Synopsis of Cliques

Written by Petch

One of the series' most versatile ensemble of side characters, the Krelboyne class, has largely been under-used this season, the laborious Stevie Kenarban appearances notwithstanding. For his screen time in "Cliques," Stevie is given something of a breather--pun definitely intended--while other sideline Krelboynes are given a chance to shine. And shine they do.

As do Chris Masterson and Emy Coligado as Francis and Piama in this outing's winning Alaska sub-plot. It's centered around Francis' harebrained idea of turning their house into a gambling casino after Piama's mention that part of the homestead rests on reservation land--hence, legalizing gambling on the premises, I guess. It's goofy, and as usual, it works.

Back at home, to placate the increasingly restless Dewey, who has come down with chicken pox, Lois procures a never-ending supply of dominoes. And it works to keep him at bay. Reese wants to knock down the growing creation, but Lois kills those aspirations with a stern warning. But Hal's impulses to knock them down become Reese's worst nightmare, as he knows he'll be blamed if they fall.

At school, a science experiment gone awry has rendered the Krelboyne classroom unhabitable for a few weeks. So the genuises are forced to be re-integrated with the school population at large, which will surely result in their torment and pummelization. Except that it doesn't, oddly. Each of Malcolm's classmates finds himself fitting into one of the school's cliques, and soon becoming the new leader. Dabney's a slicked-back jock now, and Lloyd's a painted and black-clad Goth. Stevie nests with the skater crowd, and Kevin finds his niche with the wannabe rapper crowd. Even Mr. Herkabe has to take a temporary job as an inept gym coach. It's no wonder this subplot garnered the title of the episode, because it's hands-down one of the funniest scenarios the Malcolm team has written this season, and in the capable hands of the Krelboynes at large (Evan Matthew Cohen, Kyle Sullivan, Victor Z. Isaac and Chris Eigeman), it's a laugh riot.

Piama, meanwhile, starts spending the profits on shopping expeditions, instead of saving towards buying Francis out of his debt with Lavernia, and the two realize that they have differing agendas. Francis ultimately wants to pick up sticks and move himself and his bride to greener pastures for themselves and their children, while Piama desires that they live out their lives on the family homestead....and kids? No way! So what is the solution? Just that they still love each other--especially after an impulsive roll in the sack. And despite their differences, they've got enough in common to compensate. It's clearly a parallel with the Hal/Lois relationship, now visited upon their firstborn and his bride.

Hal's fixation upon toppling Dewey's domino arrangement reaches a fevered pitch when he begins to have dreams of a voluptuously-dressed Lois on horseback, goading him to knock them over; a concurrent dream of a stern college professor announcing a geometry test, while Hal stands amidst the lecture hall in his briefs, provides the bulwark to his mental dillemma. Then there's Reese guarding the actual display....with a baseball bat. Relief comes when Dewey recovers from the chicken pox and re-packs all the dominoes in the box. Now Hal is free to recreate the set-up and knock it down consequence-free....but he'd prefer to get it on video. His sprint to retrieve the camcorder, however, accidentally ignites the succession of tumbling dominoes before he's able to get a single frame filmed. Hal's expression of disappointment is classic Bryan Cranston, a grimace he's pulled a hundred times before on the show but which remains hilarious.

Malcolm has managed to avoid getting sucked into a clique, but when a few pals alert him that a large campus fight is about to ensue, he attempts to intervene. As a result, however, each clique leader is revealed to be just what he is: a Krelboyne. This comes as a surprise to each group, who've always disdained Krelboynes. Malcolm himself is even busted as 'our leader' by a frantic Dabney. The ensuing result is typically tame but smirkingly funny. Beat up? Hospitalized? Traumatized? Nothing that dramatic: The Krelboynes get "pantsed." In retrospect, they probably deserved it.

"Cliques," as with other episodes this season, demonstrates that each of the show's sidebar scenarios (Krelboyne Class, the Lucky Aide, Alaska, etc.) continue to be ripe with comic potential. And this season's experiment with altering Francis' storyline has yielded a feisty new character and potential series regular in Piama. And the best components of the earlier Marlin Academy storylines remain, with the retention of Eric and the Alaska re-incorporation of Spangler. This outing showcases a strong Francis-Piama bond and proves that Coligado ought to have her name in the new opening credits sequence, provided they do one next fall; you guessed it, it's once again the song-less "Life is unfair" power chord this time. Catherine Lloyd Burns' disappearance from the series is lamentable, but Chris Eigeman has managed to effectively pick up the reins as Herkabe; his attempt at bonding with his students at the episode's conclusion is both amusing and endearing. Let's hope he stays onboard. As for the Krelboynes, behold the gothed-out version of Lloyd and see if you don't laugh your ass off.

Season Three has wound down, and it's missing at least four episodes from the original gameplan. Word around the campfire is that a specialty finale episode was planned but never shot. Hence, the reportedly-funny "Monkey" episode, after a two-month delay, will stand in as the ciao-for-now. But if it's as enjoyable as "Cliques," whose airdate has also been juggled around a time or two, then we're in for a real treat.

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