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Network Improvement

Home Improvement is at long last leaving the airwaves. It was one of the most popular shows for many years, finishing handily in the top five most-watched shows many times. Its star, Tim Allen -- you can get an idea of how much a part of our culture this show has become from the fact that when you read "Its star, Tim Allen," you probably thought, Duh, who doesn't know Tim Allen is the star of Home Improvement? -- its star, Tim Allen, commanded a salary matching the famously large total of uber-sitcom star Jerry Seinfeld -- and that was after Tim's show was edging past its prime. Home Improvement is syndicated in three million countries and translated into three hundred and twelve languages and is viewed weekly by over eleven trillion people. And now it is walking off into the sunset, finally freeing up its Tuesday night slot on ABC.

And I, for one, am glad to see it go. I despise Home Improvement.

You might think that I have a problem with Tim Allen, the show's most obvious target and probably the main reason to like or dislike the show. But you'd be wrong to think that, because I simply love Tim Allen in all possible ways but physical. I never tire of his old HBO comedy specials no matter how many times Comedy Central repeats them. I have read both of Tim's books -- and if anyone says, "There was more than one?" I will personally kick them below the toolbelt -- and as soon as I build myself some oak shelves I will put those books in pride of place. If I were so anatomically equipped, I would offer to bear his children.

No, Tim Allen is not the problem with Home Improvement, except insofar as he perhaps lost the reins to the cart loaded with the humor of the show. In fact, he might very well have lost the whole cart. The problem is with the entire direction of the show, its angle, the bedrock of its premise, which is summed up simply: Dads are idiots. And I find this highly offensive, not to mention stupid.

This is so far from Tim's stand-up routines that one must wonder how Home Improvement ended up where it did. In Tim's routines, men and women are equal targets of satire, equal partners in goofishness, equal but different buffoons. Certainly some of Tim's observations are trite -- men never ask for directions, ho ho -- but for the most part, his comedy makes us proud to be men, to be fathers, to stand up and grunt. People respond to his humor because it is true, observational comedy of a type not seen since Bill Cosby's heyday.

But the sitcom theoretically based on Tim's act bears little resemblance to it. On this show, Tim is always the butt of the joke. His character of Tim Taylor is a bumbling fool, an oaf, a moron. His every rule for his children is countermanded by his wife; his children treat him with all the reverence due the town idiot; his co-workers have no respect for him; his best friend constantly abuses him and shows himself to be superior; and worst of all, Taylor cannot even see through the brainless Deepak Chopra-on-crack aphorisms of his holier-than-thou neighbor Wilson -- who also gets the lifetime achievement award for Most Irritating Gimmick Character in Primetime Ever.

Tim Taylor is not a proper view of manhood. This is no model on which to base your life. Tim Taylor conforms to the negative stereotype of the White Suburban Male -- cannot remember his wife's birthday or anniversary, thinks he can fix anything, can't actually fix anything, won't ask for directions, leaves the toilet seat up, can't relate to his children, ogles other women, is stunned by the insights of "Eastern philosophy", cares more for sports than for his family -- up to a point -- and is trying to get in touch with his sensitive side. Some of these characteristics may indeed be common to many White Suburban Males, but rarely in such concentration -- and then usually they're balanced out by some sort of positive traits, such as a penchant for watercoloring, extraordinarily good hygiene, fine taste in clothes, a knack for storytelling. But not Tim Taylor -- he has no good points, except for admitting when he's wrong (which is all the time) and trying to make it up to everyone (all the time).

I therefore spend every unfortunate moment caught in front of Home Improvement perched on the edge of the sofa, gripping the cushions in a white-knuckled frenzy, screaming at the screen "Beat the kids! Smack the wife! Tell Wilson to go fuck himself!" over and over again until my wife is forced to change the channel. I am no advocate of domestic violence, but when Dad says, "Son, go to your room," and Son replies with something along the lines of, "Oh, Dad, don't be an idiot. [laugh track]" my first instinct is that right there is a kid in dire need of a beatin'. And when Patricia Richardson rolls her eyes one more time and says, "Oh, Tim," when Tim is the only one on the soundstage making sense, a black eye starts to look like a necessary prescription. Many a Very Special Episode would have been averted if Tim Taylor had followed my advice, let me tell you. Kid's got a drug problem? Whack! And if you step foot outside your room again for a week, I've got another one waiting right here for ya!

But this dreck is touted as America's Number One Family Sitcom. I'd prefer the shallow world of Ward Cleaver, the funny world of Danny Williams, even the saccharine planet of Mike Brady or Steve Douglas, to this slouching, ill-kempt, slobbering menace to the holy office of fatherhood. I may not be tuning in to TV for realism, but I want my family humor decent and respectful -- where's Dan Conner when we need him? I do not need the show which is to fathers as Amos 'n' Andy is to blacks and Charlie's Angels is to feminism.

My only hope is that in his next show, be it Tim or Allen or The Tim Allen Show or Allen, Tim or Tim Allen, Incorporated, Tim will get his act together -- and onscreen this time. That way we'll have someone to look up to. In the meantime, I will not be seeing him in Home Improvement, and I will be glad.


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