Synopsis of Monkey

Written by Petch

This unceremonious third season finale does offer some surprises, although most of it plays like a regular "Malcolm" episode. A commendably funny episode, that is.

"Monkey" is the mileage-upgrade season finale which was originally plotted to be just a regular episode slated for a March airing. And it shows, particularly in the obviously-rewritten Mamu segment, in which Francis' predicament comes to yet another crossroads. Lavernia comes in and announces that the logging camp is being shut down, and everyone's fired. Moreover, the company taking over the property is forcing Piama and Francis off their homestead, so the two must come to grips with how far they're willing to "roll the dice" with their relationship. Their choice is the obvious one--they love each other with the passion of Hal and Lois and will likely follow one another to the ends of the Earth--and they close out their section of the plot by vacating their Mamu house and trekking to parts unknown, leaving in their wake hitchhiker Eric (hopefully this isn't his swansong to the series) and also hamster-ball-confined Bernard, who has apparently made his way to Alaska by now. Not to bitch, but I was expecting a somewhat more clever resolution than a mere roll-on appearance by the runaway rodent. But then, given the nature of "Malcolm In The Middle," who can say he won't somehow turn up again?

Or what about Spangler, who grandly returned a few episodes back? Or the great new characters Lavernia, Pete and Artie, who along with Eric would seem to be lost if the Alaska setting is discarded? We can only keep our fingers crossed, ye faithful. This show is not written by dummies.

The main focus of this outing, if you guage story importance by episode titles, is Craig Feldspar's plight. After the four-star "Dewey's Dog" outing a little while ago, we find that Craig has sustained extensive injuries during his run from Marshmallow the dog. Hence, with two broken legs and two broken arms, he's confined to a wheelchair and has taken on a Capuchin monkey as an assistant. Lois stops by to bring fast food, but it becomes apparent that Craig's predicament has reached the fevered pitch of the 1988 horror movie Monkey Shines, which this subplot cheekily lampoons. Oliver the monkey has tried to lace Craig's milkshake with drain cleaner, and the little fellow has even turned the central heat up to a sweltering temperature in an attempt to cook Craig alive....or is it all merely in his head? The wicked little critta even force-feeds him piping-hot lasagna, and when Craig begs for water, Oliver reluctantly extends the drinking straw to his mouth....just before quickly withdrawing it and simultaneously shovelling in another spoonful of mouth-searing lasagna. While he overacts a bit, David Anthony Higgins turns in one of his finest Craig performances in this cleverly satirical subplot.

The other subplot in this episode is grandly winning in its own right, and it once again gives Justin Berfield a chance to shine as Reese. Here, Reese uses a baseball bat to subdue a would-be burglar who breaks into the house through Hal and Lois' bedroom window. The local police take a shine to him and make him a "neighborhood watchdog." This enables the lad to prowl the neighborhood, his bat in hand, making the local kids' lives unbearable. But his Walking Tall approach is brought to an abrupt halt when he pompously confronts Lois about a minor parking violation--which ends up with her literally chasing him up a tree.

During this, Dewey is unable to sleep because of the threat of burglary, and Malcolm's efforts to appease him only result in Malcolm's own insomnia. Hence, Malcolm lumbers throughout this outing, his asides to the camera growing more and more zombified. Meanwhile, Hal is ashamed that he wasn't able to subdue the would-be intruder, and his antics to become a neighborhood hero grow more and more outlandish. At one point he goes so far as to purposely snag a convenient parking spot out from under a waiting driver just to pick a fight--until the irate other driver reveals himself to be a paraplegic, and Hal notices with horror that he's just horked a handicapped parking spot. Luck finally finds Hal, however, as he happens upon a defeated Craig lying immobile on his living room floor. Indeed, it wasn't just in Craig's mind--Oliver is quite the homicidal little primate. Hal's actions save the day, and he's able to restore his self-worth by subduing the marauding monkey. Like so many "Malcolm" resolutions, it's both hilarious and curiously warming.

The postponement of this episode indicates that the producers held this outing in high regards. Since the series is filmed out-of-sequence, the Mamu segment was likely filmed for a different episode that was originally intended to be the proper season finale, then just incorporated into the rest of the footage. As a result, the Francis/Piama storyline still manages to be the most memorable element simply because of its air of finality. The writers could have played it safe and annulled the marriage so that Francis would be free to pursue yet a new life next season, but they're ambitiously rolling the dice and keeping him and his young bride together, for better or worse, as they pick up sticks and ditch Alaska. Each episode featuring Emy Coligado indicates a growing chemistry between her and Chris Masterson, and "Monkey" highlights the Francis/Piama relationship better than all that have come before. Moreover, the conclusion to their segment this time around (mentioned earlier in this synopsis, with the Eric/Bernard punchline) would have provided more of an air of "season finale" resonance if it had been used as the closing scene of the episode.

All this notwithstanding, "Monkey" is hugely satisfying. It's not a cliffhanger (the "Where's Dewey?" plight from Season One) or a showstopper (the wonderfully-entertaining "Is Lois pregnant again?" from last year). That means it's just a good, funny episode with all characters doing what they do best. They Might Be Giants score the episode flawlessly. (Do I need to mention this? Okay, I will: once again, no "Boss Of Me" opening.) Let's hope and pray a that a nifty new beginning credits montage awaits us this Fall. In the meantime, this third season finale entertains, though the seasoned "Malcolm" viewer could make a successful case that third season came up short-handed. But ultimately, this one's a thumbs-up.

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