Synopsis and review of Hal's Friend
As rewarding and true to Malcolm form as the fourth season has been, it has all but ignored the Krelboyne survivors thus far, save for the occasional (long breath) Stevie Kenarban appearance. And that's a shame, because those neurotic pubescents had managed to insinuate themselves as worthy side characters during the first three seasons. "Hal's Friend" takes great steps in maturing at least one of these crumbsnatchers.
Dabney has an approaching birthday, and Malcolm and Stevie are invited to his party--exactly twice the turnout of his previous soiree, we're told. But his malevolent mom Dorene (or Mrs. Hooper--hey, now we know their last name!) proves to be impossibly overbearing and unwilling for him to accept his grandfather's gift of a high-priced paintball gun. Malcolm privately decides to rescue his friend from his "mamma's boy" predicament.
With pregnant Lois still gone, Hal takes advantage of the lifted restrictions to invite Larry, an old drinking buddy he's known since high school and whom Lois detests, over for a boys' night out. All goes well until the alcohol kicks in and Larry's reckless tendencies emerge. Soon, the two are drunkenly tearing out the bedroom wall to make room for a nursery which Hal will never be able to afford. The two also lament an apparent cheating they once endured from an old boss, one Mr. Dawkins, who never paid them for a weekend's job of cleaning a flooded kitchen.
This outing's Grotto tale, meanwhile, is funny enough until its lackluster resolution. With Gretchen and Piama away on vacation, Otto insinuates himself into Francis' quarters, as he's uncomfortable sleeping alone. Okay, fine. Gretchen has an important note for Francis which gets misplaced. And on the first night in bed with the nude German, Francis is kept awake all night by his boss' violent night terrors. Eventually the note turns up, and Francis is able to dispell Otto's bad dreams by....caressing his earlobe. Again, not the best Grotto subplot.
Dewey has lately been getting over on Reese in a big way. By pretending to be on the phone with Lois--whether it's really just an automated telemarketer, a time & temperature service, or even a dead line--he has rendered his bullying older brother into own personal servant, as per "Mom's command," of course. Dewey's homework? Furniture re-arrangement in the boys' room? An impromptu haircut for Reese? All components of Dewey's plan, until it goes awry during a dead-air "conversation" when the phone rings for real. Reese cottons onto the ploy and pounces upon a screeching Dewey, who has by now gotten over on him in too many ways to count.
Still following Larry's faulty lead, Hal accompanies his pal to pay a visit to the aforementioned Mr. Dawkins, who turns out to be a kindly and feeble old man living in a trailer park. Over a cup of tea, Dawkins casually reminds his former employees of what really happened that fateful weekend: it was Larry and Hal who had caused the kitchen flood via their tomfoolery, and Dawkins had nearly lost his own job for benignly sneaking their undeserved paychecks to....their dads! Hal is brought back down to Earth, though Larry is still jackass enough to spitefully ram his pick-up truck into the old man's trailer porch anyway.
The episode truly comes to fruition with the resolution of Dabney's plight. Waylaid by Malcolm and Stevie to a paintball arena, the bespectacled Krelboyne finds himself cowering in the fetal position while bullies methodically shoot him in the ass. At Malcolm's urging, Dabney aimlessly fires a lone paintball....which finds its mark on the lead bully. What follows is a whirlwind of hilarity as Dabney's inhibitions instantly vanish and he frenziedly lets loose on the bully with his expensive paintball gun. Shortly after, when Dorene makes her way into the arena to collect her wayward kid, she's greeted by a transformed Dabney, complete with Rambo-style bandana, declaring his independence from her overbearingness. Dorene's curious response suggests the obvious: culpability for the "mamma's boy" predicament is about 50/50 from either side.
It goes without saying that Jane Kaczmarek is still absent this go-around, but unlike the shaky non-Lois efforts from last season, "Hal's Friend" holds up nicely. The writing is stronger this season, but the key is still the performances. Witness a confused and hungover Hal waking up in his exposed bedroom, with various animals perched about--including a squirrel which prances across his chest. It's little moments like that which make the show sparkle.