Synopsis of Hal Coaches

Written by Petch

Jane Kaczmarek's recent health-related absence from the set is clearly reflected in this episode. With the exception of a brief appearance in the pre-credits lead-in segment (which, as usual, has no connection to the rest of the plot), this is essentially a Lois-less outing. And as a result, it suffers. Kind of badly.

The weight of carrying the episode is wisely distributed four ways, giving Hal, Francis, Reese and Malcolm each an amusing scenario. The strongest, obviously, is the title subplot, in which Hal takes the reins of Dewey's failing soccer team and attempts to inject some team spirit among these snivelling whiners. He discovers that encouraging the boys to liken themselves to the X-Men--a team bent on vanquishing evil--elicits a genuinely positive response from them. The Litmus test comes when the team is scheduled to play the Blackhawks, a rough-and-tumble bunch of lads spurred by a hissable hard-ass of a coach. Cranston shines wonderfully during his pre-game pep-speech. Hal revs up the boys, and instead of beating the Blackhawks at soccer, they simply....beat up the Blackhawks.

Meanwhile, Francis is puzzled by Lavernia's sudden pleasant demeanor towards him. He puts two and two together and deduces that Piama has blackmailed, threatened or done something similar to Lavernia in order to shut off her bitchiness to him. After much deliberation, Piama finally confesses that she has kidnapped Lavernia's beloved parakeet, demanding that she treat her new husband fairly. Francis is upset that she would make such a decision without talking it over with him, and he makes haste to return the bird to its rightful owner. Upon arrival, however, the parakeet has apparently died during the trip. A horrified Francis bolts hysterically from the lodge before the wrath of Lavernia can fall fully upon him.

Back at home, Malcolm and Reese now have their own computer. Paul Willson, who appeared briefly in two episodes from Season One, reprises and expands his role here as neighbor Ed. Thanks to an arrangement set up by Hal, the boys have acquired Ed's old laptop in exchange for doing a few chores for him. When some un-deleted emails on the hard-drive reveal the man to be quite the neighborhood philanderer, Reese puts the information to good use by blackmailing Ed into being his personal servant. But when a case of mistaken-identity lands Ed in the guidance counselor's office, where he must pose as Hal, he gleans enough dirt on Reese to turn the tables.

Besides the emails, there's also a game on the hard-drive which piques Malcolm's interest. It's called 'The Virts,' and it is a plug-in-the-values program designed to create a cyberfamily. Naturally, Malcolm uses his own family as the template and assigns specific negative attributes and situations to everyone except himself. With Stevie watching over his shoulder, Malcolm is shocked to find his cyberfamily excelling phenomenally (Lois elected to the Supreme Court, Hal as a millionaire, Reese as a super-stud and Dewey achieving the Papacy), while the cyber-Malcolm, positive properties notwithstanding, becomes an overweight Scotch-guzzling drunk given to self-mutilation and suicide. Needless to say, the laptop ends up getting chucked out the window.

A busy episode, to be sure, and an occasionally funny one. But the Kaczmarek void is rather searing. And it's not to say that she alone carries the show by any means. The series is first and foremost an ensemble effort, and the exclusion of any one of the six principles would be a blow to any outing. Ergo, that's what has happened here. And what of the addition of Piama's character to the family? This episode shows that Coligado and Masterson do generate some decent chemistry. As for how she will fit into the ensemble long-term, the jury is still out.

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