Synopsis and review of Thanksgiving

Written by Petch

Holiday and occasion-related episodes of Malcolm In The Middle have an unnerving history of falling flat, with outings like Christmas and Hal's Birthday serving as prime examples. Nonetheless, Matthew Carlson's spot-on teleplay breaks the spell and makes "Thanksgiving" a decidedly non-turkey tale that hits the funny sauce and even resonates some unconventional wisdom in today's sitcom climate.

With Francis and Piama arriving to celebrate Thanksgiving with the family, it's clear that there will be no off-site asides at the Grotto or otherwise. Trouble is, the couple are fighting non-stop, with continual mentions of divorce popping up. Hal wants Lois to intervene but doesn't want her to simultaneously exacerbate the problem. After resisting his implorations, knowing she'll be blamed if the situation worsens, Lois resorts to a bit of reverse psychology, bringing the troubled couple back together with her assurances that divorce is just the thing they need. A nodding Hal understands the ploy, after a lovey-dovey Francis and Piama triumphantly head back to the Grotto.

For the Thanksgiving feast, Reese has been working around the clock to prepare a smorgasbord unlike any other. And he has conscripted Hal and Dewey into being his unquestioning assistants, doing any bit of grunt-work he barks out. Both eventually become fed up with his demands, leaving Reese to finish the feast on his own. But the pay-off comes when dinner is finally served to the weary household. In a scrumptiously-filmed setpiece of near-cinematic scope, Reese's array of delicacies are set upon the table before the family, culminating in the main course: turkey a'la monkfish.

Malcolm has been plotting to ditch the festivities and spend the day partying with his new non-Krelboyne friends, who are planning a beer bash. He also has a crush on the voluptuous Kirsten, who's been making passes at him. Despite Lois' protests, Malcolm skips out on the family shin-dig and soon finds himself imbibing suds with a fast crowd and shooting pool with an increasingly flirtatious Kirsten. At the height of the revelry, Kirsten pelts him with a condom--an invitation to sex. Even drunk, Malcolm surmises that it would be a huge mistake and declines, leaving the party with a few extra beers in hand to console him. Now thoroughly sauced, Malcolm makes his entrance into the family home just as his loved ones are about to feast on Reese's feedbag. His attempt at a sanctimonious speech is interrupted by the inevitable, and the lad instinctively grabs the festive turkey from the table and regurgitates into it, effectively ruining his brother's prize creation.

"Thanksgiving" benefits in part from utilizing Reese's talents as a gourmet cook, a device introduced in Season Two's Reese Cooks. Although the gag has been occasionally alluded to in episodes since, here we see the ruffian in fine form as an obsessive auto-shop Emeril, ruthlessly manipulating Hal into submission by tempting him with tantalizing samples of his cuisine. There is a particular sight-gag which is a showstopper, wherein Reese horrifies his dad by procuring a monstrous-looking monkfish (actually a delicacy, my own research has confirmed) and announcing that he is planning to cook the turkey inside this bottom-dwelling creature that curiously resembles an emaciated Jabba the Hutt. Hal doesn't quite buy his son's assurances of mutual juice basting, but a forced spoonful of one of Reese's other concoctions reels him back into obedience.

The script really handles the Malcolm/teen sex issue responsibly. Rather than let this outing degenerate into a titillating "Malcolm gets laid" affair, the script has him walk away from the inebriated Kirsten. Nor does it veer into the area of proselytizing or moralizing, as Francis later sums up to his confused and hungover younger brother, "Dude, you didn't take advantage of a drunk chick." For a show noted for its irreverence and critical eye towards traditional norms, this is a savvy and well-conceived resolution to Malcolm's dilemma.

In a clever bit of casting, Alessandra Toreson portrays the trollopy Kirsten. Previously she had appeared in Season Three as Malcolm's Girlfriend Sara, whose face was never shown onscreen. And the close-quarters nature of the rest of "Thanksgiving" affirms that when the writing is right, the multiple storyline/setting angle is not always a necessity for the series. Thanks is due to the team behind "Thanksgiving."

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