Synopsis and review of Block Party
Written by Petch
A key component in the series gestalt--Malcolm's family as neighborhood pariahs--gets a nifty workout and clever resolution in "Block Party," another high point in the fifth season. Each storyline in the obligatory three-way split is sublime in its own right, and the Grotto subplot this time is howlingly funny.
Returning home from vacation a few days early, the family are surprised to find that their street has been barricaded to accomodate a festival. Moreover, signs indicate that it's the "Fifth Annual Block Party." A dismayed Malcolm realizes the implication: the neighborhood regularly celebrates his family's absence. Hal and Lois shrug off the besmirchment and decide to enjoy themselves in the merriment, while Malcolm sulks, and Reese devises a fiendish moneymaking scheme with Dewey in tandem.
Neighbors are vexed at the family's return but can only endure their presence. Semi-recurring character Ed (Paul Willson) seems to be emceeing the affair, inserting some biting commentary over the microphone. On a whim, Hal and Lois decide to enter a kielbasa eating contest, another staple of the festivities. One by one the competing eaters drop out as a record number of sausages are consumed. A particularly amusing quirk is Lois daintily using a knife and fork while others shovel the kielbasas down manually, yet she manages to keep up with everyone else. Finally, with only her and Hal left--plus only one kielbasa remaining--it becomes a duel with forks to scarf up this final sausage.
With all of the neighborhood kids out and about, Reese proposes a sweet deal. In retribution for the years of torments he has visited upon them, each youth may pummel a blindfolded Reese for a nominal fee of $20. A complicit Dewey collects several hundred dollars while Reese grabs an innocent bystander who must stand in for Reese and take the beatings in his stead. As fate would have it, though, the plan goes awry and the real Reese ends up suspended from a garage door mechanism, where the neighborhood kids pound him like a pinata.
In an effort to befriend some of the cold-shouldering neighbors, Malcolm helps a man load boxes from a house into his car, not realizing that he's actually assisting a burglar. The home's real owners happen onto the scene just as the man speeds away, and Malcolm is reduced to tears because of his error. However, when a policeman arrives to file a report, the owners downplay the extent of the theft and opt not to itemize the missing belongings. Malcolm's photographic memory can recall the wares, and as he impulsively rattles off a list which includes printers and embossing machines, he simultaneously realizes that these are all counterfeiting and forgery tools, and the criminal couple are busted on the spot.
At the ranch, Otto has just taken inventory of a replica of a cow's hindquarters. It is a device designed for extracting seed from bulls who mount it--a bovine sex doll, in essence--which is what Otto has in mind for a prize bull who is too big to mount a regular cow in the conventional manner. Naturally, the dirty work falls to Francis, who is aghast at the detail. Nonetheless, when the prize bull is unresponsive to the replica, Francis realizes that he has forgotten to apply lotion laced with bovine pheremones onto the device. But the bottle of pheremones is missing. That's because a sunbathing Otto has mistaken it for suntan lotion and is currently giving himself a good rubdown. The prize bull's nostril flare as the scent hits the air, implying that the German has inadvertantly started something he won't want to finish.
So who won the kielbasa eating contest? Never underestimate the power of true love, especially if it's that of Hal and Lois. To put it succinctly, they split the last sausage, making the contest a tie. So why is this funny? Because the climactic chowdown involves the madly-in-love couple eating from either end of the kielbasa towards the middle--until they are both kissing. The crowd loves it, and the family's days as pariahs appear to be over. But there is a downside, as the contentious neighbors, no longer hating Hal and Lois, turn on each other for various trivial indiscretions.
Levie Isaacks has emerged during the last two seasons as one of the better Malcolm directors, and "Block Party" marks one of his best outings to date. He seems to know that humor and heart are the winning combo on this show, and there's plenty of both here. This party rocks the block.