Synopsis and review of Stereo Store

Written by Petch

As with so many successful television series, an ambitious cast member is eventually allowed to direct an episode. And who better from the Malcolm In The Middle camp than Bryan Cranston, especially during this hopefully brief Lois-less spate of episodes shot during Jane Kaczmarek's pregnancy leave. Originally written as a wallpaper doofus, Cranston's character has evolved into an essential ingredient within the show's chemistry, so putting the directoral torch in his hands would seem like a savvy move. What could go wrong?

A lot of things could, but none of them do. "Stereo Store" is a splendid outing that highlights funny and possibly-recurringnew side characters, as well as the regulars (save for Lois) doing what they do best. A defeatingly self-absorbed Malcolm? An impossibly dumb Reese who still reaps the rewards? A calculated Dewey who's really the wisest? And a matured Francis going to extremes to prevent catastrophe? All accounted for.

With his better half on maternity leave from her job, Hal has accepted a part-time sales position at the U-Buy-It electronics store. His obnoxious boss Randy takes a shine to Hal while continually berating two slacker co-employees, with whom Hal comes to empathize. Partyboys Seth and Ethan obviously want little to do with middle-aged Hal, despite his desperate attempts to insinuate himself as "one of the guys."

At home, the boys are incensed by Hal's choice for their new babysitter. The wily-haired Jessica (who could vie with Emma Watson for the "Hermione" role in the Harry Potter films) is in Malcolm's class and is younger than Reese, but she has a knack for manipulating these lads into submission. When Malcolm attempts to foil her with his genious, she only turns the tables. In the meantime, washing all dishes; waxing floors; taking up sewing; ridiculously early bedtimes--all part of Jessica's regimen. It's up to a little Dewey tomfoolery to foil this tart, and when he fakes tears and pretends to nap on the couch, he's able to listen in on Jessica's "Truth Or Dare" comments with her friends, cottoning onto substantial blackmail material. While Reese bolts for a party, Jessica's manufactured tears restrain Malcolm, whose genius fails to alert him that he's once again being had.

This episode's Grotto subplot is once again devilishly clever. Otto and Gretchen are excited when Francis arranges for a movie to be shot at the ranch, and with a short-handed cast, Gretchen is offered a role. Francis, meanwhile, is horrified when he learns that the movie is to be a porno. Rather than dash Gretchen's hopes of appearing in a film, he manages to talk the director into accepting his own re-write of her scene. Hence, when the cameras roll, the actors go through innocuous and non-sexual blockings while they spout banal porn dialogue on the "Oh, Baby" order. Amusingly enough, after the shoot, Gretchen laments to Otto that the experience was a bit boring and that the scene could have used a little sex. Even more amusingly, Patrick the porn director is played by none other than an uncredited Todd Holland, who helmed the Malcolm pilot plus numerous other episodes. And on a curious note, Otto and Gretchen's last name is apparently revealed to be Mannkusser.

On the job, Hal becomes frustrated with being the "old stuffed shirt" and decides to foist his company upon the clandestine party Seth and Ethan plan to attend. A riotously-entertaining Raiders Of The Lost Ark spoof punctuates Hal's ditching of his stereo store duties; wonder how much they had to pay to use John Williams' score?

Once he gets to the party, he's initially shunned by the youthful crowd until he impulsively agrees to participate in a"Tijuana Car Wash" and becomes a party favorite. That's when the shin-dig is busted by the host's returning parents, and Hal finds himself crammed into a backyard playhouse along with about a dozen teenaged sad sacks. This isn't the company heshould be keeping, he finally realizes. It's time to go home....except that Reese will need a ride home, too, since he's revealed to also be a partygoer hiding in the playhouse.

Mr. Cranston might want to stay near his phone come mid-July when they announce this year's Emmy nods; with this episode under his belt, he just may find himself in both the supporting actor and and the director categories pertaining to comedy series. Let's hope he directs more outings. Many more.

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