Synopsis and review of Goodbye Kitty

Written by Petch

Kitty Kenarban joins the growing list of recurring side characters who have been written out of the show. That's a shame, too, because Merrin Dungey's schizoid and domineering interpretation was a perfect counterpoint to Gary Williams' put-upon Abe. Although she doesn't appear in "Goodbye Kitty," expositional dialogue telegraphs her departure and provides a plot device in which Craig Traylor shines as Stevie.

Malcolm has been awkwardly pegged to partner with Stevie in wheelchair basketball. Despite the impropriety of him using a wheelchair for the sport, Malcolm bites the bullet and goes along; the idea is for Stevie to impress his mom, who has been away on a business trip for two months and is supposedly due home. The excited lad is greatly anticipating the reunion but painfully unaware of the harsh truth: Kitty has actually divorced Abe and isn't coming back. During dinner, Abe takes Hal aside and blurts out the truth he's been unable to disclose to his son. A horrified Hal and Lois insist that Abe break the news to Stevie, but with the cat out of the bag, Reese is already on the job and callously breaks the news. A devastated Stevie regresses to the point of requiring a Stephen Hawking-like electronic voice generator to "speak" his typed messages. Malcolm's efforts to comfort his friend prove futile, so he resorts to "tough love," pelting the wheelchair-bound Stevie with basketballs on campus and verbally deriding him. His actions are mistaken by other students as genuine heartlessness, and Malcolm is summarily beaten up.

Reese and Dewey both have minor subplots, the superior of which is Reese's. After Lois accidentally drops her old high school diary into Reese's knapsack, he finds it and assumes that it belongs to some anonymous classmate of his. Reading its contents, he gradually develops the hots for the author, not realizing it's his mom until Lois casually interrupts his fantasization and identifies the diary as her own--much to Reese's horror. Meanwhile, Dewey develops a taste for Jamie's baby food, which engenders in him a desire to be a baby again. His increasingly infantile antics reach a fevered pitch as he verbally makes a case to Lois, punctuating it by soiling the diaper he's currently wearing--and raising her ire. It sounds funny, and it almost is.

Meanwhile, Francis and Otto have a new dillemma at the ranch. Paintcan, a beloved horse, has been diagnosed with a terminal disease which will require that she be put down. Otto initially attempts to fop the task off onto Francis but finally agrees to assist. After feeding the beast a final carrot, they cock their rifles and prepare to shoot Paintcan, but neither is able to pull the trigger. Hilarity ensues as Francis and Otto, aiming with their eyes closed, nearly shoot each other by mistake. But fate has intervened and spared them their burdenous task, as the horse has choked to death on the carrot.

Stevie Kenarban has been a recurring character from the very beginning, and like Craig Feldspar, he walks a fine line between funny and annoying. The comic efficacy depends upon the writing, and in this outing it works very well. The gimmick of the voice generator standing in for Stevie's asthma-laden speech is a particularly nice touch, the digital drone listlessly conveying his acidic barbs. His plotline here is resolved in a well-played heart-to-heart scene with Abe, who admits his own shortcomings and inadequacies but loves and admires Stevie for his courage and resilience. Restored to his regular self and no longer requiring the voice box, Stevie resumes his place in wheelchair basketball alongside Malcolm, whose injuries from the earlier ass-kicking have technically qualified him for the sport.

While a few of the gags fall flat, this is a solid effort from the Neil Thompson/Gary Murphy writing team that even manages a few classic moments. Malcolm's "tough love" treatment of Stevie (laced with "Look at the little wheelchair boy!" and "Gonna cry?" commentary) once again demonstrates how sensitive issues can be deftly worked into comedic setpieces without becoming tasteless or offensive. Still, it's too bad we've apparently seen the last of Ms. Dungey's work on the series. "Goodbye Kitty," indeed. We hardly knew ya.

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