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

Jill and Tim dance in matching leather jackets as Tool Time does "Greased Lightning." Reflexes at a sudden stop lead Tim to protect the chest of his mechanic (Jenny McCarthy), setting up an awkward traffic light photo in the mail. Jill goes under the knife for the two-part hysterectomy arc "Love's Labor Lost."

Disc 3

16. Mark's Big Break (22:10) (Originally aired February 9, 1999)
Valentine's Day is approaching, but more importantly, so is the completion of Tim's latest hot rod restoration. To mark the occasion, he agrees to let Mark film a special segment for "Tool Time."
Feelings are hurt when Mark's flashy over-edited piece is coolly received, but a second chance results in an ambitious "Greased Lightning" music video.

17. Young at Heart (22:26) (Originally aired February 16, 1999)
Tim and Jill's anniversary celebrations are dampened when Jill learns that Alex, the mechanic Tim has been spending so much time with, is an attractive young woman (Jenny McCarthy).

18. Love's Labor Lost, Part One (22:03) (Originally aired February 23, 1999)
Like a few times before, "Home Improvement" welcomes some medical drama as Jill's women problems prompt a visit to the gynecologist, who recommends a hysterectomy for a uterus tumor found. This is the first time a first-run "Home Improvement" ends with "To Be Continued..." It isn't the last.

19. Love's Labor Lost, Part Two (22:16) (Originally aired March 2, 1999)
After years of mainly straight supporting, Patricia Richardson gets a chance to shine comedically and dramatically. The aftermath of a complicated surgery finds Jill experiencing early menopause with mood swings, inner monologue, and her mother (Polly Holliday) by her side. Though it stands in contrast to the series' male-oriented tone, this episode is played earnestly and with ample humor.

Brad, Tim, and cotton candy-obscured Wilson watch a Red Wings game in "Neighbors." Jill can't help but notice her professor's bald head in the Tim Allen-directed "Loose Lips and Freudian Slips." Brad's injured knee is the focus of as many Season 8 episodes as departed younger brother Randy. In "Trouble-A-Bruin", the critical joint gets examined in the midst of a scout-attended soccer game.

20. Neighbors (22:28) (Originally aired March 16, 1999)
A rift forms between Tim and Wilson, after Wilson intends to spend his Red Wings game prize money on an obstructive greenhouse. The B storyline involves Mark attracting a classmate by not being too good-looking. Patricia Richardson directed this episode.

21. A Hardware Habit to Break (22:28) (Originally aired March 30, 1999)
Upon learning that Harry is selling his hardware store, Tim throws a party to attract a buyer. When no one else bites, he does. But does Tim have what it takes to run the store successfully?

22. Loose Lips and Freudian Slips (22:28) (Originally aired May 4, 1999)
A public showing of Mark's film on his family has embarrassing repercussions for Jill, who is seen belittling her professor (who happens to be in attendance), just before she has to present her thesis paper to him. Tim Allen's first directing experience is rather forgettable; his second comes next year in his self-financed comedy film Crazy on the Outside.

23. Trouble-A-Bruin (22:11) (Originally aired May 11, 1999)
Seeds are clearly planted for the series finale plot, as Tim is dissatisfied with edicts to make "Tool Time" an all-Binford production. More compellingly, Brad weighs his knee pain and a UCLA scholarship in deciding whether or not to play in a big soccer game attended by a scout.

Tim, Al, and Heidi stand up to their new change-seeking boss Morgan Wandell (Danny Zorn) in the first and worst of the four series finale episodes. A 5-mile drive to school claims an entire episode, as Brad, Mark (Taran Smith), and Tim's conversations cue eight seasons worth of clips. Tim is excited to get a good look at Wilson's face while the two take down the fence that's long separated them. Audiences don't get the same view of the obscured neighbor in "The Long and Winding Road, Part 3."

Disc 4

24. Dead Weight (22:25) (Originally aired May 18, 1999)
We finally get a look, albeit a distant and partial one, at Al's large, much-lampooned mother. She responds to some good news (that Al plans to propose to Trudy) by creating some bad news of her own. That unfunniness is complemented by Tim's growing discontent over Binford's new VP (Danny Zorn) and his gimmicky plans for "Tool Time."

25. The Long and Winding Road, Part 1 (22:23) (Originally aired May 18, 1999)
Under the management of Morgan Wandell, "Tool Time" descends into a staged human circus with fights and profanity in the vein of "The Jerry Springer Show." In response, Tim, Al, and Heidi quit. Meanwhile, after Jill gets a tempting offer for a job in Indiana, the family mulls over a move.

26. The Long and Winding Road, Part 2 (21:53) (Originally aired May 25, 1999)
Tim drives Mark and Brad to school, setting up a trip down memory lane as the in-car conversation cues clips from over the years. The highlights are arranged by theme -- "Tool Time", Wilson, the boys, Tim's destruction at home, the hot rods, Tim and Jill -- and set to songs including Chumbawamba's "Tubthumping", Miami Sound Machine's "Bad Boy", The Brian Setzer Orchestra's "Switchblade 327", and Kenny Rogers' Emmy-nominated original "We've Got It All." All the music is retained here, representing legal clearance not every studio would bother with. (The hurdles may have been cleared back in '99 when the finale came to VHS shortly after airing.)

27. The Long and Winding Road, Part 3 (22:22) (Originally aired May 25, 1999)
"Tool Time" delivers a glitzy final episode with a number of past guests returning including the boys from K & B Construction. Jill has second thoughts about moving, especially after she learns something. And Al and Trudy wed in the Taylors' backyard. It's an emotional and thoroughly-conceived farewell to the series.

28. Home Improvement: Backstage Pass (19:59) (Originally aired May 25, 1999)
Debuting immediately after the final finale installment, this special (counted as an episode, but not feeling like one) takes us behind-the-scenes of Walt Disney Studios' Stage 4, where "Home Improvement" was filmed. Actually, it's mostly a mix of tongue-in-cheek out-of-character cast interviews and lots of never-before-seen bloopers. Though not everything about the mockumentary hits its mark, it's a rewarding fan-friendly program, which after much ado shows off the full face of Earl Hindman (not quite Wilson, as advertised).

The episodes numbered 25 through 28 here were the only ones of "Home Improvement" released to VHS. If the runtime on the Series Finale videocassette is to be believed, then that version ran 9 minutes longer than the four parts of the finale found here. If anything is missing, it's likely to be material from "Backstage Pass" which was touted as being extended for the home video release. Without the tape, I can't confirm, but I would suspect that if there truly was unaired content on the VHS, it sadly isn't found here.

Al marries Trudy (Megan Cavanagh) in a ceremony held in the Taylors' backyard, officiated by a conveniently-obscured Wilson. Tim Allen and castmates step out of character for a tongue-in-cheek behind-the-scenes look at "Home Improvement" in the rarely-rerun final finale episode/mockumentary special "Backstage Pass."

VIDEO and AUDIO

Once again, the episodes arrive in a perplexing mix of practical perfection and unsightly digital-looking video. At least, those in the former state easily outweigh those in the latter, which themselves aren't as offensive to the eyes as the randomly affected episodes on Seasons 6 and 7. Five episodes stand out for being less than great: "Adios", "Taylor Got Game", "Mr. Likeable" (which recovers after one bad stretch), "Mark's Big Break" (slightly better than the others I'm singling out), and "Chop Shop 'Til You Drop." On these episodes, picture is soft, colors tend to waver, and motion poses problems. The overwhelming majority are quite satisfactory in appearance in their 1.33:1 fullscreen transfers.

There is less to complain about with regards to the two-channel Dolby Stereo soundtrack. Audio is generally quite good and while there are a few instances where the elements aren't quite as crisp as they should be, they're few, far between, and not remotely troubling.

Tim Allen and William O'Leary share a brotherly laugh in the Season 8 blooper reel. Filming this short scene among dog toys produced many an outtake. Tim Allen laughs along with the large Wadsworth Theatre audience at his telestrator antics in the 2003 special "Tim Allen Presents Home Improvement: The User's Guide."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

There are two bonus features included here.
The first is the expected Season 8 blooper reel (6:05), which entertains verily with outtakes mostly unseen or only partially seen in episode end credits. Gladly, the footage looks every bit as polished as show content, which isn't always the case. The hijinks of Tim Allen feature very prominently in this compilation.

The second and most obligatory supplement is Tim Allen Presents "Home Improvement": The User's Guide (42:35). Filmed in front of a large audience at L.A.'s Wadsworth Theatre, this hour-long primetime special aired on ABC in May of 2003. It reunites the "Tool Time" gang on their fictitious show's set; Allen is joined by Richard Karn and Debbe Dunning. K & B Construction guy Casey Sander is also on hand (it's not really clear why), while Earl Hindman narrates (his final credit before passing away prematurely at the end of the year).

Despite the partial cast reassembling, it's mostly just another clip show ("Home Improvement"'s third) and those watching the set chronologically are sure to experience déjà vu since so many highlights from the series finale are reused. It's still entertaining to be sure, but the new exclusive material (like Allen breaking down a freeze frame with a telestrator and Dunning recalling her pre-Heidi appearance) is kept to a minimum and not exceedingly inspired. Frankly, the random special feels like it was born out of desperate whim during a brief lull in Allen's post-sitcom film career.

Yet again, the animated blueprint menus are lazily recycled. Episodes are generally divided into six chapter stops.

As you would guess, Season 8 follows the more recent sets in packaging, arriving in a clear standard size keepcase and housed in a slipcover that's mostly reflective. The only insert is an ad for "Good Morning America", but as on Seasons 6 and 7, removing the discs reveals why the case is clear; there's printing on the reverse side of the artwork which gives us an episode list and our last (and longest) season-specific note from producer Bruce Ferber.

Trailers play at the start of Disc 1 for WALL-E and The Nightmare Before Christmas: 2-Disc Special Edition. These two previews are joined only by a 30-second "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" TV ad on the platter's Sneak Peeks menu.

Through the ups and downs of scripted problems and resolutions, Jill and Tim remain a strong, loving married couple in whom we invest. Final bows are teary for the four actors who spent eight years portraying television's beloved Taylor family.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

As is the case for many sitcoms, "Home Improvement"'s final season is also its weakest. It's practically inevitable for a show to run low on creativity after producing 25 episodes a year for close to a decade. That doesn't excuse all of Season 8's follies, which stem as much from brazen original missteps as from tired retread. But while not nearly as entertaining as the first six years or even its tepid immediate predecessor, the show still supplies modest amounts of fun and laughs in its last lap.

With the low list price it's assigned, however, this 4-disc set is still sure to appeal to any "Home Improvement" fan. Even small discounts push the DVD to a reasonable rate of less than $0.75 per half-hour episode. There is the thrill of completing one's collection. There is the also compelling closure offered in the retrospective 90-minute series finale (which, as the series' only VHS release, sold for as much) and bonus almost-reunion. Together, the three incentives make it pretty easy to overlook the drop in show quality, the mildly erratic video, and the many missed supplemental opportunities. Warts and all, it's still a DVD worth considering once you've already picked up the preceding seasons.

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Reviewed June 10, 2008.