While this gimmicky episode is only a middling effort, the half-hour nevertheless showcases elements that have made this third-year show such an enormous commercial hit as well as an underrated creative exercise.
Unlike “Seinfeld” or “The Larry Sanders Show,” which stretch the boundaries of the half-hour comedy form, “Home Improvement” is quite simply an example of the most conventional sitcom evolved to its highest form. All the characters are capable of getting laughs, and the broad physical comedy, added to the show’s clever visual style, deftly cut across demographic lines.
Tonight’s installment — written by Elliot Shoenman, Marley Sims, Howard J. Morris and Rosalind Moore, and directed by Andy Cadiff — is a solid demonstration of the battle-of-the-sexes theme played out by Tim Allen’s inept, grunting male and his patient wife Jill (Patricia Richardson), as the two end up on opposite sides of a charity benefit to see who can build houses for the homeless first.
Tim, of course, loads up on the “more power” front by recruiting a number of pro football players (among them Denver’s John Elway) as well as heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield, while his on-air sidekick, Al (Richard Karn), drafts Jill, the reigning Miss America and several capable female carpenters.
The amusing subplot has the Taylors’ eldest son, Brad (Zachery Ty Bryan), giving a locket he’s found to his girlfriend, only to discover that it actually belongs to a neighbor.
Allen and Richardson, who’s been underappreciated thus far on the awards circuit, click beautifully as the sparring couple, while the kids — particularly smart-alecky Randy (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) — and other assorted characters help maintain the show’s sense of fun.
With its creators working on a new sitcom, the writing may not be quite as crisp as in seasons one and two, but even so, “Home” remains difficult to improve upon.