Synopsis of Clip Show

Written by Petch

Typically speaking, the "Clip Show" format (feature a battery of flashbacks from previous episodes around a newly-filmed linking device) indicates laziness on the part of the writers. In the case of "Malcolm In The Middle," which had to drop a few episodes from its production schedule because of Jane Kaczmarek's recent non-participation, it's forgivable. A full season's worth of shows is a nice thing. Nonetheless, this reviewer went into the outing prepared to deem it the least satisfying episode of the third season.

The complication here is that "Clip Show" is s'damned enjoyable. True, the linking device (Hal schedules the boys for a psychiatric session to 'cure' their rambunctiousness) seems a bit uninspired. But when you've got Michael Borkow and Alex Reid onboard with the teleplay, it's a safe bet you're in good shape. The highlighted flashback clips are well-chosen for the most part. Throw in a guest appearance by Andy Richter as the shrink who takes on the boys, and it even starts to seem inspired after all.

As Dr. Kennedy (Richter) probes the boys, Reese admits his role as troublemaker, while Dewey deadpans that he's the favorite of the sons. Malcolm, meanwhile, is annoyed by Kennedy's textbook approach, especially when the doc pegs him as the 'ringleader' of misbehavior and hints that he will recommend that Malcolm be sent away from home, prompting Reese and Dewey to protest and rally around their brother. Hal, (whose car the boys allegedly took for a joyride and damaged--hence, the mandated trip to the shrink) has been listening in at the door the whole time. As he is about to collect his sons at the end of the session, a crash is heard from outside. The parking brake in Hal's car has apparently failed, resulting in an identical bit of damage as was blamed on the boys' supposed joyriding. Okay, so the boys were telling the truth after all, and now they're owed some ice cream. Hal happily writes a check to Dr. Kennedy, who tries unsuccessfully to persuade Hal that more therapy is needed. The entire scenario is basically the "Red Dress" concept all over again, with the boys in the hot seat for something that was Hal's fault the whole time. And it's still funny.

Sixteen clips (eight from the first season and eight from the second) make up the recycled material. In all but one case (Francis' mea culpa monologue from "Pilot") they are taken from the pre-credits lead-in segments--in other words, those often hilarious little minute-and-a-half vignettes which have no connection to the rest of their parent episodes' storylines. Good choice there, because those babies are chock-full classic moments. In the ones used here, most even retain their original music scoring. Avid fans may find things to quibble about; the eclair sequence with Hal and Lois from "Therapy" is arguably the series' funniest lead-in ever and would have fit perfectly, but it wasn't used. And some scenes (the dinner table sequence from "Home Alone 4," for instance) could have used some trimming.

"Clip Show" does have an opening vignette of its own, a little throwaway bit with Francis cleaning out a sink drain and coming perilously close to mangling his hand in the garbage disposal. At least it gives Masterson one new scene of his own. Curiously, the usual "Boss Of Me" opening credits is missing this time, opting instead for a quick power-chord with the "Life is unfair" vocal played over the logo title card, then posting the starring credits during the establishing scene in Kennedy's office. Even this little diversion plays out with a bit of sick humor, as the "Life is unfair" bit is jammed in just in time to suggest that Francis did manage to injure his hand in the disposal after all, despite luck's best efforts.

Given the unpredictable game of musical chairs as per Malcolm scheduling, we can hope Fox has by now trotted out all the Lois-less episodes and saved the season's best for last. The premises for the concluding three romps sound promising, and in the big picture they'll have still delivered a twenty-one episode third season (down by four from the previous year). "Clip Show" serves as a sort of 'Greatest Hits, Volume One' set for an act that won't likely be retiring any time soon.

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