Through 8 seasons during the 90s, Home Improvement released a Christmas themed episode every single year. Frequently featured story lines included Tim’s never ending battle to win the neighbourhood Christmas light decorating contest, multiple guest spots from family members visiting for the holidays, and your usual Tool Time accidents. After recapping all 8 episodes on The Oz Network Podcast, Colin and Rossi have a double ranking of all 8 Home Improvement Christmas episodes.
8 – “Bright Christmas” Season 7, Episode 11 (1997)
I always call this one “The one I don’t really remember” which is surprising since I watch all of these episodes at least every other year. There’s actually nothing wrong with the episode, performances or jokes. What I believe it comes down to is that this episode suffers from a lot of retread. The main plot of Jill’s recently widowed Mom inviting her new boyfriend to Christmas is very similar to a plot that was used involving Tim’s Mom dating his former shop teacher. The conflict between Jill and her Mom is very similar to what was seen a few years earlier in the Season 4 Christmas special with Jill’s parents coming to visit. And of course Tim does more house decorating for the contest. Having said that, the drama between Jill and her Mom is handled well. Jill’s not a woman acting like a spoiled brat. You understand her feeling like her Dad is being replaced so early after his death. It’s especially handled well as Jill herself knows that a lot of her feelings are irrational. In the end it’s the maturity of this episode saves it. Yet there’s not enough new here, and the humour is more smile inducing than laugh inducing, so in the end it lands on the bottom of the list.
Tim – “Electricity is limited to two 20 amp breakers. Who can work with that? No bulbs over 25 watts. Ha ha! Maximum height of elves, three feet. What kind of elf is three foot tall?“
7 – “Home For the Holidays” Season 8, Episode 11 (1998)
The final Home Improvement Christmas episode receives a bit of an assist with the return of Jonathan Taylor Thomas, who had left the show at the start of the season. The main story line revolves around Randy feeling like an outsider as he comes home to find so much has changed in the few months he’s been gone. Primarily Mark and Brad getting along and his twin cousins having moved in with their Dad. While most of the episode works well, the presence of the twins really drags it down. The actresses don’t have the same charisma or comedic timing that Randy, Brad and Mark had at younger ages, and it’s just uncomfortable listening to them complain about their parents splitting up. It’s impressive that Randy, Mark and Brad were able to have the best scene in this episode even with their characters changing so much in 8 years, and the roles of the characters changing so much even since Randy left 2 months earlier. After a few seasons struggling I feel like Mark and Brad’s characters have finally gotten on track in their teenage years. Aside from Randy’s return, the other highlight of the episode is Tim’s decorating competition, which had grown a little stale after 8 years, but the twist of Al with his limitless funds being the main competition did bring some freshness to the lighting competition sequences. While the episode is a nice return for JTT, there’s just not enough to keep it out of the bottom 2.
Mark – “So, how’s Puerto Rico?“
Randy – “That’s Costa Rica.“
Mark – “Then I guess you didn’t get my letters.“
6 – “I’m Scheming of a White Christmas” Season 2, Episode 12 (1992)
I have very mixed feelings on the season 2 episode. On the negative side, the main story line of Brad and Randy stealing from a charity is not always easy to watch. I credit the writers for fitting in some solid and unexpected jokes to break up an otherwise unpleasant story. An example of this is Tim realizing they spent stolen money on a watch for him proclaiming. Everything else goes back. Thanks for the watch”.On the positive side, almost everything else in this episode is well above average. A recurring plot line from season 2 involves Tim’s feud with Binford’s daughter Maureen, who so obnoxiously reminds him she’s now the producer. As it was an ongoing story, there’s obviously no conclusion in this episode (or even later in the series unfortunately) but Tim being forced to wear elf ears, shoot a TV spot on a snowmobile and having to substitute The Manhattan Transfer as a musical guest instead of dogs that bark jingle bells provides for some great moments. There’s more Tool Time segments than your usual episode with the highlight being Al stuck in the artificial chimney as Tim dances around with a chainsaw. In the end it’s just hard to get that happy Christmas feel when so much time is dedicated to children stealing from charity. And it’s not just a small theft, but A LOT of money stolen throughout the episode. The strengths of the Tool Time side plots are just enough to move it ahead of the final 2 seasons episodes on this list.
Wilson – “That is a plum cake. On Christmas Eve the people of Hertfordshire, England take the cake, stick it on a cow’s horn, then they throw cider in her face.“
Tim – “The malls close early over there.“
5 – “Yule Better Watch Out” Season 1, Episode 12 (1991)
The original Christmas episode in a lot of ways still has some of the best material. Home Improvement hit on the dynamic between all 3 boys so early in the show, and for the most part I believe Season 1 can never be duplicated for the chemistry between the boys. Brad and Randy’s attempt to torment Mark by convincing him that Santa died 6 years earlier is the perfect blend of cruel and hilarious, and Taran Noah Smith’s reactions to their torment is some of the funniest bits of the episode. Take note of Mark’s sad expression as the toy Santa on the living room table falls down. What’s surprising is the main plot doesn’t even get setup until almost a 3rd of the way into the episode. This episode introduced Tim’s overly elaborate Christmas decorating competition and his feud with the unseen retired Proctologist Doc Johnson. We also get Randy botching his Christmas pageant audition by adding some dialogue at Tim’s suggestion. The only knock against the episode is the ending, which features what you think is Wilson dressed as Santa coming to the house to help convince Mark that Santa actually does exist, only to have the bizarre reveal that Wilson himself is watching from his yard and you discover it was the real Santa who visited Mark. Corny ending aside it’s impressive how much this episode works and how many running gags are used annually on the show going forward.
Tim – “Right after you say your line ‘There’s no room at the inn’ add ‘You should’ve called our 1-800 reservation hotline!“
4 – “No Place Like Home” Season 6, Episode 12 (1996)
During the 90s there were very few shows would do a Christmas episode every year. The closest Home Improvement came to not doing a Christmas episode was in season 6. The only thing that connects this episode to Christmas are a few mentions during the opening scenes that dates this as taking place during the Christmas break. The end has a pizza dinner on the floor that they say is a Christmas dinner. Other than that, and some background Christmas trees, it’s just a standard Home Improvement episode about Tim moving his Mom out of his childhood home. The quality of the story, writing and performances are anything but standard, though. This episode makes it so much higher on this list just based on how good it is. We have flashbacks to Tim as a child, lots of humour with Tim reminiscing with his brothers Marty and Jeff. Jeff especially is such a great addition to the show, with his frugal (or parsimonious) ways. There’s some nice drama with Tim dealing with letting go of his childhood home, and one of the single greatest scenes in any Christmas episode as Tim tries out and butchers his CB radio terminology by accidentally requests a hooker. The Christmas content may be minimal, but overall this is one of the strongest episodes of any of Home Improvement’s later seasons.
Tim – “In about 30 I’m going to need a motion lotion and a pickle park. (to Jill) That’s a restaurant and a gas station.
Radio voice – “There’s a gas station just ahead of you. I’ll have to get back to you on the hookers.“
3 – “Twas The Night Before Chaos” Season 4, Episode 12 (1994)
This opening scenes would almost lead viewers to believe this was going to be Home Improvement’s take on Christmas vacation, with one too many visiting family members, people fighting for their spot in the bathroom, Tim trying to escape the chaos by decorating the house. The inclusion of Jill’s parents, Tim’s brother/sister in law and their twin babies might make this the largest guest cast of any Christmas special. There are some amusing scenes involving the twin babies, such as one of the twins legitimately starting to cry as Jill’s Dad pretends to fire her as a machine gun, or Tim attempting to get a live baby for his manger scene. I wish they’d made a note to the season 8 writers that the twins are best used without any lines of dialogue. The main focus though is on Jill’s parents constant bickering since The Colonel retired. This is the perfect setup for Jill unsuccessfully attempting to try out her new Psychology knowledge, which then results in everyone arguing with everyone. Home Improvement’s conflict is usually kept to a minimum. The bickering in this episode is a lot more than Home Improvement usually features, but I see this episode as one that’s embracing a dysfunctional family Christmas. The performances of Oscar nominee M Emmett Walsh and Polly Holiday as Jill’s parents bring a lot to what would otherwise be a typical sitcom story line. In a nice change of pace it’s actually Jill who makes the mistakes in this episode, and of all people Tim turns out to be the hero by motivating his father in law to change his ways. Even with the Colonel acknowledging Tim is “not such an idiot” he still refuses to call him by his name. “It wasn’t you. It was ‘Hey, You'”. While the episode isn’t necessarily as funny as the others from the first 5 or 6 seasons, it offers enough amusing scenes, and great guest stars to give the main cast a change in pace.
Jill – “It seems like they’re really unhappy.“
Tim – “Of course they are. They’ve been married 42 years!“
2 – “Twas the Flight Before Christmas” Season 5, Episode 12 (1995)
Home Improvement had a solid formula that worked for 8 years. Almost every episode had a Tool Time segment, a scene where Wilson gives some bit of wisdom to one of the family members, and always an accident or two from Tim. As much as I love any Home Improvement Christmas episode there is some repetition that gets a little bland after a few years. There’s only so many times you can have some family member visiting the Taylor house as Tim fails at decorating the house. Season 5 is the example of an episode that has the perfect balance of the typical Home Improvement Christmas gags while offering something new and original. This time the kids are left finishing the decorations as Tim and Al fly off on Christmas Eve to be the grand marshals of an elf parade. Of course on Tim’s side this is just an excuse to pickup a special order Christmas gift for Jill. When a blizzard strands them in a tiny airport they spend the majority of the episode dealing with the brilliant Tom Poston who plays the clerk that does everything. The gag of him turning his sign around to reveal he’s the Car rental clerk, gift shop attendant and even Better Business Bureau rep never gets old. The airport scenes are maybe some of the funniest scenes in the history of Home Improvement. It’s a throwback to old school skit styled comedy that still holds up decades later. They’re so good that Tom Poston was brought back twice in future seasons to play the brothers of this original character. The B story with Al and Eileen fighting over Al’s over attachment to his Mom might be the best of the family bickering Christmas drama, which became one of the most overused plots on the Home Improvement Christmas specials. Once they finally leave the airport the two stories merge together perfectly with Tim hoping for a plane crash to avoid hearing Al ramble on about his relationship drama with his girlfriend and mother, only to have the perfect unexpected twist on his present dilemma also tie into the wrap up of Al’s story. One minor complaint is the kids decorating attempt is not featured enough. It’s understandable though as the final reveal of the blinding Christmas lights that help land the plane is just the type of absurdity that made Home Improvement so great. All the seemingly disconnected plots coming together in the end is one of the reasons this remains one of my essential Christmas viewings.
Tim: “What’s a clown doing next to baby Jesus?“
1 – “Twas the Blight Before Christmas” Season 3, Episode 12 (1993)
If ever you wanted the perfect sitcom Christmas episode this would be it. Brad would rather going skiing with friends over spending Christmas with his family. Mark is playing the ‘N’ in Noel in the church choir. Randy inadvertently gets roped into being a spy for Doc Johnson in the neighbourhood lighting competition. There’s so much going on in this episode, and yet none of the stories lack. Easily the single funniest moment in any of the 8 Christmas special comes as Mark and his fellow choir members stand in the wrong order on stage spelling out LEON instead of NOEL, to which Tim replies Leon was born in the manger next door. In early seasons Brad at times tended to be a little too obnoxious of a teenager, but his Christmas rebellion is mostly played for laughs like where he proposes taking his presents with him to open, or when Tim stops him from hitchhiking and Brad states he explained it all in a note that simply says “Gone skiing, Brad”. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a plot hole, but the idea that there’s a family that would invite a child to come skiing with them on Christmas without asking the parents first is a little far fetched. At the same time, it wouldn’t benefit the story or provide for Tim and Jill to address that in the episode. The script is one of the best in Home Improvement history, and every single actor hits every joke so much better than you can imagine. I would estimate that 90% of the jokes can still make me laugh out loud almost 30 years later. The episode not only manages to be one of the funniest in the show’s entire run, but the feel good ending actually leaves you with a nice feeling as opposed to some of the cornier endings like those further down on the list.
“Tim – “Christmas is not about being with people you like! It’s about being with your family.“
8 – “I’m Scheming of a White Christmas” Season 2, Episode 12 (1992)
Unfortunately, when ranking these episodes one has to be at the bottom and the season two episode takes that spot. But.. I don’t feel all that bad considering the plot centers around two of the kids stealing money from a charity. The contradiction between the spirit of Christmas and stealing from a charity is not lost on me, but that doesn’t make for an exciting watch. During my watch of this episode, there was hardly anything that kept my attention; there were no memorable jokes or gags. And on top of all that, my favorite character was trying to steal from a charity. Why did they do that to JTT?!
7 – “Twas The Night Before Chaos” Season 4, Episode 12 (1994)
A classic set-up for a Christmas episode where all the family is gathered together under one roof, a scenario ripe for crazy antics and unpredictable situations, but instead I ended up watching two people argue back and forth for twenty something minutes. For me, this episode was such a downer, Jill’s father spends the whole time complaining about one thing or another. I am never really able to identify with military-type characters and this was easily proven here; he was such an unlikeable character and was one the biggest players of the episode. Despite some strong jokes, especially about the bandaids, it could not salvage the rest of the mess.
6 – “Yule Better Watch Out” Season 1, Episode 12 (1991)
The first Christmas episode that started it all and Santa is dead. The actual plot of this first Christmas episode is really strange and I think that is what makes this such an odd watch. Despite the very real life situations that this may be pulling from, it never really manages to go anywhere. Some of the jokes were really unmemorable and the ambiguous ending was another confusing choice. This is not something worth hating, but never really made much of an impression.
5 – “Home For the Holidays” Season 8, Episode 11 (1998)
An episode centered around my man, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, was meant to be a real Christmas treat, but unfortunately I was left wanting more. After his absence from the show, JTT returned in what would be his final episode of the show. After the fact, we learn that this was not intended to be his final episode. Regardless, his return to the show was not that celebrated. I felt that he was often relegated to a background character, which is shocking considering that he was the biggest rising star to come out of this. I still feel that there was some real consistent comedy throughout, but between the lack of JTT content and forced content from the twins, I have to mark this episode down.
4 – “Bright Christmas” Season 7, Episode 11 (1997)
Following up from the “joy” of the season four episode, this episode explores the future dating life of Jill’s mom, which is poignant around Christmas time. This episode dealt with a heavy topic about moving on after a loved one passes, but does so in a thoughtful and considerate way. Since we follow Jill’s perspective it gives the audience time to really focus on all the emotions; this is not to say that there is no humor to be found. Despite the fact that the kids were barely present, many of the jokes were solid with the highest marks going to all the stop signs in Detroit.
3 – “Twas the Flight Before Christmas” Season 5, Episode 12 (1995)
For the episode that I deemed the most cliche of the bunch, I enjoyed this episode for the way that they managed to subvert our expectations. The special guest star, who I was unaware of, brought an endless supply of jokes that played well off the last; coupled with the fact that his mother was also there to add on. I have to demerit this episode for the lack of kid content and the fact that some of the sets were less than believable, but it still provided great laughs and surprises.
2 – “No Place Like Home” Season 6, Episode 12 (1996)
When watching this episode, I was not expecting to like nearly as much as I actually did. With a base plot of someone moving house and all the characters getting sentimental about it, it seems like it would be such a downer, but it actually managed to bend the light-hearted tone that the show usually follows with a more serious tone for this episode. Most of the jokes landed and every character felt intentional in the scenes they were in. I especially loved the scene between Jill and Tim in the truck, between his “knowledge” of truck lingo and Jill mentioning her countless moves. On the whole a great episode.
1 – “Twas the Blight Before Christmas” Season 3, Episode 12 (1993)
This is THE Christmas episode for Home Improvement. Every detail of this episode is perfect from the characters, to the script, to the gags. (I’ll forgive the set for looking a little budget during the church scenes). Every actor is on point delivering some of the funniest jokes I’ve seen on this show, which makes this episode such an easy watch and one to recommend. The episodes where the kids are front and center tend to be the ones that I gravitate towards and this has it in spades. No joke will ever be able to top the LEON gag during this episode. Forever a classic!
Finally, if you’d like to hear Colin and Rossi recap all 8 Home Improvement Christmas episodes in depth, you can listen to the episodes from The Oz Network Podcast here:
Season 1 – Yule Better Watch Out
Season 2 – I’m Scheming of a White Christmas
Season 3 – Twas the Blight Before Christmas
Season 4 – Twas the Night Before Chaos
Season 5 – Twas the Flight Before Christmas