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The Dark Home Improvement Episode That Stands Out From The Rest

For nearly a decade in the early '90s, Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor (Tim Allen) and his equal parts exhausted and inexhaustible wife Jill (Patricia Richardson) wooed the grown-ups of the "Home Improvement" audience while their three sons spoke to the teens, pre-teens, and youngest siblings tuning in each Tuesday on ABC. The series revolved around both the Taylors' home life and Tim's occupation as the show-within-a-show host of a DIY series called "Tool Time."

At least part of the series' appeal (and it certainly had an appeal) were the all-too-relatable family situations that plagued the quick-witted and frequently deadpan parents. Like "Roseanne" before it, "Home Improvement" made no attempt to paint a perfect portrait of some unattainably happy and wholesome family. Jill and Tim fought, their kids got into trouble, and unlike some of its shinier '80s forefathers, the show didn't need a lesson in morality to punctuate each interaction and episode. In many ways, it was the predecessor of Linwood Boomer, Michael Glouberman, and Gary Murphy's beloved "Malcolm in the Middle." Its gesture at realism notwithstanding, it was, at the end of the day, a product of its era, its must-see time slot on network TV, and its family demographic.

As a sitcom largely reliant on its ability to depict a relatable, but also funnier and shinier, version of the typical American family (whose patriarch just so happens to be a handyman celebrity), "Home Improvement" certainly dealt with real-world obstacles, but it tended to stay away from topics that might be too real for its viewers. It is for this reason that one particular episode of the series is so notable.

The Taylors face a serious health scare in The Longest Day

This was before sitcoms began dabbling in less laugh track-ready material, so while a topic like Tim's vasectomy was acceptable fodder, a more serious health-related topic such as cancer seemed beyond scope of the series. Sitcoms, after all (particularly in the '90s), were intended to make people laugh. However, this unwritten rule didn't stop the writers from taking a chance in Season 5, Episode 22 ("The Longest Day").

In the episode, the Taylors learn that their son Randy ('90s poster boy Jonathan Taylor Thomas) may have cancer, and the family must wait until the end of the day (aka episode) for a callback from the doctor to verify. Despite the episode's serious subject matter, it wasn't without laughs. Rather than tell his co-host Al (Richard Karn) that he's distracted because of his son, Tim says that Jill's been having an affair with the milkman. As usual, Al misses the sarcasm, and when the phone finally rings at the Taylor household, the first call is from Al, worried about the state of Jill and Tim's marriage. 

Ultimately, it's revealed that Randy doesn't have cancer after all; he has hypothyroidism and won't need surgery or treatment, but a prescription. Though the episode ends on a high note, it dips its toe in a storyline far more emotionally confrontational than any the show had yet seen. Luckily for the network, its use of the kind of anxiety-induced dark humor that necessarily surrounds a family in crisis made "The Longest Day" a smash hit. The episode currently boasts a user rating of 8.1 on IMDb, and at the time, it allowed the series to reclaim its number-one spot in the ratings the following week (via Los Angeles Times).