Synopsis of Stupid Girl

Written by Petch

Hal deserves at least one mid-life crisis per season. And he gets it in "Stupid Girl," the fourth season's first plunge back into the traditional Malcolm In The Middle formula. Where the previous three outings followed mainly linear storylines that were away from home, this one is a neat return to multi-plotted form.

It's a typically harried morning in the Whatever-Their-Last-Name-Turns-Out-To-Be household. The family is finishing up breakfast, and Lois is hurriedly packing bag-lunches. They're out of bread, so she ingeniously wraps Dewey's sandwich fillings into Saran wrap, with Hal's promise to buy bread on the way to school. And he does stop a liquor store, where Hal explains to his youngest that they sell the best bread in town. Actually, the only bread they sell is Melba Toast, but they also happen to sell lottery tickets, which happily lands Hal a quick $1,000. Although he pledges to invest this money into a clandestine college fund for Dewey, he's secretly got other, more disconcerting plans.

The titular storyline, however, falls to the titular character. Genius Malcolm is smitten by dumb-as-a-stump classmate Alison, and he quickly realizes that dumbing down his personality wins her affections. Hence, he enlists Reese to aid him the art of cluelessness. An inspired Cyrano de Bergerac-esque encounter follows, with a frenzied Malcolm repeating words whispered by Reese hiding behind a locker door--and winning the shallow heart of Alison, who invites him to a school dance.

Francis' situation at the ranch reaches another plateau as he realizes Otto's predisposition for allowing con artists to take advantage of him. The kindly German has just shelled out mucho bucks for buckets of sunscreen--for cows! Piama, meanwhile, works part-time in a local art gallery. After a bloodied Francis staggers in and happily announces that he's just strong-armed the bovine sunscreen salesman into refunding Otto's money, it's back to the ranch to deliver the dough and report the findings. Trouble is, Otto is now dealing with another potential con artist, whom he would like Francis to size up. This new salesman, a hulking and intimidating man selling "magic water sticks" (actually Y-shaped divining rods), gets a reluctant nod of approval from Francis, who would obviously be beaten to a pulp if he fought this guy.

Lois, meanwhile, has been bonding with Stevie Kenarban, who has been staying with the family while Abe and Kitty are away in Hawaii. Stevie has been witnessing Malcolm's transformation from genius into dumb-ass, and his attempts to intervene have proved futile. But when Lois insists on taking Stevie to the high school dance, they happen upon Malcolm and Alison on their way for a make-out session--with contraband beer. In short, the problem is diffused, and Malcolm is once again single....although it's hinted that Reese will pick up the reins as Alison's like-minded beau.

So what about Hal, who's experiencing this season's mid-life crisis? His new addiction is not a prostitute liaison, as a cleverly-written phone booth scene suggests it might be. Rather, he uses the $1,000 bucks to satisfy a lifelong adolescent daydream--renting a steamroller and going on a series of object-crushing jaunts on an empty lot, each getting more outlandish. A wedding cake, lightbulbs, caulking tubes, Reese's bike....all victims of Hal and his marauding steamroller. Only Dewey's intervention saves the day, when he places a cherished statue in the path of his dad's vehicle, bringing Hal back down to earth.

Hal's story may sound lame in print, but onscreen it's a riot. This is Bryan Cranston's physical schtick--which can easily tip into the "too silly to be funny" category--at its sublime. Malcolm's tale is fitfully engaging, with Frankie Muniz spending most of the episode playing a Reese clone. The Francis subplot, for its little screen time, still demonstrates the opportunities for comedic invention in his new setting. A "Stupid Girl," perhaps, but a damned smart episode.

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