important social issue to tackle. This episode may have been the most extreme, but it was not alone in engaging in frank discussion of sex; "Chicago Hope" finds Tim and Jill trying to squeeze some intimacy in their lives when they feel they're not living up to 5-times-a-week couples. In general, as the 1990s found television relaxing content standards, "Home Improvement" developed a bit of an edge to keep with the times, but it still remained fairly benign.

The last thing worth mentioning about Season 5 is the standout episode "The Longest Day", in which an ordinary check-up reveals that Randy might have cancer. Weaving drama into a sitcom is no easy thing to do, but this particular show sets the standard for the task. The storyline is dealt with realism to the proceedings and there is a poignancy which is rarely matched elsewhere in scripted entertainment. But even this episode manages to be funny without jarring from the humorous to the heartfelt. This tearjerker goes right where many a sitcom's "serious episodes" have faltered. It underlines how "Home Improvement" is really a cut above most television shows and a lot better of a series than many people give it credit for.

The Complete Fifth Season comes to DVD four and a half months after the previous season was released, following the Thanksgiving/Father's Day pattern established by Buena Vista Home Entertainment's four preceding box sets. This one scatters the 26-episode season across three discs. This release renders the sitcom's final three seasons as the only ones unavailable. As usual, a star () denotes ten standout episodes from the season.

The Taylors enjoy a Lake Michigan vacation (and a wedding) in the season premiere "A Taylor Runs Through It." Bud lays out "The First Temptation of Tim": fire Al while advancing "Tool Time." Tim steps in between Jill and her friend Chris (Joe Urla) in the amusing climax of "Her Cheatin' Mind."

Disc 1

1. A Taylor Runs Through It (23:16) (Originally aired September 19, 1995)
The first (and best) of three season premieres that gave the "Home Improvement" cast and crew a location shoot vacation, this one finds the Taylor family balancing leisure time with activities for Jill's cousin's wedding by Lake Michigan. Though much of the episode seems like an excuse for the actors (and their stunt doubles) to enjoy everything from water-skiing to riding all-terrain vehicles, it still ends up being one of the show's most fun and memorable episodes.

2. The First Temptation of Tim (23:16) (Originally aired September 26, 1995)
Tim meets with Binford's new owner Bud Harper (Charlie Robinson), who has big plans for "Tool Time" but wants to drop Al from the show. Meanwhile, Brad starts the new school year on a detention streak.

3. Her Cheatin' Mind (23:15) (Originally aired October 3, 1995)
When Tim fears that Jill is spending too much time with a male friend, he buys Madame Bovary on tape and joins their book discussion group.

4. Jill's Surprise Party (22:48) (Originally aired October 17, 1995)
Tim plans an elaborate surprise party for Jill's 39th birthday, but she has other plans, heading to Toledo to reclaim her treasured childhood piano.

Brad's party make-out (with Lea Moreno) gets disturbed by Tim's greeting from the Cable Awards. Benny (Jim Labriola) is shocked and disturbed upon seeing "The Look" demonstrated by Harry's wife Dolores (Shirley Prestia). Randy has trouble falling asleep in his new basement room.

5. Advise and Repent (23:05) (Originally aired October 24, 1995)
Jill applies a concept from her psychology class to the marriage of Tim's friend Bert (Mark L. Taylor),
with major repercussions. A location "Tool Time" proves to be a dangerous site for Scooter, Al's mother's turtle.

6. Let Them Eat Cake (22:29) (Originally aired October 31, 1995)
With Tim and Jill at the Cable Awards, Halloween night finds Brad and his friend Jason (Jarrad Paul) throwing a wild party at the Taylors' house.

7. The Look (23:48) (Originally aired November 7, 1995)
Tim buys Pistons' season tickets without consulting Jill, creating one big battle of the sexes. Also, Mark gets contact lenses.

8. Room Without a View (23:10) (Originally aired November 14, 1995)
In response to the boys' bickering, Tim decides to convert the basement into a bedroom for Randy on "Tool Time." Everything seems perfect...until Randy's got to sleep down there.

9. Chicago Hope (23:17) (Originally aired November 21, 1995)
To make up for Tim's recent string of long work hours, Jill and he plan a romantic weekend at a Japanese hotel. But Bud needs Tim for important deal-sealing meetings to bring "Tool Time" the Chicago market.

Is there a "Doctor in the House"? That would be a yes, thanks to Tim's honorary degree. Tim has difficulty engaging in serious conversation with his mother (Bonnie Bartlett). "'Twas the Flight Before Christmas" and this airport clerk (guest Tom Poston) isn't much help.

Disc 2

10. Doctor in the House (23:04) (Originally aired November 28, 1995)
Tim receives an honorary PhD from his alma mater Western Michigan University, which leaves Jill with conflicted feelings.

11. That's My Momma (23:17) (Originally aired December 5, 1995)
Tim's mother (guest Bonnie Bartlett in her debut appearance) is in town and Tim feels bad because he has trouble communicating with her about serious things.

12. 'Twas the Flight Before Christmas (22:59) (Originally aired December 12, 1995)
Tim and Al spend Christmas Eve stranded at a tiny airport with an unhelpful clerk (Tom Poston). Back home, the boys get to oversee decorations for the annual lighting contest.

13. Oh, Brother (23:03) (Originally aired January 9, 1996)
Tim gives his brother Marty a job at "Tool Time", a decision he soon regrets. Brad gets a fast-talking new girlfriend named Angela (Kristin Clayton). "Tool Time" introduces a new segment and a new set.

14. High School Confidential (22:52) (Originally aired January 16, 1996)
Randy gets to move up to high school in two classes, which affects Brad's academic performance. On "Tool Time", Tim and Al showcase The Man's Bedroom, which Tim is very proud of.

Tim revels in military machinery in "Tanks for the Memories." Tim and Jill have very different reactions to the information the urologist gives them in "The Vasectomy One." "When Harry Kept Delores" depicts marital conflict at Harry's Hardware.

15. Tanks for the Memories (23:01) (Originally aired in syndication on September 11, 1995; aired in primetime on January 30, 1996)
Tim and Jill drive tanks at a California military base, while the boys spend a board game-filled weekend at Al's place. As the airdates above indicate (and cast hairstyles reflect), this episode is a TV rarity; it was filmed as part of Season 4, and debuted in syndication in September 1995, when the first four seasons of "Home Improvement" also turned up there. Its placement here reflects when it finally aired on ABC, midway through Season 5.

16. The Vasectomy One (23:02) (Originally aired February 6, 1996)
When Jill's friend becomes unexpectedly pregnant, she encourages Tim to get a vasectomy. As racy and socially conscious as "Home Improvement" ever got, this episode is a showcase for Tim Taylor's brand of sarcastic machismo-fueled comedy and produces plenty of nervous laughter. Also, Randy is the proud owner of what is voted "Best Butt" at school.

17. Fear of Flying (23:03) (Originally aired February 13, 1996)
Jill and Tim disagree over whether Mark can take flying lessons. In addition, another crew of astronauts visits "Tool Time" and Jill struggles with her piano lessons.

18. When Harry Kept Delores (22:46) (Originally aired February 20, 1996)
Harry reluctantly agrees to let his wife Delores work at his hardware store, but the situation creates unease and soon, they split up. Tim's concern over their marriage reveals new depths to him. Country star Alan Jackson performs "Mercury Blues" alongside his vintage Mercury on "Tool Time."

The knight and dragon return home to find a teen party that's not in the Halloween spirit. Jill finds Randy admiring what the girls of his school have voted "Best Butt."

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Page 1: Show and Season 5 Discussion, Disc 1, and Disc 2
Page 2: Disc 3, Video/Audio, Bonus Features, Menus & Packaging, and Closing Thoughts

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Reviewed November 15, 2006.