×

Home Improvement: The Long and Winding Road, Parts II and III; Backstage Pass

The endearing family comedy that tossed the catch phrases "More power!" and "Aaargh! Aaargh! Aaargh!" into the pop cultural mainstream and lifted Tim Allen from comedy club obscurity to enormous wealth and stardom bids primetime a decidedly sappy adieu after eight high-flying seasons, trotting out a three-pronged farewell that milks the tears for 90 minutes when 30 would have done just fine.

The endearing family comedy that tossed the catch phrases “More power!” and “Aaargh! Aaargh! Aaargh!” into the pop cultural mainstream and lifted Tim Allen from comedy club obscurity to enormous wealth and stardom bids primetime a decidedly sappy adieu after eight high-flying seasons, trotting out a three-pronged farewell that milks the tears for 90 minutes when 30 would have done just fine. More power is one thing; more contrived sentiment is quite another. In squeezing producers for the May sweeps maximum, ABC has greedily forced this uneven, drawn-out finale that plays more like “Home Implodement.”

It starts off with a clip-rich rehash masquerading as an insightful historical overview, segues into a flat second half-hour that serves as the final original episode and concludes with a genuinely sweet and heartfelt 30 minutes loaded with whimsical outtakes and clever asides from the cast that nearly rescues the whole affair. It’s slick and painstakingly packaged, as are the two segs that precede it. But coming on the heels of the previous hour, the wrap-up seg fails to add any real insight into the mix, leaving behind a kind of empty feeling.

Part of the problem may just be the simple nature of series finales. It goes so against the comedic grain to close up shop that these things rarely sparkle: Witness the dreadful “Seinfeld” closer and a “Cheers” ender that drowned in anticlimax — not to compare “Home Improvement” to those comedy legends. But it too has grown to become a classic — of the family genre — and its disjointed sayonara can’t help but disappoint.

At least we wind up finally seeing the full, unobscured face of Wilson (Earl Hindman). That partial unmasking is teased throughout the final installment of this seamless trilogy, the subtle promos promising, “Wilson’s face revealed!”

Certain audience members may get caught up in the suspense, wondering, “Does this guy have a mouth or what?” Let’s just say that the payoff is not quite as jarring as the one in “The Crying Game.”

“Home Improvement’s” departure, fueled by Allen’s desire to devote himself full-time to film, is being mourned in some circles as the final nail in the coffin of the family sitcom. As if “Everybody Loves Raymond” did not exist. As if primetime genres don’t run in perpetual cycles. The family comedy will rise again, once the 18-49 demo tires of shows about single people for self-absorption isn’t just a job but an adventure.

Of greater immediate concern is the way that exec producers Carmen Finestra, Matt Wil-liams, David McFadzean, Elliot Shoenman, Bruce Ferber, Gayle S. Maffeo and Allen (no shortage of chiefs here) have opted to wrap up their long-running gem. Finestra and Billy Riback penned the opening half-hour, which could not have required more than five pages of script, with Tim (Allen) and sons Brad (Zachery Ty Bryan) and Mark (Taran Smith) reminiscing in the car as an excuse to string together clip montages.

In the real finale from scribes Ferber, Lloyd Garver and Marley Sims, Tim is quitting “Tool Time” because it has gone hopelessly tabloid, Jill (Patricia Richardson) has received a killer offer from a family clinic in Indiana and on-air sidekick Al (Richard Karn) is about to marry Trudy (Megan Cavanagh).

Oh yeah, and comely “Tool Time Girl” Heidi (Debbe Dunning) is pregnant. Alas, we won’t be around long enough to see if Heidi might get axed and forced to slap one of those “Melrose Place”-style pregnancy discrimination lawsuits on their male chauvinist butts.

As Tim and Jill ponder packing up and moving to Indiana, the episode follows a predict-able path strewn with hackneyed touches and one very lame song. Everybody winds up sufficiently huggy-kissy, yet the outcome proves generally uninspired.

Perhaps that’s why they decided to slap on the extra half-hour of outtakes and merriment that at least leaves the impression of being a celebration. To be sure, “Home Improvement” departs primetime with plenty to celebrate. Allen, Richardson and Hindman — and the consistently tight writing that adroitly played to Allen’s deadpan strengths –lent this doggedly wholesome show a quasi-hip quality it rarely failed to maintain. Until the very end, anyway.

Home Improvement: The Long and Winding Road, Parts II and III; Backstage Pass

ABC; Tues. May 25, 8 p.m.

  • Production: Taped in Los Angeles by Wind Dancer Production Group and Hippie Boy Films Inc. in association with Touchstone TV. Executive producers, Tim Allen, Laurie Gelman, Bruce Ferber, Carmen Finestra, Matt Williams, David McFadzean, Elliot Shoenman, Gayle S. Maffeo; producers, Maffeo, Alan Padula, Kim Tushinsky, Jim Praytor, Chris Carlisle; directors, Praytor, John Pasquin, Geoffrey Nelson; writers, Finestra, Ferber, Carlisle, Billy Riback, Lloyd Garver, Marley Sims
  • Crew:
  • Cast: Tim Taylor - Tim Allen Jill Taylor - Patricia Richardson Randy Taylor - Jonathan Taylor Thomas Brad Taylor - Zachery Ty Bryan Mark Taylor - Taran Smith Wilson - Earl Hindman Al - Richard Karn Heidi - Debbe Dunning Mario Andretti - Himself Trudy - Megan Cavanagh Harry - Blake Clark Sparky - Pat Cronin <b>With:</b> William O'Leary, Shirley Prestia, Casey Sander, Thom Sharp, Danny Zorn, Al Fann, Janeen Rae Heller, Mickey Jones, Jim Labriola, Tom LaGrua, Keith Lehman, John "Juke" Logan, Gary McGurk. Camera, Donald A. Morgan, Tim Angulo; production designer, David Sackeroff; editors, Marco Zappia, James Spach, Jeff Bass, Scott Bloom; music, Dan Foliart, Bill Byrne; sound, Klaus Landsberg, David Schneider; casting, Deborah Barylski, Jonell Dunn. 90 MIN.
  • Music By: