Synopsis and review of Garage Sale
"Garage Sale" is chock-full of the stuff a great Malcolm In The Middle outing is made of. There's a great premise (a family garage sale); the return of Jane Kaczmarek after several Lois-less episodes; appearances by supporting characters Craig, Otto and Gretchen; the deftly-used tactic of flashback sequences; and Maggie Bandur onboard with the teleplay. Unfortunately, it's that last item which drops the ball and renders this a so-so affair.
Consistent with the conclusion of the far-superior "Hal's Friend," the bedroom wall is still knocked out and covered with plastic when Lois returns. Hal's stammering assurances that he's got expansion plans in mind fail to worry Lois, who's simply glad to be home after an apparently unpleasant experience staying with her sister. Moreover, she's been thinking of Reese and his wayward ways, venturing that if the lad were given some encouragement and responsibility, he might turn a corner. When Malcolm later suggests having a garage sale to raise some funds, Lois allows Reese to take credit for the idea and then puts him in charge of organizing the event. Peeved at this theft of his thunder, Malcolm protests but is silenced by a determined Lois, who's rooting for Reese to do well, despite the half-assed job he's actually doing.
During all this, Hal uncovers an old radio transmitter which he used in college for a pirate talk-radio broadcast. Inspired to renew his "Kid Charlemagne" character, he starts transmitting again from behind the garage, filling his frequency with increasingly-cockeyed conspiracy theories. Meanwhile, Malcolm finds a vintage 1976 computer chassis which Reese orders him to throw away but which Malcolm discovers online is valued at $1300. He enlists Craig to purchase it at the garage sale during a scripted transaction in which Reese's judgment will be derided in favor of Malcolm's.
Who knew Otto and Gretchen had a son? Apparently they do, and his name is Rutger, but when his latest letter arrives, Gretchen implores Francis to hide it--too late, Otto is already setting fire to the envelope. It seems that the father and son had a falling-out years before, and both are too strong-willed to attempt to breach the gap. When Gretchen happens upon "Schlupi," a sock puppet which Otto once used to communicate frank messages which he otherwise couldn't relay to his son, Francis has an idea. Confronting his boss, Francis forces the Schlupi sock onto Otto's hand and then arranges for a phone to be brought, so that nature can take its course.
The day of the garage sale eventually falls, and despite Lois' stalwart reassurances, Reese is a nightmare of shitty salesmanship and harebrained ideas. He even sells Dewey's piggy-bank, which happens to contain $16 of Dewey's money, for a mere two bucks. An enraged Dewey retaliates by underhandedly selling most of the family's furniture and belongings from inside the house and then pocketing the money--the shining comic jewel of the entire episode. Malcolm is about to close the rehearsed "sale" of the vintage computer to Craig when a frenzied Hal spirits the portly Lucky Aide manager away while trying to evade lurking FCC agents. Reese, incensed that Malcolm didn't throw it away like he was told to do, smashes the computer chassis across his knee, and when Lois is informed it could have brought in a cool $1300, her faith in Reese snaps. Later, as she and Hal ponder the upcoming baby in their largely empty living room, the phone rings. It's Francis, and he's ready to have a heart-to-heart talk with Lois. On his hand, needless to say, is Schlupi.
On the whole, it's a strong storyline, and there's enough heart to balance out the irreverence. The problem with "Garage Sale" is that there just aren't enough punchlines, and the humor that's present seems to be too recycled. Particularly disappointing is Bryan Cranston's "Kid Charlemagne" turn, a hilarious concept which really doesn't go anywhere. Even Kenneth Mars strikes out this time by reducing the likable Otto character into a cartoonish crybaby. Lois' homecoming is certainly welcome. Too bad it happened to occur in a relatively sub-par episode.