October 26th: Home Improvement

Cored and scored.

Okay everyone, let's get into it. This is the last week of the season, and oh, what a season it's been. It'll be fun to map out where we've been on our journey through television time and space - especially when we note that the 70s are severely under-represented. But that's okay, I think we can all agree that the 70s were an incredibly funky time and are best left ignored. I prefer my 70s to be viewed through the prism of, say, a Topher Grace or a Fred Savage, thankyouverymuch.

But here's the deal: we're heading into Legends territory. Yeah, that's right, it's time to turn this thing up to another level, friendo. It's time to get serious about our Halloween partying. Oh, you thought the Tanner Family of ALF infamy (aka the "Tanner IIs") were good at throwing a party? Willie couldn't handle this much holiday cheer; he'd fuss and fret himself right into a timely grave.

So, we're going to hit the two shows that really made Halloween episodes their bread and butter, and then we'll close this shit out with some eps featuring a twist on the classic Washington Irving story. I'm of course talking about... Rip Van Winkle - no, you idiots! The headless horseman, Ichabod Crane, Brom Bones, curses and all that jazz! There seem to be a lot of shows out there that talk a big game about ghostly riders, so we'll just see which one emerges the victor.

But for tonight, we have other plans. That's right, kids, we're going there. And by "there" I mean "A couple miles from my house." Grab your candy bags and perhaps some more power while you're at it - we're in for some...

Home Improvement

I will admit to taking a certain amount of pride in this show when I was a kid - it was set around Detroit, there were a lot of Michigan-related shout-outs, Tim Allen was a native, which meant he wasn't just cashing-in on our bizarre culture of formerly being the arsenal of democracy, only to be relegated to being the brand of an awful NFL team that didn't actually play there, so it was all totally legit. Also, it was funny and all of America was watching the goings on of Tim "The Toolman" Taylor and his family in southeast Michigan. You know, the southeast Michigan they film on a soundstage in California. It was like they were watching us! Kind of!

Anyway, I've tried to look up what neighborhood they were supposed to have been living in, but it's just a vague "metro-Detroit" and that's about it. My guess is this could be Royal Oak or Birmingham or something like that? He had his own TV show and a backyard with a fence, so probably not Franklin - that seems too spacious, too rural. Well, I'm sure we'll live with not knowing... for now.

This show took great care with its Halloween eps, making them them a cornerstone to their series. As with all shows, results may vary depending on the quality of the overall seasons themselves, but let's get into those prime eps, when the world was new, and we wished our own neighbors were philosophical eccentrics, rather than some rough folks with a chicken wire fence and a garage bigger than their house. We start... at the beginning.

Space: Detroit(ish), MI
Time: October 28th, 1992
Episode: "The Haunting of Taylor House" Season 2, Episode 6

We need to keep this real and start with a filming of Tool Time, and that's just what we do. Tim and Al Borland bust each other's chops back and forth in sparring fashion, and despite Tim exploding his pumpkin into Al's face (not a euphemism - he actually blew up a real pumpkin), Al wins the day by carving his hero, Mr. Bob Vila:

It's hard to underscore just how huge Bob Vila was at this point in time - he was a curiously-legendary figure in plaid, sent from the heavens to assist us with ceiling fan installations and such-like, and we couldn't have been more glad about it. The early 90s were a strange time.

Wow, we are barely into this ep, and already getting a cameo from Biker-Vest Skeleton! Truly, he/she is the reason for the season! (#BikerVestSkeleton)

Apologies to Jill here for stripping even more dignity away from a character who must already endure a lifetime of man-dumb. At least she can find solace in the fact that she's not this guy:

While it's true that some of the moron-manliness has not translated 25 years into the future, it must be noted that Jill gets her licks in, and every episode is about Tim being an ass in one way or another, resolving with an admission of and apology for being an ass. It's also true that sometimes that ape-grunt is still funny.

But before we linger too long on those qualifiers, do you see something towards the front of the house, by Tim...

Could it be...?

Yes! A second Biker-Vest Skeleton hanging from the wall! See, I told you guys this house was legendary. And before we can even grab some Sweet Tarts...

...we're blindsided by another one! How many thousands of dollars did the Taylor's sink into Biker-Vest skeleton, I wonder!? I mean, I see the appeal, sure, but I've never seen this level of commitment to the aesthetic before. And I am loving it, by the way.

I know what you're thinking at this point, because I thought it too - you're looking over Tim's shoulder, deep into the set, past the minor Chicago Chronicle crepe streamers (#ChiChronCrepe), and over the stairway railing. Could it be... again?

No, I'm sorry, friends - this shot clearly shows this skeleton to not be a Biker-Vest Skeleton. It does however show you Jonathan Taylor Thomas dressed up like a pirate, so there's that. People would grow to love and trust JTT in the same way they did with Vila, and for a certain window of time, JTT was referred to as having the gravitas of "a young Bob Vila." Side note: Nice Lambert Lanterns on that railing there (#LambertLanterns).

The real meat of this story is about eldest son, Brad, being roped into dressing up like Raggedy Andy for Halloween by his girlfriend, Jennifer. This poor bastard - even Jill secretly knows it will be hard to recover from such a debacle. And yet she continues to fit the costume for him - come on, Mom!

And, of course, Wilson shows up to offer advice to be bastardized by our grunting hero...

...who then helps Carrot-Suit Jill (#CarrotSuitJill) with the party-preparations:

I will bet you $10 zillion that he's pouring Hi-C Ecto-Cooler into that cauldron. Because these people knew what it meant to party in 1992 - somebody hand me a Zima!

Do you guys remember this kid, Curtis?:

I don't either, but it feels like they were exploiting his character's autism and/or lack of social filter in the off-chance he might take off like Urkel had (Urkel was such a big deal, I'm not kidding). I suppose every show took a crack at that around this time, but obviously it didn't take in this situation. And who cares - you had caveman grunting, "more power," Al's beard, Wilson's fence, JTT, etc. Plenty of popular identifiers, Home Improvement - don't worry about trying to have it all.

Oh man, and then this happens, and Brad is left looking like the biggest nimrod on the planet when his girlfriend shows up, dressed for the motorcycle apocalypse with some other dude - that is so awful!

And it's a young Rider Strong no less! He's mere seconds away from being cast as television's Shawn Hunter, and he's in the prime of his life! And Jennifer is played by the actress who played Cory Matthews' girlfriend, Wendy, on BMW and oh shit, are the universes ever colliding here! Side note: Shawn- I mean, Rider- I mean, "Danny," was apparently very influential in my own fashion choices from about 2000-2009.

Fortunately Brad is able to glean some advice from the rubbish Tim spits up in the backyard, and Brad is able to rest easy, knowing everyone will get theirs in the end. But what's that behind him...?

Biker-Vest Skeleton #4!! And it is absolutely not Biker-Vest Skeleton #3, because we can definitely see the blank, cardboard backside of that Biker-Vest Skeleton taped up behind #4.

Oh, so back to the revenging and everyone getting their comeuppance, the kids at the party are led down to the Taylor's basement, where the haunted house has been set up - and we're talking fog machines, black lights, cobwebs, flying-mummies - all the good shit that lazy ol' Mr. Belvedere couldn't be bothered with at his house. Oh, and Al in a toolbox with vampire fangs. That a-hole kid, Danny, invites all of these terrors upon himself upon dropping the now classic (maybe?) line: "I've seen your show - it should be called Fool Time."

And let's not forget Al... oh, Al. You thought you could get away with the Vila tribute-pumpkin?

I don't think so, Al.