Synopsis and review of Clip Show II

Written by Petch

Say the words "Clip Show" and watch skeptics' brows furrow. Either the writers were lazy and are copping out of procuring a full episode, or the cast was short-handed (as with last season's Clip Show installment) and it's a case of expedience. But now that Jane Kaczmarek has returned following a brief pregnancy leave, plus given the snowballing storyline potential of her character's impending baby, another clip show seems horribly intrusive and counter-productive at this time. All of which is why "Clip Show #2" is an unexpected goldmine for the seasoned Malcolm viewer.

Comparisons to this outing and last year's clip show beg to be made, but since I don't like doing comparison-based reviews, I'll merely highlight the contrasts. Last time all but one of the clips were from "cold opens," and the linking device was driven by special guest star Andy Richter as a shrink who is saddled with the wayward boys. It worked pretty well and made for a surprisingly funny episode that examined the family on a superficial level. "Clip Show #2" is vastly different.

The linking device consists almost entirely of Hal and Lois (Dewey makes an important appearance at the end). The harried and expecting couple attempt to draw up a will but are frustrated at how their assets have diminished and how their experiences of parenting have been so problematic. The clips interspersed are impressively selected and edited together, spanning episodes from the first three seasons. Finally, at wit's end, both are in a desperate embrace, convinced that they are failures as parents. Then Dewey appears, having fallen out of bed and sustained a minor head injury. Reacting quickly, Lois phones the local emergency clinic while Hal whips on a jacket and then whisks his young son to the car. The viewer understands, even if Hal and Lois don't get it yet.

Since the clips take center stage, the linking device makes for a somewhat marginal portion of the outing. But that's fine. And it would be terribly stuffy not to indulge in relaying some of the best clips that are used here. Among the finest are Dewey's dance with babysitter Bea Arthur from Water Park; Hal's sequined skating solo from Rollerskates; the cataclysmic soccer match from Hal Coaches; Lois' accidental destruction of Dewey's Lego colony from High School Play; Hal receiving conflicting advice from diminutive off-shoots of his own psyche from Book Club; Commandant Spangler's deft coordination of the showstopping "Candyman" number from New Neighbors;and a grand finale of the classic clown fight from Lois' Birthday. This is the stuff great television is made of, folks.

A fine season like Malcolm in the Middle's fourth doesn't really need a clip show to prop it up, but "Clip Show #2" is so entertaining that it almost works as a regular episode unto itself and needs no justification or editorializing to exist. Part of it is the terrific use of the clips; but the main item is actually the linking device and the revelations about Hal and Lois' family which are put on the table. So just what is it that the viewer understands but which this flustered couple do not? It's that despite all the trials and tribulations, Hal and Lois are elementally very good parents. They just don't know it. But therein lies the heart of the series.

Episodes used

"Stock Car Races"
"Old Mrs. Old"
"High School Play"
"New Neighbors"
"Water Park"
"Red Dress"
"Traffic Jam"
"Halloween Approximately"
"Book Club"
"Reese Drives"
"Malcolm Babysits"
"Malcolm Vs. Reese"
"Krelboyne Picnic"
"Dinner Out"
"The Bully"
"Lois' Makeover"
"Hal Coaches"
"Lois' Birthday"

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