I have decided that for the next week, I will devote this blog to the celebration of things from the 1990s that were awesome.
If, like me, you were born in the 1980s, you undoubtedly experience the most nostalgia for the 1990s, when you were more cognizant. Back then, our Iraq wars were over before you could order Domino’s, our rap music wasn’t self-parody (except for Vanilla Ice, who was awesome in his own special way), and our baseball players could hit 600-foot home runs while we’d all go, “Are the balls made of rubber, now, or something? Surely that’s it.”
I want to begin with “Home Improvement,” a Tim Allen TV show which was awesome.
Tim Taylor, as you’ll recall, is an American man’s man living in an increasingly un-American, unmanly world. This conflict between American manly man and his unmanly environment is pretty much the central theme of every show. Antagonists come in the form of Jill Taylor, Tim’s wife, a housewife who aspires to be a lesbian (well, or just a feminist), his sons, Brad, Randy and Mark, who are constant sources of disappointment for Tim, from Randy wanting to be a (pansy) journalist, to Mark wearing black eye-liner to Brad playing soccer.
Tim subscribes to this postwar American ideal that bigger is always better, that winning means going the fastest, being the loudest, being the biggest, baddest mofo on the block. Frankly, I don’t know how he could be more right.
*Interestingly, this same kind of ideal is swiffering through China as we speak. It tends to be tied to industrial revolutions. And smoking.
Tim’s life is almost gratifying, but ultimately is a disappointment (and not just because he lives in Detroit). He has three boys, but they’re all pansies. He has a devoted wife, but she wants to be a lesbian*. He hosts a cable tool show, but the show’s popularity is based on Tim’s buffoonery, not his knowledge of tools. He makes lots of jokes at the expense of his assistant, Al Boreland, but ultimately the joke is on Tim.
*In actual life, the actress who played Jill, Patricia Richardson, thought she should be paid as much per episode as Tim was. This is obviously ridiculous, but she knew that the show wouldn’t make any sense if she was replaced by a new Jill, so she leveraged the show against itself , basically ending the series, which was the most successful thing any of them ever did. Good work, there, Pat.
The stabilizing force in Tim’s life is his neighbor, Wilson Wilson, a philosopher, psychologist, practitioner of eastern medicine and probably the creepiest guy ever to appear in a sitcom. Wilson has traveled the world, smoked the finest peyote, read all the great books in their native tongues. He’s the persona that European men use to convince American girls studying abroad to sleep with them.
Because of his vast cultural repetoire and experience banging American tourists in Prague, Wilson always has the solution to simple-minded Tim’s problems. Wilson is kind of like the United Nations to Tim’s United States.
Totally switching gears, it is also important to mention that this show spawned two stars who have probably made more money in poster sales than actual acting. I’m talking, obviously, about Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Pamela Anderson.
JTT was more the pre-teen girl’s locker poster and Anderson was more the “back room at your local mechanic” poster, but you know what I mean.
Within the realm of 1990s pop culture, there aren’t many more significant beginnings than Pamela Anderson’s. We’re talking about the sex symbol of the 1990s, here, even though Debbie Dunning, who replaced Anderson, was obviously more attractive.
Anderson held that distinction probably right up until Britney Spears dressed up as a Catholic school girl and begged to be “hit” in 1998. And, to be fair, who can compete with that?
Still, that’s a solid seven-year run, enough to be the definitive female sex symbol of the decade (for the girls, who was the male sex symbol of the 90s? I honestly have no idea.) than began in 1991 on “Home Improvement.”
Fourteen years later, she was wearing a sheer top and getting roasted by Courtney Love on national television, so the shelf life of a female sex symbol’s legitimacy is obviously not all that long, at least not when said sex symbol has no discernable talent.
But we’re not talking about 2005, here. This is about the 1990s, and Home Improvement was awesome.