Synopsis of Forbidden Girlfriend

Written by Petch

This week FOX has magnanimously thrown Malcom In The Middle viewers a token scrap during an otherwise rerun/preemption-laden December. Let's face it--after the bulletproof second season, the series' third year was sometimes lackluster, often with questionable long gaps between new outings. Season Four has been off to a better start so far, but FOX has lately been up to its old tricks of musical chairs in terms of scheduling. So if this is the only new episode we're going to see this month, it had damned well better be a good one.

"Forbidden Girlfriend" is a superb outing, happily. With relatively new players (writer Matthew Carlson and director Jamie Babbit) onboard, a fresh approach to old-school Malcolm schtick "brings the funny" in great fashion. This one's once again a four-way tale, and the balance is sublime.

The signature plot belongs to Malcolm. At Lois' insistence, he has been tutoring various failing students, but now he's met the vivacious and rebellious Nicki, who's having trouble in math. The two quickly fall for each other, under the ever-watchful eye of Nicki's hard-assed and overprotective father Boyd. The Vietnam vet eventually busts them together and demands that they cease the relationship. Yeah, that'll work. Their rendezvous growing increasingly clandestine, the two come to realize that it's not just a case of thrill-seeking, but a genuine mutual affection. Factor in that Nicki actress Reagan Dale Neis is listed in several upcoming episodes, and it's a good bet that the two will be a semi-permanent item for a while.

Dewey has lately been getting monetary handouts from local neighbors. Reese is confused--the lad certainly hasn't been working for the dough--until he realizes that it's a case of mistaken identity. A different boy named Billy Prescott, who closely resembles Dewey, has been performing unsolicited chores around the neighborhood, and the unwitting Dewey has been innocently accepting the cash, thinking it's just "Money Day." Reese then coerces his younger brother to frame the doppelgaenger for misdemeanors committed against Reese's various enemies--until Dewey tires of the deception and busts Reese in the presence of a particularly menacing adversary.

Meanwhile, Francis and Otto are plagued by a neighboring ranch of "real cowboys," who object to a fence which keeps Grotto horses from leaving the fold, while it impedes the neighboring ranch's cattle from reaching their water supply. The conflict of tear-it-down and rebuild-it escalates until Merl and Earl, two ornery cowboys, crash the Grotto's "Pirate Night" festivities and demand to settle the conflict. An incensed Otto is ready to go for his gun, but Francis calmly suggests installing a gate on the fence. It's 'problem solved,' just like that, and in typical Malcolm fashion, all parties are shortly reconciled and happily guzzling beer together at the Grotto.

The showstopping storyline belongs to Hal and Lois, though. A low-grade infection has Lois on antibiotics for a week--during which time she and Hal can't have sex. Despite the sharp shock to the system, both adapt well and spend the week making improvements on the house; preparing crepes for breakfast as a change; re-assessing their tax records so the IRS owes them money; procuring fresh-cut flowers each morning; and transforming their eyesore front lawn into a showplace. All good things must end, though, and so does Lois' prescription of antibiotics. With the celibacy requirement lifted, she and Hal both resist the temptation for a short while but eventually give in. Needless to say, the house (and especially the lawn) falls back into the "lived-in" look we all know and love.

Matthew Carlson's teleplay takes familiar themes of the series and adds a refreshing degree of frankness to the dialogue. Several passages, particularly in Malcolm and Nicki's story, literally consist of paragraphs. The sexuality of Hal and Lois remains funny and even charming, without ever stepping into raunchiness--the characters are married, after all, and the actors playing them are never actually shown in the act. There's a life-affirming innocence to their devotion. Meanwhile, the "evil twin" subplot regarding Reese and Dewey is spot-on funny, and Francis' adventures at Otto's ranch continue to be a can't-miss component. Jamie Babbit, who most recently directed last season's "Clip Show" installment, has turned in a winner with "Forbidden Girlfriend." Carlson and Babbit both earn their spurs with this one.

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