When I think back on my childhood, the sitcoms of the 1990s depict how I wished Halloweens could have been. Everyone was dressed in cool Halloween costumes and attended parties with elaborately decorated houses full of cobwebs, pumpkins, skeletons, and witches. They all played Halloween tricks on each other, and it was a regular laugh-a-minute.
To be honest, though, we had homemade costumes cobbled together at the last minute with the occasional storebought rubber mask or items like a sword or clown wig. We’d collect a small amount of candy and call it a night after hitting the 12 houses in my neighborhood before returning home to watch those Halloween parties on television.
When I was in the 8th grade, I realized about a year too late that I was too old to be out trick or treating. I’ll never forget the look of disgust on the faces of the adults that answered that first door as we, with no costume whatsoever, held out our pillowcases expecting candy. That was enough for me, and I returned home and turned on my faithful Halloween sitcoms. Slightly embarrassed, I’d rather live in TV land for awhile.
Don’t get me wrong, I had many fun Halloweens that I cherish. Especially that one year my parents got the itch and had a Halloween party with all of the kids from school. My Dad made this elaborate haunted house in the garage that everyone loved and made me the star at school for a few days. They never did that again and, in a way, makes it even more special.
In the 90s, most shows celebrated Halloween in some way. However, two shows went all out every year: “Roseanne” and “Home Improvement.” I didn’t watch Roseanne until much later, but Home Improvement was appointment television for my family each week.
It was the one show we all watched together, and if we weren’t going to be home, my Dad spent the approximately 37 minutes it took to set the VCR to record before leaving the house. My Dad is very handy, well-skilled with power tools, and always watched Bob Villa and This Old House, so naturally, he liked the show. My parents were pretty strict about television content back then, so “Home Improvement” was wholesome family entertainment in their eyes.
“Home Improvement” was a family-oriented comedy that ran on ABC from 1991 to 1999, airing 204 episodes. Centered around a local celebrity named Tim Taylor (Tim Allen), who hosted a local cable home improvement show called “Tool Time,” while he tried to raise a family in a modern world. It was often light-hearted and funny, and when the holidays came around, the show went all out devising ways to put the Taylor family into festive situations.
Here’s a look back at the Home Improvement Halloween episodes, in chronological order. Fair warning, even though it’s been nearly 30 years, spoilers below:
1992’s “Haunting of Taylor House”
In 2018, entertainment website Decider.com branded this episode as “The Best Sitcom Halloween Episode Ever.” A big proclamation and arguably very accurate. Even though it was the second season for “Home Improvement,” this was the first Halloween episode. The show was too new in the first season to focus on a holiday, but the second season was perfect for character development. We grew to find the Taylor family loved holidays, and Halloween was no exception.
Right out of the gate, Tim tries to scare Al on “Tool Time,” and Al lets us all know that Tim always goes too far on Halloween. Brad is dressed up as Raggedy Andy since his girlfriend Jennifer plans to dress as Raggedy Ann. Later in the evening, Tim catches the two youngest boys trying to sneak out of the house with eggs and toilet paper to create a little mischief. Jill, meanwhile, is dressed as a terrifying-looking carrot. As the guests begin to arrive, Brad’s girlfriend Jennifer shows up at the door dressed in leather as a biker chick. As Brad questions her costume, Ryder Strong (Shawn on Boy Meets World) enters as leather-clad Danny, dressed as a biker dude. He throws his arm around Jennifer, saying, “We’re together now,” before getting into a shoving match with Brad. The Taylor boy storms off into the backyard, but, after some goofy fatherly advice from Tim, Brad manages to make up with Jennifer. The party moves to the basement, where Tim has set up an elaborate Haunted House. Danny acts tough for Jennifer’s sake and tries to spoil everyone’s fun. Tim appears from the fog as “Nana-stein,” the grandmother of Frankenstein. Danny continues to boast how unafraid he is until Al, Wilson, and Randy emerge from the dark, dressed as scary monsters! Running off terrified, Danny pushes past Jennifer, who reunites with Brad for the happy ending we could all enjoy.
1993’s “Crazy For You”
Even though the previous year’s episode may be considered the greatest Halloween sitcom of all time, “Crazy For You” is my favorite. There is just something about the costumes and the party that strike me. It’s also nice to see prankster Tim get his comeuppance.
Tim is up to his old “King of Halloween” tricks and pranks Al on “Tool Time.” Back at home, Tim mentions to wife Jill and her friend Marie that a fan name Rose baked him cookies. Later, the phone rings, and it’s Rose who tells Tim she’s in love with him. He thinks it’s Jill and plays along until she walks into the kitchen behind him. A worried Tim seeks counsel from Wilson, who suggests not eating anything from a fan because some become so obsessed they poison their celebrity fascination. While Tim tries to throw up the cookies he’d eaten, Jill is on the phone with Marie and reveals that they are, in fact, behind “Rose.”
Tim grows even more worried as the episode wears on, and strange events involving Rose occur. As the party gets rolling, Wilson says a woman dressed all in red with an “air of menace” gave him a rose for Tim. Tim freaks out, and Jill suggests calling the police using the upstairs telephone. He begins dialing, but Rose is already in the room behind him! She rips off her red veil, only to reveal Al Borland! Jill and the gang celebrate finally getting one over on Tim, but the celebration is short-lived. During the closing credits, Tim pranks Jill when his arm falls off as the two dance together.
1994’s “Borland Ambition”
In this year’s episode, the usual Taylor Family Halloween festivities take a back seat to a storyline featuring Harry’s Hardware Store. In watching this episode back, Halloween really is just an afterthought.
On Tool Time, Al is leery of the impending Halloween season and Tim’s usual trickery. Later, their friend Harry offers Tim 20% ownership in his hardware store after his brother retires. Jill doesn’t think it’s a good investment, so Tim reluctantly passes on the opportunity. Al buys into the business but quickly grows obsessed with the store. He begins changing prices and policies and soon angers friends and family by trying to turn the business from a hang out into a booming empire. His fiance Ilene has had enough when he skips a date on Halloween for a date counting the store inventory. Tim’s neighbor Wilson makes an appearance where his face is finally not hidden by an object, but he is covered in face paint as part of his skeleton costume. Tim grows fed up himself after seeing Al stand up Ilene, and confronts Al. He convinces Al to relax a bit and reconcile with Ilene. Meanwhile, Brad and Randy dress up as zombies in competition with Mark in a costume contest. Mark is declared the winner for his Al Borland costume after it’s revealed that Al’s mother was one of the judges.
1995’s “Let Them Eat Cake”
For the second year in a row, Halloween becomes just a backdrop for other running storylines on the show but is still a hilarious episode. Even though it’s not very heavy on Halloween, I prefer this episode to last year because it’s quite funny.
Tim and Al are upset by changes being made by Binford to “Tool Time” when we meet Irma, the host of “Cooking with Irma,” who brags that she plans on winning the Cable Awards this evening like she does every year. Mark has an ear infection, and the baby sitter canceled, so Tim and Jill are scrambling for someone to watch Mark. Brad and his new obnoxious friend Jason come home, and Jason volunteers to watch Mark. Confused, Brad asks why Jason would offer to watch his little brother. Jason, always the schemer, has plans to throw a party while Brad’s parents are gone. Meanwhile, at the Awards show, everyone is bored as Irma wins award after award, and Tim convinces everyone to leave. Al and Ilene go to change into their costumes for a party they had plans to attend. Jill calls home but grows suspicious when a girl’s voice is heard in the background. Tool Time wins “Best Show,” and Al is forced to accept the award dressed as a mouse. Back at the Taylor house, Randy arrives home from trick or treating, and the older kids steal all of his candy. He’s thrown into the backyard’s bushes while Brad goes back to making out with his girlfriend in the corner. Wilson sees Brad’s party, and Brad heads out to the backyard to beg him to not tell his parents. Jill and Tim arrive dressed as a knight and a dragon, which is a pretty funny sight to see as they yell at Brad. As the show ends, they fondly remember doing the same as a kid and realize Brad is growing up to be just like them.
1996’s “I Was a Teenage Taylor”
Halloween is back front and center this season as it’s the battle of Halloween pranks in the Taylor family. Some of the later episodes were tough to get through, but this one was quite funny. One fun thing to watch for is Tim and Jill change costumes four or five times throughout the show, and it’s never mentioned. There is also a cute Lion King joke featuring Jonathan Taylor Thomas and a trick-or-treater dressed as Simba, the character JTT voiced in the movie years earlier.
Tim pranks Al on “Tool Time” to start the episode, but Al’s trick fails to scare Tim. Back at home, Brad and Randy get in the act and scare Jill with a head in the microwave. Later on, a creepy looking man (the great character actor Larry Hankin,) who calls himself Clifford Warren, arrives at the door saying he’s in town for a funeral and wanted to come inside and look at his old house, especially the basement. Randy gets freaked out because his bedroom is now in the basement. He eventually creeps out the entire family by asking odd questions, and Tim sends him away. While Brad and Randy speculate in the backyard on what “the incident” could have been that caused Clifford to move out suddenly, we’re let in on the secret that Tim and Jill set up a friend named “Halloween Larry” to play Clifford as a prank on the older boys. The boys ask Wilson about Clifford, who plays along with the joke. Al drops by the house but accidentally spills the beans about Tim and Jill’s prank. The boys quickly devise a plan and trick Al into helping them. Unfortunately for the boys, Al quickly blows up their Halloween trick too. When Tim and Jill leave for a costume party, Halloween Larry arrives and intimidates the boys over lack of payment for the prank. The boys run to the attic to find the “emergency money” their parents hide. The attic is full of fog and other spooky things, until Tim, Jill, and Mark pop out of nowhere to win the Halloween prank competition. However, in the end, Al and Wilson walk away as the big winners after locking the gang in the attic.
1997’s “A Night to Dismember”
This is about the time the show jumped the shark for me. Randy (JTT) was on his way out, and the nice young child has turned goth. The children were always pretty one-dimensional, and when they tried to turn them into complex young adults, it just didn’t work well for me. This episode has very little to do with Halloween, and the whole storyline comes off bad. Any time this episode is on in reruns, I immediately find something else to watch.
Tim, Al, and Heidi have a pumpkin racing competition on Tool Time, and of course, Tim’s pumpkin has “MORE POWER!” Back at home, Jill is worried that youngest child Mark will be alone on Halloween, or worse, with that weird new friend of his, “Ronnie.” She keeps trying to get the other brothers to take him along on their Halloween plans, but they beg off. Mark comes home with Ronnie, dressed in all black, with studded leather collar, bracelets, and mascara, and we notice Mark is now dressing in baggy all black clothes as well. Mark says they are in a film class and need help filming a horror movie for a class project. The Taylor’s pitch in, excited Mark is finally happy about something again. They play the typical 1950’s ‘Leave It To Beaver’ family for the project but soon grow worried his horror film wouldn’t be any good because everything they’ve filmed so far isn’t scary at all. When they find his video, they secretly watch it and find that it’s about a boy named Clark (get it… Mark?) who considered himself an outcast and is ignored by his family (Jim, Lil, Chad, and Andy.) He sees a mad scientist named Dr. Wilsonstein for a potion to turn his family into freaks but later on decides to kill his family. Jill is worried Mark really does feel ignored and wants them dead. In the next scene for the film, Mark holds up a real knife to Tim’s neck, and Jill halts filming immediately. Mark admits he feels left out from time to time since Brad is the popular jock, Randy has a steady girlfriend, and his parents are busy. They tell him they love him, and all is right in their world again. Easily the worst of the Halloween episodes and maybe even the series.
The Taylor family’s Halloween prank war concludes in the last Halloween episode of the series. The show was off the rails at this point. Rather than the funny, lighthearted content fans were used to, the show featured serious life issues for the Taylors. Randy had moved away to South America just a few episodes before this one, and soon “marital issues” would begin to plague the couple. Other serious issues made the show too heavy like Jill’s health, Jill potentially cheating on Tim, and Tim’s struggle to find his peace with retirement. Tim Allen turned down $50 million (and Patricia Richardson said no to $25 million) for just one more season, so the well had run dry for sure.
Tim is losing his scaring power, as several of his pranks fail to trick his family, so he spends his day trying to devise new tricks. On Tool Time, everyone dresses in costume to celebrate, and later that night, the Taylor’s attend a costume party at Wilson’s house. Wilson introduces them to his new girlfriend, who admits to being a real witch. The next day, Jill and Tim expect Wilson and his girlfriend for dinner, but he’s running very late, which is unusual for Wilson. Tim goes over to check on him and finds the house has been ransacked and finds ritual witchcraft markings. Tim is worried that Wilson has disappeared and that his witch girlfriend is to blame. When Tim heads back out to meet with “the police” at Wilson’s house, it’s revealed its all an elaborate prank by Jill, Wilson, and Al to get Tim. The “police,” friends of Wilson’s, soon claim Tim is the number one suspect and begin questioning him, which nearly brings Tim to tears. They then come back later to tell him that Wilson is dead, and Tim is going to jail for murder before revealing Wilson was really alive, and it was just a prank. The whole thing isn’t really funny and is the more mean spirited than the Halloween pranks of previous years.
That’s the end of Halloween episodes on Home Improvement. There certainly were some good ones, and some not so good ones, over the years. over the years. Which one was your favorite? Do you have any special memories of watching Home Improvement on Halloween? Leave a comment down below!
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