Synopsis of Poker #2

Written by Petch

This is the episode that should have been called "Dude, Where's My Lois #2." As with the earlier "Hal Coaches," Jane Kaczmarek turns up briefly in the pre-credits segment and is MIA for the rest of the episode.

Hoping to expand on a successful guest ensemble of side characters from before, the writers have Abe Kenarban and his poker buddies descending upon Hal's house for their weekly festivities. Hal is a nervous wreck prior to their arrival--he's the working stiff trying to impress this entourage of professionals. Hence, he's invested in an expensive poker table, whipped up batches of various dips to go with the exhaustive repertoire of chips, and has mandated that the boys be exiled to their room for the evening. Once the gang has arrived and are playing cards, their one-upmanship tendencies quickly take center stage. Whose poker table is nicer--whose wristwatch synchronizes most accurately--who can get the most dip on the chip--whose neck is get the picture. Women are from Venus, but men are from Tatooine or someplace equally primitive.

And the point, predictable but funny, is that in each instance Hal comes in last place. Until the talk turns to how many times per week they have sex with their wives, that is. Hal's numbers have everyone beat, and he ends up in a hot debate with poker player Malik about 'what women want.' After being trumped by Hal's logic, Malik decides to phone his wife and impart his unexpressed appreciation for her, but another man answers the phone. As Malik leaves to 'take care of something,' the others decide it's time to call it a night.

The boys have been up to their own shennanigans. The teenaged daughter of one of the poker guests was brought along with a friend, and Malcolm and Reese have been charged with entertaining them for the evening. Not a bad deal, except that Kristen and Chandra want nothing to do with them. But when Reese leads them to believe Stevie is terminally ill, they faun over him. While keeping Dewey isolated from the proceedings, Reese arranges for a little make-out session between Stevie and Chandra, which is a near-success. Meanwhile, Malcolm notices a small-caliber pistol in Kristen's purse and hides it--what was she thinking, bringing a gun into their house? Kristen is incensed and tries to coerce him into giving it back, but Malcolm won't budge. Eventually, he attempts to destroy the weapon with a vise and hack saw, causing it to spontaneously fire and alert the adults, who--thanks to Dewey's tattling intended to bust Reese--have just caught Stevie and Chandra about to smooch. The police are called because of the random gunshot. Later, the poker buddies are laughing up the little misadventure....and arguing over who screamed the loudest when the gunshot scared them.

Interspersed throughout is this outing's Mamu subplot. This time, Piama makes an off-handed mention to Francis that while he's working late, she has a dinner commitment but that "he'll be gone by the time you get home." While the announcement hardly fazes Francis, Eric eventually convinces him that Piama may be cheating on him and offers to cover the rest of his shift so that Francis can investigate. But it's not a lover Piama is seeing tonight, it's her deadbeat dad. It ain't much, but I guess it's a week's paycheck for Masterson, Nenninger and Coligado.

The Lois-less "Hal Coaches" indicated it, and "Poker #2" apparently confirms it: without Kaczmarek, the show is in danger of misfiring. The writers seem to know this, as they give Hal and Malik an amusing section of husband-wife style dialogue during their heated discussion at the poker table. Abe and the poker guys are likable and funny bunch, so we can hope to see more of them next season. The two side characters which best liven the Mamu segments are Lavernia and Pete, so substituting a Francis subplot that showcased either or both would have been a plus. Still, given the circumstances (read: Kaczmarek's health-related absence from the set) which required hasty re-writes and editing, "Poker #2" shows that the team can still pull off a passably-entertaining episode. Is that praising it with faint damns or vice versa?

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