Is There Anything Worse Than Tim Allen’s Anti-Pot ‘Home Improvement’ Episode?
The 1990s clearly had no shortage of awkward attempts to refashion existing TV programs into condescending parables about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, as evidenced by the conspicuously beer-centric episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the time Jessie from Saved by the Bell couldn’t cover The Pointer Sisters because she was too hopped up on caffeine pills.
Home Improvement’s “What a Drag” opens with Tim and Jill Taylor discovering a bag of pot stashed in their gazebo. Rather than create an open dialogue with their children about recreational drug use, they instead decide to stake out their own house from a neighbor’s yard, spying on the three kids with a periscope. Eventually, they discover that the weed belongs to their eldest, Brad, who they proceed to berate as if he’d just been caught kicking John Wick’s puppy to death.
Obviously, a lot of anti-drug content from this era is absurdly hysterical today — lest we forget the time Kermit the Frog and ALF tried to scare a teenager straight — but Home Improvement’s preachy melodramatic take seems especially reprehensible in hindsight. For starters, the elephant made of cocaine in the room is Allen’s own history with drugs. Famously, Allen was arrested for drug trafficking in 1978 and received a lighter prison sentence after narcing on all his dealer buddies. Hearing about why you shouldn’t do drugs from Allen is a little like getting a lecture about the value of nutrition from the Hamburglar.
This didn’t go uncommented on at the time, either. “I’ve had a history with this, but Tim Taylor is different,” Allen told reporters in 1998, although he “declined comment on his own encounters with drugs and alcohol.” He did admit that the staff of Home Improvement was split on the issue: “Some of our writers are from the 1960s, and they just don’t think marijuana is that big a deal. But we have other writers who are real puritanical about it.”
The Taylors eventually recognize their own hypocrisy to some degree because Jill used to be a pothead. That’s right, Allen let the writers give his TV wife a sordid history with drugs while his fictional surrogate remained totally clean. Tim Taylor says on the show that he never smoked pot because he was “a beerhead.” Somewhat undermining the whimsy of that line, Allen was arrested for driving under the influence the previous spring.
In the end, Jill tells Brad a harrowing story of how she smoked a joint laced with “something” at a Led Zeppelin concert, ended up in the emergency room, and later jail — a horror story that largely ignores the experiences of all the stoners who had a super-awesome time at that Zeppelin show. The Taylors then follow up their more honest discussion about the evils of marijuana by threatening to submit their son to random urine tests should he ever try pot again.
Incredibly, this episode was criticized at the time for making the Taylors seem too lenient, presumably because it didn’t include any scenes in which Brad is personally roughed up by Nancy Reagan and McGruff the Crime Dog.
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