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A Sitcom starring Tim Allen as Tim Taylor and his family, consisting of his wife Jill and their three sons Brad, Randy, and Mark. Tim tried to balance his home life raising three rambunctious, growing sons and a wife whose aims and goal in life seemed to change every other season with his responsibilities as host of his mildly successful home improvement show Tool Time with his sardonic sidekick Al (often implied to be the real star of Tool Time, at least in the fans' eyes). Of course, as the archetypal Bumbling Dad, it could be said the show was mostly about Tim's (usually fruitless) search for respect in the world.
Episodes would typically feature some problem of Tim's, either as the A Plot or B Plot, and him trying to deal with it in his own stereotypically macho way, and then have to seek out the help of his extremely intelligent, well-traveled, and well-read neighbor Wilson Wilson, whose face was never seen in full. Tim would then try to relate Wilson's advice, mangle it badly, and finally put the advice and his viewpoint into understandable words of his own. This made the show notable in that, while it typically used the Double Standard of a better grounded wife always winding up right with the husband having to be the one to apologize regardless of who was actually at fault, it realistically showed that Tim (and by association men like him) don't mean to be self-centered idiots, they just have trouble understanding women and really do try to be good husbands. This got a bit Anvilicious sometimes, but the points were made.
By nature of featuring a nuclear family and the trials and tribulations of its growth (and of being produced by Disney), had more than a few Very Special Episodes, albeit less Anvilicious than some other shows of its type.
Arguably one of the sitcoms of The Nineties, and still popular in syndication in the 2010s.
- Absurdly Bright Light: Tim's Christmas lights. In one episode, they blot out the Sun; in another, planes couldn't land in Detroit due to low visibility... until the Taylors turned on their Christmas lights.
- Achilles' Heel: Tim's carelessness and compulsion to overpower things. When those are in check, he can do some fairly incredible things (the reason his Hotrods were successful is likely because he had too much respect for them to rewire them, or to not take great care with them). But even his crazy Tim Taylor Technology belies his skill. His using a jet engine to power a leaf-blower wasn't sensible, but it implies that he was able to obtain and rewire a jet engine. Alternatively, he built it himself out of commercially available products. Either way, he's not stupid, just crazy.
- He actually got the engine from the 'lawn mower racing association,' but they still loaned it to him. Really, anything with an engine he will do fine with, and most of his skills with building are still always solid. His Achilles Heel is more like operation-- that's where things always seem to go south.
- Acquired Situational Narcissism: Happens to Brad after he co-hosts Tool Time with Tim in the episode "Quibbling Siblings".
- Aesop Amnesia: Very few characters on the show learned their lessons outright, though many of them (very) gradually softened the behaviors that got them in trouble repeatedly.
- Alliterative Name: Tim Taylor.
- All There in the Manual: Ultimate aversion: the SNES game only had a slip of paper insisting that real men didn't need manuals.
- Alphabetical Theme Naming: Al's brother is named Cal and his mother is named Alma. Also, Wilson Wilson's niece is named Willow Wilson and it is once mentioned that his relatives include Wilbur, Wilhemina, Wilford, Willard, and Wilma.
- Amusing Injuries: Tim suffered these almost Once an Episode. His medical record at the local hospital is the size of a phone book (and that's just this year's). They also keep a coffee mug for him.
- An Aesop: Usually delivered by Wilson, although they were frequently more directed at the characters than at the audience.
- Ascended Extra:
- Tool Girl Heidi, at first solely used to introduce Tim and Al and provide Fan Service (the reason Pam Anderson, who played original Tool Girl Lisa, left the show for a full-time gig on Baywatch), eventually got a bigger role on Tool Time and a few storylines herself (about her pregnancy and her husband cheating on her, for example), as well as a Promotion to Opening Titles in Season 7.
- Al. Originally, another character (Glen) was to be Tim's assistant, but actor Stephen Tobolowsky was busy with another project. To give him time to finish, producers hired Richard Karn for the pilot. When the series was picked up, Karn stayed on as a recurring guest star as Tobolowsky was still busy elsewhere. Soon enough, all parties agreed that between Tobolowsky's busy workload and Karn and Tim Allen's playing off each other so well, it was best to simply retain Al. Karn was added to the main cast by Season 2.
- As Himself: Bob Villa, George Foreman, Michael and Mario Andretti, and others.
- Back for the Finale: Pointed aversion; Randy did not return for the Grand Finale because Jonathan Taylor Thomas left the show under the pretense that he wanted to focus on his schooling. He alienated the producers because he immediately went off and filmed a movie, which ended with him not being invited for the finale.
- While those events did irritate Tim Allen and company, Thomas was reportedly still invited back. Same reports say he didn't return due to money issues. Allen feels that Thomas' management (and not Thomas himself) were being unreasonable.
- Back to School: Jill, after she was laid off from her journalistic employment. Her education lasted till the series' end.
- Banister Slide: When Tim's mother moves out of the house Tim grew up in, Tim reminisces about sliding down the bannister. His brothers comment that Tim was the only one brave enough to go down facing forward, to which Tim replies that he was able to have kids anyway. Later, he takes a "slide down memory lane", and answers the door with a falsetto voice.
- Bested At Bowling: In the episode "Up Your Alley".
- Big Brother Bully: Brad and Randy to Mark in the earlier episodes.
- Born in An Elevator: A variation. In "The Tool Man Delivers", Heidi goes into labor while she, Tim and Jill are driving to an awards dinner and she gives birth in a roadside gas station. Tim becomes the Delivery Guy.
- Brick Joke: Tim and Al set a world record for the fastest time prepping a charcoal grill for cooking (3.2 seconds). But it gets too hot, and Tim puts the lid on it, thinking it'll smother the flames. The grill takes off into orbit. At the very end of the episode, Tim and Jill, who are standing on a lake shore, watch as the grill splashes down into the lake.
- Wilson provides a few of these:
- In one episode, Time receives a chain letter from Al which tells the story of a naval officer in Borneo who didn't respond to the letter and was later abducted and beheaded by natives. Wilson then tells Tim that he once had a friend who didn't respond to a chain letter who happened to be a naval officer... in Borneo.
- In another episode, Tim and Al are stuck at an airport in Alpena along with a rather contrary clerk. When Jill tells Wilson about this, he mentions that he has a friend who works at an airport in Alpena.
- Wilson provides a few of these:
- Broken Aesop: Basically any time Tim was supposed to learn a lesson about respecting other peoples' feelings/how mockery can be hurtful/etc. considering that about 60-70% of the humor on the show was his wife and children mocking him, insulting him, and dismissing his thoughts and feelings.
- Bumbling Dad: One guess.
- California Doubling: Set in Detroit but all outside footage was filmed in California. They do consistently have snow on the ground for all episodes set during winter.
- Call Back: After Jill decides to go back to school, one of the suggestions Tim offers as an alternative to Jill to become a turret lathe operator, stating they make good money. Years later, while Jill is on a local talk show telling the host about Tim, she tells her that Tim said she should've become a turret lathe operator, while Tim is watching from the hardware store. He yells at the TV that they make good money.
- This happens throughout the series. Every so often someone will make a reference to something that happened in a previous episode, though most of the time it's done to refer back to something notorious that Tim did in the past (the time he dropped a beam on Jill's car in particular gets brought up a lot, and the time he fell into the port-a-potty).
- Can-Crushing Cranium
- Captain Obvious: At one point when Tim does an Enforced Plug on Tool Time, he says: "If it doesn't say Binford on it... someone else makes it."
- Catch Phrase:
- Tim's "More Power", familiar grunt and "Oh no!" with the grunt.
- Al's "I don't think so, Tim" whenever Tim Taylor Technology is invoked. Also "You can address those complaint letters to Tim Taylor, care of Tool Time, at-"
- Al even keeps a sign with the address ready at all time, making the sign itself part of this catch phrase.
- Wilson: "Well hidey-ho good neighbor!", "Mm-hm mm-hm mm-hm." "Well, Tim..."
- Jill: "Oh really?"
- Jill also had "You are so pathetic", which she would utter whenever she was particularly exasperated with someone's behavior (usually Tim's).
- Lisa and then Heidi, oh and Mrs. Binford: "Does everybody know what time it is?"
- TOOL TIME!
- Celebrity Paradox: Drew Carey appeared as a weird highway department employee in one episode. Tim Allen later appeared as himself on The Drew Carey Show.
- Chain Letter: In the episode "Unchained Malady".
- Chainsaw Good: In "The Wood The Bad And The Hungry", Tim and Al hold a turkey carving competition on Tool Time, and when Tim starts lagging behind he brings out a chainsaw to finish the job.
- Christmas Episode: One every year.
- Clip Show: Several, including the series finale.
- Continuity Nod: After Tim soups up a power washer, he blasts "Al's a gal" into a wall of the studio building. It's there every time they're shooting outside at that location.
- Contractual Gag: Wilson's un-shown lower face became this. Originally, he just stood behind a fence on stage. As the show progressed, Wilson was shown out of the house more and set designers went to town finding ways to keep the portion of his face hidden with props. In all these cases, he was never shown, being obscured by at least three props in the scene as he moved around the set.
- Cool and Unusual Punishment: When Tim gets himself and Jill lost on the highway and still refuses to ask for directions, Jill threatens him with: "Stop and ask for directions, or I'll get up every morning and cut out the sports sections (of the newspapers)." Tim caves in soon afterward.
- Cordon Bleugh Chef: Tim in a cook-off against Al in one episode.
- Creature of Habit: According to the episode "Future Shock", Tim is one of these, and it really interferes with Jill's life after she goes back to school.
- Crossover: With the short-lived sitcom Soul Man starring Dan Aykroyd.
- Curse Cut Short: Several characters take turns at this in one episode:
Randy: Yeah, well it really doesn't matter what he thinks because he's a big piece of --
- Cut a Slice, Take the Rest: In "The Old College Try", one of the students from Tim's shop class does this with Jill's cake when Tim has then over for dinner.
- Dartboard of Hate: Tim has one of these with Bob Vila's face on it, at which he shoots nails with a nail gun. Tim being Tim, they all miss.
- Deadpan Snarker: Jill and Randy most prominently. Tim's sense of humor alternates between goofy and snarky depending on the situation, and Al starts out as one but becomes less of one over time. Mark becomes one in the last few seasons, especially after Randy leaves in season eight.
- Dead Pet Sketch: In the episode "Howard's End".
- Death Glare: The episode "The Look" revolves around the evil glare that wives give their husbands whenever they screw up big time. Or, in Al's case, mothers to their sons.
- Did They or Didn't They?: Al and Heidi in the episode "Futile Attraction". They didn't.
- Directionless Driver:
- In one episode, Tim and Jill have to drive to their friend's wedding in northern Michigan. Even though Jill has directions, Tim refuses to use them, and they end up in Ohio instead (that would be the entirely wrong direction if you're heading from Detroit to northern Michigan).
- Subverted in an episode where Tim invites one of Jill's former coworkers to her birthday, but finds out later that the two weren't exactly friends anymore. The coworker calls up to get directions to the house, and Tim intentionally sends her to Canada. Too bad she still manages to make her way to Tim and Jill's house, much to Jill's chagrin.
- Disappeared Dad: Tim's dad died when he was younger. It is used as a plot point now and then, such as when Tim refuses to work out a will because he's the same age as his father was. Notably, Tim's dad was quite the toolman himself and he looked up to him, thus explaining his path in life.
- Doom It Yourself: On Tool Time anyway. When he's not playing it up for the camera, Tim can be quite effective at fixing things.
- Double Entendre: All over the place. Became a Running Gag for Tim and Jill to look at each other and clarify them.
- Double Meaning Title: Home Improvement refers to both the physical improvement of houses and the improvement of one's family life.
- Dream Sequence: Several over the course of the show.
- Drop the Hammer: During the Flash Back to the pilot episode of Tool Time, Tim wields a sledgehammer while Al holds an item steady. Tim stops the clip at this point, but considering the fact that Al has high confidence toward Tim's tool-handling competence during that time (but not so much after fasting forward to the present), we can safely assume this is what happens next.
- Drugs Are Bad: The Very Special Episode "What a Drag" delivered the message that using marijuana is bad, but it took a more even-handed approach than many other works. The lesson was that while marijuana might not be inherently bad, it can cause the user to make bad decisions and the potential risk is not worth it.
- Early Installment Weirdness: In the first several episodes, Jill's cooking is actually good. Tim even remarks on how good the chili is in For Whom the Belch Tolls. It wasn't until later that Jill's reputation as a Lethal Chef became a running gag.
- Done intentionally in-universe when Tim shares the first episode of Tool Time with his audience for an anniversary. Tim has a beard, Al doesn't, and the intro is played on piano by Ms. Binford, who has to prompt the audience to respond to 'Do you know what time it is?'. Oh, and Al trusts Tim's skill with a hammer.
- Emo Teen: Mark in the later seasons, but more extreme with his fellow Emo Teen friend.
- Mark came close to being a Perky Goth. He seemed so thrilled at the pointlessness of the world.
- Ensemble Darkhorse: In-show, Al is implied to be this for the fans of Tool Time.
Any fan upon meeting Tim, repeatedly: We like your show, Tim. We really love Al.
- Often to the point that many viewers think Al is the host.
Tim: Al is my assistant. HE assists ME.
- Escalating War: All of the characters engage in a series of escalating Halloween pranks in the episode "I Was a Teenage Taylor".
- More than one of the Christmas episodes state that Tim is in competition with a retired proctologist to win the Christmas decoration contest. At one point the roof is so lit up that an airplane starts circling it.
- Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory: Invoked in-show. Tim accidentally drops a beam on Jill's station wagon, and she later leaves his painstakingly restored hot rod uncovered in the snow. Since she's been working on a Psychology degree, she worries to Wilson whether she did it, on some level, on purpose. He suggests it's an accident, and they start matching each other quote for quote.
Jill: "Remember what Freud said though, there are no accidents."
- This is also an example of All Psychology Is Freudian.
- Expansion Pack Past: Wilson has been all over the world and met with many famous people, in addition to having the most obscure hobbies.
- Explosive Overclocking: Note - Dishwashers are not supposed to throw the dishes.
- The Faceless:
- A recurring gag is that the audience only sees half of Wilson's face. Sometimes the top half, sometimes the bottom, other times just obscured. Tim Allen recalled the whole character came from his memory of his Dad talking to a neighbor over a fence and he could only see part of his face.
- Al's Mom was like this as well, although she only appeared in a few episodes. She was apparently so large actually seeing her wouldn't do it justice and the only time we see her is an arm holding a loaf of french bread and we only hear her speak in mumbles and groans.
- Father, I Want to Marry My Brother: In the episode "Look Who's Not Talking":
Mark: I have a woman - Mommy.
- Flanderization: Al started off as just more low-key, reserved, and competent than Tim, and these traits grew into him being an oversensitive momma's boy who was practically the opposite of Tim in every way. Probably for the best, as the original version of Al was not a lot of fun and pretty much a Jerkass.
- Foreign Queasine: Wilson made all sorts of strange foods from foreign cultures.
- Franchise Zombie: The network wanted to keep the show going but everyone involved, including Patricia Richardson and Tim Allen, knew that they had reached their peak at 7 seasons. The last season is generally considered the point when the show was running out of steam.
- Freeze-Frame Bonus: The intro for Seasons 7 and 8 had "Watch Tool Time" flash quickly several times when the cast members were shown on screen.
- French Cuisine Is Haughty: When the characters on Home Improvement want fine dining, they tend to go to a local restaurant whose waiter always insults them. When one of the boys takes a girl there for a dinner date, they end up just ordering salads because they can't afford anything else.
- Freudian Excuse: Kind of. Tim's dad died when he was young, and he had to teach himself how to be a man. He only figures out that he wasn't necessarily right when he starts raising his own boys.
- To be fair, it takes a big man to be able to accept that he might not be right.
- This is often shown as a result of his upbringing too, of the massive respect and affection he has for his mother and the way he and his brothers became very close. Tim loves his family a lot more than he loves being right.
- To be fair, it takes a big man to be able to accept that he might not be right.
- Full Name Ultimatum: All the kids got this at one point. Also interesting is that each of their first are shortened versions of their full first names, Bradley, Randall and Marcus.
- Fully-Automatic Clip Show: In one episode, a friend's house blows up and Tim spends the rest of the episode vigorously denying that he was at fault (he triggered it, but completely unwittingly). The credits for that episode replaced the usual Hilarious Outtakes with all the times Tim exclaimed "I didn't blow up his house!", followed by, of course, the clip of the house blowing up.
- Gallows Humor: Randy, the Deadpan Snarker, found himself almost compulsively making horrible puns ("I know how to iron for a funeral, dad. Set the dial to stiff.") after the death of Jill's dad, which his brothers didn't appreciate. Tim talked to him about it, saying he understood, explaining that it was Randy's way of coping, but that a good comedian could read his audience. He added that Randy should only make his jokes around someone who wouldn't be bothered by them (aka him).
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Quite a bit of it.
- Giftedly Bad: Tim.
- Good Parents: Tim and Jill are this in the end, despite occasionally making mistakes.
- Grilling Pyrotechnics: See Brick Joke above.
- Groin Attack
- Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: Played with, during a Flash Back to the pilot episode of Tool Time. Tim has a beard while Al is clean-shaven.
- Halloween Episode: One nearly every year. Usually revolving around the Halloween pranks that Tim loves so much.
- Happily Married: Despite all the shenanigans Tim gets up to and all the disagreements they've had, no one ever doubts that Tim and Jill are still as in love with each other as the day they got married.
- Heel Realization: Jill spends an entire episode angry at Tim for not remembering they were going to a particular event. While ranting about it to Wilson, she realizes that she set up plenty of reminders... but never actually outright told Tim about it, so it was actually her fault and she'd therefore been being mean to him with no justification. (Of course, she still let him take the blame for it, because it's Jill.)
- Heroic BSOD: Jill gets one after learning her father died. It's made much worse for her over the fact that the last thing she told him was a lie. And not just any lie, a lie she told so that he wouldn't visit at that time. She gets better after she and her mother are able to comfort each other.
- Hey, You: Jill's father tends to address Tim this way, much to Tim's annoyance.
Jill's Father: No it wasn't you... it was Hey You.
- Hidden Depths: Tim was often able to say the right thing at the right time when someone needed him.
- High School Hustler: Brad's friend Jason.
- Hilarious Outtakes: Frequently shown during the closing credits.
- Hint Dropping: In one episode, Jill has made plans for her and Tim to attend some formal event. She's marked the date on the calendar (apparently only marked it, not indicated what it was), ordered up his formal wear and all that. Tim, of course, doesn't take the hint.
- Horrible Camping Trip: The ice fishing variant.
- Hypercompetent Sidekick: Al on Tool Time.
- Hypocritical Heartwarming: Near the end of "The Eyes Don't Have It" after Mark gets his new glasses
Brad: If anyone calls you a dork, they'll have to answer to us, all right?
- I Always Wanted to Say That: Said by Al after he gets the chance to say "I told you never to call me here" in the episode "Bachelor of the Year".
- Idiosyncratic Wipes: Sometimes scene-relevant, sometimes not, usually involving tools and/or home improvement.
- Idiot Ball: Tim and Al often take turns holding this when it comes to playing pranks on each other on Tool Time--for example, Al readily believing that a pair of ordinary sunglasses are virtual reality goggles.
- Important Haircut: Brad gets a ponytail for self-expression. Later on Mark in his Emo Teen years shaves his head following a break-up.
- I Need a Freaking Drink: In the episode "My Son, the Driver", Jill hastily asks for some liquor when she is worried about her son Brad driving by himself for the first time. In another instance, Tim gulps down his drink after he is Mistaken for Gay at a bar.
- Instrumental Theme Tune: As long as you count various versions of Tim Allen's grunt as an instrument.
- Interservice Rivalry: In "Ploys for Tots", Tim tries to get his father-in-law, who happens to be an army vet, to help him put up his Christmas display to beat his long-time rival, an eighty-something retired proctologist. He doesn't want to get involved in their rivalry until Tim mentions that the man was in the navy. Then he's only too eager to beat "that navy butt doctor".
- Invisible Subtle Difference: Tim and Jill are picking out bathroom tiles. Jill insists they're different colors, Tim sees them all as white. Al, however, agrees with Jill.
- Is This Thing Still On?: In the episode "Let's Go To The Videotape", Tim videotapes Jill making a speech at a library fundraiser and then shows his friends at the hardware store how to use the video camera. Then, not knowing the camera is still recording, he starts complaining about how boring Jill's speech was and how he's tired of listening to her talk about her psychology classes. Of course, Jill ends up seeing the tape later, and she's not happy.
- Jerkass: Tim has quite a few moments of this but they are caused by his insensitivity and stupidity, he is not actually a mean person and usually recognizes what he did wrong by the end of the episode. Also, Brad and Randy are like this in the early seasons, especially towards Mark. This trait is dropped as the characters grow up, but in the last couple of seasons each of them take up another jerkass-like trait: Brad with Jerk Jock and Randy with Insufferable Genius.
- The Klutz: Usually, Tim's screw-ups are due to his signature brand of overclocking. However, there are sometimes when he gets into trouble out of just plain klutziness, especially on Tool Time.
- The most notable exception is the running gag of him always banging his head into a pipe when he goes into the basement.
- Lame Rhyme Dodge:
Lucille: Wait a minute. Are you saying that before they got married, your mom and dad lived together!?
- And another:
Tim: There's nothing wrong with two kids having a nice race down Dead Man's Curve.
Al: (to Jill) That is a terrib... ly nice picture of you.
- Laugh Track: Quite a lot of it.
- Lethal Chef: Poor Jill suffers from this reputation. Even she acknowledges it herself one time when talking to her mother about exchanging recipes: "I can't do that. Nobody wants mine."
- Let's Get Serious: Whenever Tim is forced to take things seriously, he does remarkably well.
- Whenever there is a death in the family, Tim is probably the most helpful person, in no small part due to dealing with his fathers death early in his life.
- Seeing classic cars as perfect, he saw no need to try to improve upon them, and thus built them by the book. He successfully builds three over the course of the series.
- When him and Al were filling in for a cooking show on the same network, Tim actually takes the time to study up on what they're cooking, with the end result being that Tim and Al's roles are reversed, with Al screwing up and Time getting everything right.
- Whenever he manages to screw something up with his family, he will go to fairly large lengths to make up for it, and demonstrate that he really is a loving father and husband.
- The implication is that Tim's failures are a result primarily of his own enthusiasm and a desire to make things more interesting (usually by adding MORE POWER). When he actually just wants to get something done, and not do it just to have fun, Tim reveals remarkable competence.
- Limited Wardrobe: Al always wears flannel, and apparently does so because his father always did.
- On Tool Time, Tim always wore a dress shirt and blazer. One episode him and Al wore Hawaiian shirts as they were working with Lathes and advocated not working on such machines with ties.
- Local Hangout: Harry's Hardware Store for Tim and his friends, and Mike's bar to a lesser extent.
- Lovely Assistant: Tool Time had Lisa and her replacement Heidi.
- Macho Disaster Expedition: In one episode, a team of guys (a bunch of football players and Tim) think that they can construct a house better and faster than a team of women (plus Wilson and Al). Naturally, they've learned their lesson by the end of the episode.
- Made of Iron: Accident prone Tim has been to the emergency room so often they know him by name. AND he has his own coffee mug. When Tim starts worrying about his own mortality after Harry had a heart attack, Jill listed off some of the accidents he has been in and declared him practically Nigh Invulnerable.
- Mad Handyman: Tim.
- Making Love in All the Wrong Places: After Tim gets a vasectomy, sex can be done anytime, anywhere. At the end of the episode, he and Jill choose a location they haven't done in a while: The bedroom.
- Man Hug: Tim talks about this in a Tool Time segment, and tells his guests that he's secure enough as a man to dare hug other men as a token of appreciation. The hug issue is very quickly dropped when Al remarks: "You know, Tim, in Europe, men kiss each other on both cheeks."
- Mars and Venus Gender Contrast
- Medium Blending: The episode "The Wood, the Bad and the Hungry" has a dream sequence done in stop motion with wooden figures.
- Men Are Uncultured: Especially Tim Taylor.
- Men Don't Cry: Discussed when Tim is almost unfazed by John Binford's death (his boss and family friend, having loaned them money for the house). Tim doesn't like Jill bothering him about it, but reconsiders when he learned Brad thought it was cool to not to show such "girly feelings".
- Milholland Relationship Moment
- Military Brat: Jill.
- Moebius Neighborhood: Wilson is the only regularly featured neighbor. Other neighbors are occasionally mentioned, but not seen.
- Momma's Boy: Al.
- Motor City: The show takes place in an astoundingly white Detroit, though somewhat justified since it is implied to be in a wealthier, white-bread suburb. However, one of the few black people they had on the show was a pre-fame Dave Chappelle.
- Motor Mouth: Brad's girlfriend Angela.
- Ms. Fanservice: In-universe, the purpose of Pamela Anderson's Lisa (in her breakout role) and later Debbe Dunning's Heidi. Not nearly as suggestive as in most shows — they're merely just hot, busty women in tight clothing. Lisa was never a big part of the show (having more to do in her return appearance then she ever did during the show) and Heidi would only occasionally have a story. Heidi, especially on location builds, would also occasionally be shown to actually be working the build, and would explain what she was doing to viewers the same as Al and Tim.
- Mundane Utility: Tim makes most of his extremely powerful devices with the intention of using them for mundane household tasks, though they rarely actually work.
- When they do, however, they play this trope straight. Early on, as an apology to Jill, Tim rigs a setup on the washing machine that makes adding the detergents automatic. The modified washing machine remains for the rest of the series.
- Murphy's Bed: In one episode, Tim remodels Al's apartment to maximize usable space. One of his improvements is a motorized hide-a-bed operated by a remote control. Al gets this remote confused with the one for the TV, and ends up getting sent through the wall into the neighbor's bedroom. "Hey! I don't go in for that sort of thing!"
- My Beloved Smother: Al's Mom.
- My Friends and Zoidberg: In the episode dealing with Jill's 39th birthday:
Tim: Great? There were only eleven people at your party.
Tim Taylor: Hey Story, what's the story?
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: This was practically Tim's forte.
- Nobody Thinks It Will Work: Jill occasionally mentions that people tried to talk her out of marrying Tim.
Jill: Our wedding was so beautiful. I am so glad that I didn't let anybody talk me out of marrying you.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Tim and Al's characters were based partially off of Bob Vila and Norm Abram from This Old House, in that Bob was the charismatic host while Norm was the more competent sidekick, exaggerated for the purposes of the show. Both Norm and Al were the Ensemble Darkhorse of their respective shows. Norm got his own show with The New Yankee Workshop, while in the finale Al ended up taking over Tool Time for Tim. Also, Guess who Tim's Sitcom Arch Nemesis was?
- Non Sequitur Thud/Waking Non Sequitur: "We'll be right back after these messages from Binford Tools."
- Noodle Incident: "The famous Bloody Nutty Buddy Bar incident" mentioned in the episode "Dollars and Sense".
- Not Listening to Me, Are You?: Jill tries to talk to Tim about ballroom dancing lessons while he's trying to listen to a football game on the radio through an ear-bud. Tim remains completely oblivious.
Jill: So anyway, the lessons are on Tuesday nights. And it doesn't really cost very much. And I've been having an affair with a space alien. Yep, I'm having his baby.
- Not So Different: Tim and Jill on some occasions. Though Jill is usually the more grounded one, one recurring plotline involves Jill meddling in other people's business in an effort to solve their problems with disastrous results. This sets up an exchange in one episode that demonstrates this trope:
Jill: "You know what my problem is, I am the kind of person who is so eager to fix things that I don't take my time and they just blow up in my face."
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Most viewers of Tool Time believe this to be the case with Tim. They often think that his accidents are staged, both as a "This is what not to do," as well as simply part of the (intentional) comedy of the show.
- Odd Couple: Al and Tim are genuine friends, united in their fondness for tools and craftsmanship.
- Once Per Episode: One of the Taylors, usually Tim, goes to Wilson for advice. Only a few episodes don't have this, and this is because of role reversal, where Wilson goes to one of the family members for advice.
- Only One Name, and it's a Repetitive Name, too: Wilson W. Wilson, Jr.
- At least it's not "the Third".
- Only Sane Man: Al thinks he is. Whether or not he's right varies from one episode to the next.
- Out-of-Character Moment: Done in several instances, the most notable one being the time Jill's dad died. Tim had taken care of everything (plane tickets, etc) before Jill had returned home to learn the news and he was uncharacteristically supportive and sensitive to her situation. Jill even comments "Look at you, you're saying all the right things." and Tim explained that he pretty much went into another frame of mind to help her and that it wouldn't last.
- Fridge Brilliance kicks in when you realize Tim knows exactly what to and what to say in that situation because he lost his father too (albeit when he was much younger) and knows how it feels and what needs to be done in that situation. In fact any time death is brought up (especially that of a parent) Tim is often the most comforting and sensitive of the two. Tim's own mother admitted that when her husband passed away Tim and his brothers took care of most of the arrangements.
- Oven Logic: The Man's Kitchen in one show of Tool Time had an over-the-top microwave (or as they called it, a "macrowave") that worked on this principle. It emits so much radiation that you cannot operate it without wearing lead vests.
- Overly Narrow Superlative: During a special episode of Tool Time, Tim thanked the audience for making it "Michigan's fourth-highest-rated cable tool show".
- Parental Hypocrisy: Tim and Jill catch Brad with marijuana. He deduces that they've used it before based on the fact that they were alive during "that whole hippie thing", which turns out to be true in Jill's case (Tim preferred beer). The parents discuss whether they should tell Brad the truth, and eventually, they do and she explains the trouble it caused her and that it was a mistake she doesn't want him to make.
- Parenting the Husband
- Parents Walk in At the Worst Time: Jill walks in on Brad and his girlfriend making out in his bedroom. This gets Brad in trouble because Brad wasn't allowed to have girls in his room.
- Parody Episode: The episode "Believe It or Not" features a Dream Sequence that parodies The X-Files, with Tim and Jill as parodies of Mulder and Scully. To complete the parody, instead of being named Fox, Tim's Mulder parody is named ABC.
- Parting Words Regret: One episode has Jill telling her father that she was too sick for him to visit. He dies shortly thereafter, and the rest of the episode focuses on how Jill regrets lying to him.
- Periphery Demographic: Given how many people Tim meets who like the show, and the couple of instances of selling the show out to a larger market, it's quite likely that Tool Times (unintentional) Slapstick Comedy has earned the show a strong following among people who aren't interested in tools or home improvement.
- Personality Swap: Every so often Tim would shift character positions with someone else as they act more impulsive like Tim would normally. When Wilson was thinking of moving back to where he use to live with his (now deceased) wife because her memory was fading, they actually swapped sides of the fence as Tim gives him advice on how to remember departed loved ones. When Al took on as a guest host for a cooking show and Tim took up as a dedicated assistant, Al ended up being arrogant and refused the practical advice Tim would give.
- The cooking show incident may be Fridge Brilliance, as Tim had to learn to deal with Jill's terrible cooking. Also, Tim's lack of arrogance regarding cooking led to him to do some research, and when actually trying to do things by the book, his competence took hold.
- The Philosopher: Wilson (though he was also sometimes a Cloudcuckoolander).
- Plank Gag: Happened with some regularity, usually with Al on the receiving end.
- Tim once knocked out Bob Villa.
- Playing Sick: Used for tragedy in a later-season episode. Jill pretends to be ill because she doesn't want her parents to visit, only for her father to die of a heart attack and Jill to regret not being able to see him one last time. Brad uses it in an earlier-season episode to get himself out of school, but it doesn't work and this is more hilarious in his case.
- Pun-Based Title: A lot of the episodes have this type of title. Many of them are Epunymous Titles, such as "It Was the Best of Tims, It Was the Worst of Tims" and "Al's Fair in Love and War".
- Put on a Bus: Randy Taylor in Season 8. The Bus Came Back in the episode "Home for the Holidays". Also, tool girl Lisa was put on a bus offscreen between seasons two and three, and The Bus Came Back for her in the season six episode "The Kiss and the Kiss-Off".
- Raised-Lighter Tribute: When the guys from K&B Construction come on Tool Time and play their tools as instruments, Tim, Al, and Lisa use grill lighters.
- Read the Freaking Manual: Tim doesn't think he needs to read the instructions for his new entertainment system because "this is just the manufacturer's opinion of how to put this together." Hilarity Ensues.
- Real After All: During one of the Christmas special episodes, Wilson dresses as Santa to convince Mark and the other boys that Santa is real. Just as Santa walks out the door, the real Wilson appears in the back yard dressed normally.
- Real Men Hate Affection: More than one episode had a plotline centering around this idea; though it should be noted that while Tim isn't the touchy-feely type he doesn't actively try to avoid showing affection. Al, of course, is an aversion.
- Real Time: One episode had the primary storyline being the filming of an important episode of Tool Time to show to foreign distributors.
- Reassigned to Antarctica: In one episode, Tim is dreading a bowling game with a Binford higher-up after being told by the latter's wife that the last guy who beat him was transferred to Pakistan. Eventually, Tim mentions this to him...who explains that said employee was his wife's brother who had been embezzling from the company. Tim is relieved...until the guy insists on staying until he wins...
Bud: [After Tim mentions being "tired"] Did my wife tell you what happened to the vice president who threw the game?
- The Reveal: We finally see Wilson's entire face during the credits of the finale, when everyone came out for applause (even in previous credits, Earl Hindman covered his face).
- Right Way, Wrong Way Pair: Tim Taylor, on his Tool Time show, is considered to do this deliberately. He has gotten a few rewards for what they consider deliberately doing the wrong thing in contrast to his assistant Al, and showing what happens. Subverted on the Show Within a Show as they're both talented, but Tim is really just accident prone.
- Running Gag: All over the place. Tim hitting his head on the pipe in his basement, Tim misquoting Wilson's parables just to name a few.
- Tim making fun of Al's mother's weight.
- Sanity Has Advantages: When not giving in to his desires for MORE POWER, Tim is usually quite successful.
- Scenery Censor: The show used this to cover half of Wilson's face.
- Scrabble Babble:
- Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Al and Tim.
- Sequel Episode: In one episode, Jill meets a man at the gym that she becomes attracted to and starts dreaming about, causing her to worry about her relationship with Tim. Though the issue is seemingly resolved in that episode, it's brought up again a few episodes later when the same guy comes to work on the Taylor's kitchen and ends up kissing Jill.
- Sexy Santa Dress: Tim gets his wife to wear a skimpy Mrs. Claus outfit for a Christmas picture.
- Shaggy Frog Story: Tim's attempts to retell Wilson's stories to Jill inevitably end up like this.
- She Who Must Not Be Seen: Al's mother, presumably because the constant stream of jokes about her girth would humiliate any actress that actually played her. She was heard off-camera during Al's aborted wedding to Eileen.
- That episode however does reveal that she really is that fat. When she faints upon hearing the wedding is canceled the entire church shakes. The amount of padding necessary for any actress to play her would be astounding.
- You sort of see her in the funeral episode, her coffin, the size of a Volkwagon Beetle, took about ten pallbearers.
- Jill's Mom was also supposedly enormous, which made for a joke that she lost so much weight and was played by a waif thin actress.
- Ship Tease: Al and Heidi in the episode "Futile Attraction". They also kiss passionately in one of the outtakes for "Family Un-Ties".
- Short Distance Phone Call: Tim and Jill are on the same line talking to Brad, but after Brad hangs up they continue talking over the phones. They continue oblivious until Randy enters the scene and gives a WTF? look that Tim notices.
- Shot in the Ass: In one episode, Tim accidentally shoots his old shop teacher Mr. Leonard (who's making a guest appearance on Tim's show Tool Time) in the butt with a nail gun.
- Shower of Awkward: In the episode "The Naked Truth", Tim thinks it's his wife in the shower so he enters the bathroom and takes off his clothes, but once he pulls open the curtains, he instead sees his (very attractive) sister-in-law.
- Show Stopper: Tim's confused Reaction Shots.
- Show Within a Show: Tool Time.
- Signature Laugh: Tim's grunting "ohOhOH!"
- Sitcom Arch Nemesis: Tim's is Bob Vila, though the rivalry is not mutual.
- Sit Comic
- Skeleton Key Card: Used in one episode where Tim, attempting to show the efficacy of the anti-theft system he's installed, has a guest star thief try to break in. Moments after saying that he's engaged the system, the front door opens and the thief walks in. He explains that he used a credit card to slip the lock. Tim replies "Sure, if you don't mind destroying your credit card doing it" to which the thief says, "That's why I used yours" and hands Tim's wallet to him.
- Skippy Rules: A rule limiting the amount of Christmas lighting and electricity used in the neighborhood decorating contest is known as the "Tim Taylor Rule".
- Slapstick: Usually happens when something goes wrong on Tool Time, or when Tim messes up his technology in general.
- Small Name, Big Ego: Tim. But when he managed to overcome his own ego and did things like check the manual, he was a genuinely talented handyman (the modified washing machine he made early on is seen in use throughout the whole series, and he builds a total of three hot rods in his garage almost single-handedly over a period of about ten years).
- It also seemed that whenever Tim would focus on the actual build and not trying to add "More Power!!" things would work out just fine.
- Also in the episode where Al takes over a cooking show as a favor and Tim is reduced to playing second banana, they essentially swap schticks and Al becomes the Small Name, Big Ego type while Tim is the quieter, competent, Deadpan Snarker sidekick. Perhaps Fridge Brilliance, as Jill's famously bad cooking means that Tim might have learned cookery in self-defense. He was shown studying up for the complicated specialty dish Al wanted to prepare with Jill.
- Small Reference Pools: Wilson existed to subvert this.
- Special Guest: Many celebrities appeared as themselves as guests on Tool Time, including Bob Vila, Penn & Teller, George Foreman, Michael and Mario Andretti, and Evander Holyfield, and a few celebrities appeared as themselves outside of Tool Time, including The Beach Boys (Wilson is related to Brian Wilson) and Rodney Dangerfield.
- Spin-Off: Buddies. In "Talk to Me", Real Life friends Dave Chappelle and Jim Breuer appear as two friends that were in the Tool Time audience and get advice from Tim about relationships (which unsurprisingly leads to trouble for all three). The intent was apparently for the duo to get their own show from there, but then Executive Meddling intervened. Buddies saw much of it - leading to it not premiering for a year and Breuer replaced by Christopher Gartin. The show bombed out quickly and Chappelle considers it an Old Shame.
- Sports Widow: Jill knows that Tim is useless whenever the Detroit Lions are playing.
- Spy Tux Reveal: Tim goes to make up with Jill while wearing a mechanic's jumpsuit (he was "working in the garage"). After they reconcile, he comments that he's still capable of surprises, and out comes the tux. Lampshaded when he quips "Bond, James Bond."
- Standardized Sitcom Housing: A variation. It has an open plan, but the front door is upstage.
- Sticky Situation: Tim gets his head stuck to a board while demonstrating Binford's Miracle Glue on Tool Time. In a separate episode (again on Tool Time), Tim hosts the show alone with a professional plumber with Al sick at home. While doing the show about toiletry, Tim gets his hands (yes, both of them) stuck to the interior of the toilet's tank.
- Straight Man and Wise Guy: Al and Tim, again.
- Strange Minds Think Alike: Al is prone to this.
- Straw Feminist: In one episode, Jill has a feminist friend who insists that if women ruled the world there would be no wars, and she also comments to Tim that his obsession is tools is due to his "destructive male urges." Also, Jill herself has exhibited some straw feminist traits on occasion.
- Studio Audience: The audience for the show itself and Tool Time were the same people.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: When Pamela Anderson left the show, her "Tool Time Hot Girl" role was taken by Debbe Dunning as "Heidi", a different character with the same purpose. Heidi eventually had some Character Development and was portrayed as a competent handy-person in her own right.
- Suspiciously Specific Denial:
Jill: I don't like that look. What's going on?
- The Talk: A variation happens in one episode. Tim has already long given Brad The Talk, being that he is supposed to be about 15, but things are a bit complicated when there is suspicion that Brad is active with his girlfriend. This leads to Tim having to specify concepts of safe-sex and things get even more awkward when Brad asks him about his first time. They have an honest discussion, which finishes with...
Brad: "So, when will I know I'm a man?"
- Thanks for the Mammary: While driving his attractive female mechanic home, Tim makes a hard stop at a stoplight and reaches out to stop her from going forward, grabbing the wrong area in the process. When she asks why, he says that since he has three kids, it's basically a reflex. Unfortunately for him, the Detroit area just got cameras installed to take pictures whenever somebody goes through a red light.
- Therapy Backfire: Happens in one episode during a group session when the whole group sides with Tim instead of Jill.
- They Fight Crime: Al and Tim did this once to get Tim's oldest son's stolen car's stripped parts back.
- Three Faces of Eve: Brad, Mark, and Randy. Think about it.
- Through the Years Credits: The last two seasons use opening shots from previous years as a background. The older video is transformed for a Deliberately Monochrome effect.
- Tim Taylor Technology: Trope Namer, and famous enough to avoid the recent trend of more generalized trope names.
- Toolbox Of Holding: In "Bell Bottom Blues", Al's toolbox apparently has room enough for a pair of crutches and an IV unit.
- Trash Can Band: The guys at K&B Construction make one of these partway through the show, and perform a couple of times, including the finale.
- Trash the Set: Subverted in-universe in the series finale. The new management tells Tim to intentionally light the Tool Time set on fire as a ratings stunt. Tim acts like he's going along with it... until he reveals the management's plan to the audience and brings out the tool-themed band who sing about burning down the set while Al and Tim brandish lighters (but don't burn anything).
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Averted; Tim Allen and Patricia Richardson match up pretty well in terms of attractiveness.
- This was discussed when Tim found some hints that Al and Heidi might have slept together when Heidi's marriage was in trouble, Tim just could not fathom a girl like her having interest in a guy like Al. The message at the end was to just let some things go, though at the end (they didn't actually have sex) Heidi did kiss Al and said he was exactly the kind of guy she could fall for.
- Unwanted Gift Plot: In one episode, the boys gave Jill a very large bottle of very cheap and very pungent perfume.
- Unwanted Glasses Plot: Done with Mark in "The Eyes Don't Have It".
- Interestingly, despite Mark not wearing glasses after the episode, his poor vision did come up a couple of more times through the series, including one opening gag where the all the Taylor men are searching around on the floor for Mark's lost contact. And his prop glasses were occasionally seen in his room.
- Vacation Episode: "Quest for Fire", where the Taylor family goes to a lake house, and "Whitewater", where Tim, Jill, Al, Heidi and Wilson go on a rafting trip for Tim's birthday.
- Very Special Episode: Often slightly less Anvilicious than the average, since the focus was on the characters' reactions to the problem instead of preaching to the audience. An episode involving Brad using pot even gave him a fairly sympathetic excuse for it--the parents weren't even necessarily against recreational drug use morally, but had personal experience with doing something other than what they thought they were taking--and one with Randy potentially having cancer believably portrayed how an adolescent might feel about this knowledge.
- Part of the reason why the pot episode was particularly less Anvilicious is because of Tim Allen's Real Life substance abuse problems. The writers were very careful with this or similar episodes so as not to appear hypocritical in having Tim Taylor flat out condemning the kind of behavior that Tim Allen had done in Real Life. They actually aborted doing a very special episode on DUIs because Allen had, at the time, gotten a DUI and they didn't want to seem hypocritical.
- Vetinari Job Security: In one episode, Al tires of being the straight man to Tim and demands they switch roles for an episode of Tool Time, saying "How hard can it be to make lame puns and screw up all the time?" Turns out, pretty hard.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Tim and Al. They don't seem to get along too well but under the surface it seems that Tim genuinely appreciates Al's help and Al knows he would be a lot more lonely and have fewer friends if Tim wasn't around. And while never stated out loud, it seems they bonded a little bit since they both lost their father at a young age.
- Wallpaper Camouflage: Tim pranks Al on Tool Time by wheeling out a portable wall decorated to resemble Al's plaid shirt, work pants, and tool belt, and then pretends he can't see Al when he walks in front of it.
- Wannabe Line: In "Desperately Seeking Willow", Tim and Jill go to a club to search for Wilson's niece and the bouncer lets Jill in but not Tim because he's not cool enough. Tim then becomes obsessed with trying to get in. However, said club wasn't a Coolest Club Ever, it was a fairly normal looking club.
- Waxing Lyrical: One episode had Wilson dishing out some famous quotes about love. Tim responded with: "'Everybody... loves somebody sometimes.' Martin, comma, Dean."
- What Are Records?: In one episode, Jill offers the boys "her old 45s" for a party, to which one of them responds; "You're giving us guns?"
- What the Fu Are You Doing?: Tim's attempt to break a board with his head. Ouch.
- Wild Teen Party: Brad and his friend Jason throw one in the episode "Let Them Eat Cake" and Tim and Jill break it up when they come home early.
- Witch with a Capital B: Played with. Tim and Jill are discussing Wilson's new friend in front of Brad, and Jill refers to her as a witch. Brad says "Mom, I'm old enough, you can use the B-word." In this case, Jill really did mean "witch" (and not as an insult); the woman was a practicing Wiccan.
- Women Are Wiser: Applies to Tim and Jill, especially in the earlier seasons. This was softened a bit as the series went on, and Jill had several of her own moments of incompetence. For example, when Al's mother passes away, Jill's advice only makes things worse while Tim is more comforting and practical.
- You Look Familiar: Debbe Dunning played a one-off role in the Season Two episode "Overactive Glance" before she started playing Heidi in Season Three.