Synopsis and review of Watching the Baby

Written by Petch

Originally planned to be part of Season Four, this was instead replaced in that line-up by Clip Show II, relegating "Watching The Baby" to Season Five's early round-up. Better late than never, because maverick Malcolm scripter Alex Reid turns in a particularly strong episode here.

Although there are four storylines at play here, two lead the pack. The dominant (and titular) plot involves Dewey finding himself alone and babysitting Jamie while the rest of the family are having their misadventures. To placate the restless infant, Dewey concocts a riotously funny bedtime story that caricaturizes the family according to his specifications. Malcolm and Reese are the bullying older brothers who are fed down the garbage disposal for punishment. Meanwhile, Dewey and Jamie stumble onto a secret "good house" hidden under a trapdoor in Lois' closet, spotless and lavish, wherein a regal Hal and Lois watch martial arts movies on a 78" screen television and laugh about the miserable close quarters in which they make their sons live. Francis makes a brief appearance (since there's no Grotto subplot this time) as the "Brother Bot," a demure and monotone See-Threepio type who bitches listlessly while pouring martinis for Hal and Lois.

Elsewhere, the real Hal has driven to the Lucky Aide to buy diapers for Jamie but finds himself short of cash and manages to inadvertantly offend Craig, who retaliates by refusing to let him debit the purchase. When a frustrated Hal throws down the gauntlet and tries to make off with the diapers anyway, Craig has the surly security guard apprehend him and, to avoid a shoplifting charge, requires Hal to perform two hours of store labor to compensate for the purchase price. An incensed Hal is shocked at how badly the night crew is treated by the portly Craig, and he organizes a revolt. With the mop-wielding Hal in the lead (and with Phil Collins' "Sussudio" playing over the PA), the Lucky Aide staff take their revenge on their inconsiderate night manager in a cleverly choreographed sequence.

With Hal gone to buy diapers, Malcolm and Reese are supposed to assist Dewey in watching the baby, but a trio of girls in a limousine show up to spirit them (plus a visiting Stevie) away, leaving Dewey alone with Jamie. The girls have an agenda, though. They're not really interested in going on a date with our trio of heroes, but merely wish to make their own boyfriends jealous by being seen kissing "losers" like these. Reese and Stevie are shamelessly onboard with this condescending scenario, while Malcolm is dismayed by the implications. One of the girls happens to know of a store where a certain idiot employee will sell her beer because of her obviously fake ID--huge surprise, it's Craig at the Lucky Aide. While stopped there, the girls catch site of the boyfriends they want to make jealous. But rather then go through with the self-cheapening ruse, Reese suddenly realizes that he has Jamie's pacifier in his pocket, reminding him of their duty. The amused limo driver is happy to spirit the boys back home.

Lois' participation is minimal but effective. At the beginning of the outing, Hal implores his sleep-deprived spouse to take the night off and go to bed early. The fully clothed Lois collapses in the bed and later rolls onto the floor, where the back and forth nature of her breathing causes a dustball to form and increase in size. The progression is shown in various stages during the episode until one inhale finally takes in the dust bunny, jolting Lois awake so that she can take command of the baby situation. By now the boys are back, Hal has returned with the diapers, and Dewey's bedtime story has concluded. With Jamie now awake and crying again, the clan end up taking a drive in the limo to lull him back to sleep.

A few quiet moments of "Watching The Baby" are genius. A shot of an overworked Lois, passed out at the table while trying to breast-feed a loaf of bread, nearly steals the show. Also, comic actress Julie Hagerty, best known for her role in the Airplane films, appears briefly as a haggard and eccentric babysitter. But the laugh-out-loud material is largely generated from Dewey's fantasy story, especially during the climactic moment in the immaculate alternate house in which he finds the "perfect pants," a pair of trousers just his size that aren't hand-me-downs with stains, cuts, odors, etc. And within the context of the fairy tale, he does make sure Jamie takes the blame. Conversely, the boys' misadventures in the limousine with the pandering girls turns out to be the lesser element of the episode.

The Dewey-centric outings are usually the most fun, and that is pretty much the case here. Whereas in the past he was merely the put-upon youngest brother who took it all in stride, he now has new motivation with the addition of Jamie to the family. As the moral of his bedtime story, he informs his little brother, "I'll screw you over in a heartbeat the way my brothers do me." That's the kind of irreverence--with just enough heart added--which makes the show click. "Watching The Baby" is incentive to keep fans watching the series for a long time to come.

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