Synopsis of Kicked Out

Written by Petch

"Kicked Out" tops Family Reunion as Season Four's weakest episode thus far. The anomaly is that both were written by Alex Reid.

This outing's complete "lack o' Lois" is obviously a result of Jane Kaczmarek's recent pregnancy leave, and previous outings have shown that the show can weather her absence if the episode is well-written. Hence, that's exactly the problem with "Kicked Out;" the writing is decidedly substandard.

With Lois gone, a frustrated Hal cannot control the rambunctious boys, the efforts of an uninvited (but there anyway) Craig notwithstanding. Malcolm is still having clandestine rendezvous with Nicki, but once he is busted by Hal for sneaking in late at night, he calls his father's bluff, leaves home and is hidden in Nicki's attic. She is happy to keep him as a secret treasure away from her own prying dad Boyd. In their brief conversations together, Nicki's problems are always drowned out by Malcolm's own petty bitching, causing her to eventually give up on the relationship and close him up in the attic. Malcolm must now sustain himself off Boyd's survivalist rations until such time as he's rescued from this plight. It sounds funny, but it's dull.

At home, Hal is eaten up with guilt about Malcolm's departure. Reese takes this as a license to pull the most outlandish stunt he can think of; could any punishment follow, since all guns are pointed at Malcolm? Hal, meanwhile, eventually puts a bullhorn atop his Dodge sedan and prowls the streets, searching for his missing offspring. Eventually they are reunited when Malcolm falls through the attic insulation and lands on a bed--right in front of Hal, Nicki and Boyd. Reese's water-hydrant stunt at home, meanwhile, goes awry.

In a more developed episode, the Grotto segment might have worked. But here, Otto's non-English-speaking nephew Willy has arrived, and he has taken to the art of antagonizing Francis by providing musical piano cues to every move Francis makes. It's funny the first two or three times, but it doesn't sustain the subplot. By the time the frenzied Francis takes a fire-iron to Willy's electric piano (embossed with the brand name "SYDNOR," an obvious in-joke), no one will care.

There are three inspired moments in "Kicked Out," which means the episode has approximately three laughs. The first occurs when Gretchen sings "The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia" while Willy plays, inserting her own Teutonic flourishes. In today's climate, it works underhandedly. Even more devilish is Hal's nightmare in which his sons are about to burn him at the stake. Finally, while desperately searching for his lost son, Hal casually breaks heart of a child searching for a lost dog--whose posters are a direct competition with his own--with a hilariously cruel speech.

Alex Reid has written some exemplary Malcolm In The Middle episodes, including (arguably) the series' best outing ever, Bowling, for which he won an Emmy. That's why I hate to be hard on the guy. I would instead pose these suggestions for all future teleplay, applicable to Mr. Reid and/or all other writers for this show. Let me roll up my sleeves here and tell you how to do your jobs.....

Malcolm In The Middle works best when the family is flawed but lovable. The "dysfunctional family" label was foisted upon this series from the beginning but isn't accurate; the family deserves better. Hal is funny when he flails about but is eventually proven right. Lois' best moments involve quiet menace, not wide-eyed screeching. Malcolm is becoming too self-involved, even for a teen; fix that. Reese is a riot; don't change him a bit. Dewey is well-evolving into the wisest of the kids; keep up with what you're doing. And Francis? Keep him and Piama at the Grotto at least one more season and give them a kid....unless you've already got something else planned, that is. Most importantly, make sure the family is onboard with one another--including Hal and Lois' forthcoming.

All seasons have their lowpoints. And if "Kicked Out" finds its mark as Season Four's weakest, then it still has its share of bragging points.

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