Synopsis and review of Reese Comes Home

Written by Petch

Following up the deliriously gonzo cliffhanger from last season was no small feat, but under Todd Holland's expert direction, Matthew Carlson's script marvelously reconciles the "Reese in Afghanistan" plight. As a result, it also offers next to nothing in the way of indicating how the family dynamic will evolve in the new season--Lois and Hal are still out of work and struggling to pay the bills, and Francis is completely MIA this time around. But those issues get a pass with "Reese Comes Home," since its titular plotline has only twenty minutes of airtime to resolve itself.

Hal brings a snapshot of Reese to the local recruiting station, where a recruiting sergeant recognizes "Private Jetson" and points Hal in the right direction--nearly recruiting Hal himself in the process, until a phoned-in Lois puts the quietus on that notion. With the new information, Lois tracks down drill sergeant Hendrix (a fun reprisal from Steve Rankin). He is initially unable to help her, since the lad is actually on a secret mission whose details cannot be compromised, the illegality of underaged Reese's military service notwithstanding. Once the two begin to bond over stories of punishing their teenaged charges and exacting psychological warfare, the drill instructor surreptitiously slips Lois the info she needs in an indirect manner. This is one of the most winning scenes in the outing, and it is wonderfully underplayed by both Kaczmarek and Rankin, who have a field day with Carlson's dialogue.

Despite a lengthy and heartfelt speech, Hal is ultimately unable to dissuade from flying to Afghanistan to track down her missing son, and she's shortly on a plane to Kabul. Reese, meanwhile, has ditched his military duty and donned a burqa, posing as an Afghani woman. His misadventures attempting to flee the Middle East are mostly regulated to montage sequences, including one in which he is being married off to a mullah. He even has the token desert mirage, receiving a pep talk from one of his favorite breakfast commercial's talking waffle icon. In a somewhat rushed but satisfying resolution, Lois finds Reese--only to launch into one of her typical mom-tirades. Given the context, it still works.

The one subplot involves a guilt-riddled Malcolm--whose cheating with Reese's girlfriend was the reason the older brother ran off and joined the Army in the first place--trying to assuage his conscience by volunteering at a V.A. hospital. Caroline Aaron is funny as the Nurse Ratched facsimile, who keeps her elderly charges doped up--that is, until a well-meaning but short-sighted Malcolm spirits away their happy pills. The result is somewhat-predictable chaos, but there are enough gross-out sight gags to authenticate the diversion.

Hal and Dewey are underused this time, but again, this is an unusually busy episode, and both shine in the few scenes they're in. In particular, Dewey's merciless deadpan needling of the guilt-tripped Malcolm is hilarious. In order to honor their missing brother and his miscreant ways, the two solemnly stand atop a roof and launch diaper-balloon bombs over the unsuspecting patrons at a local art fair. A newly arrived Reese surprises them on the rooftop, and after an admittedly warm and fuzzy reunion hug, the elder brother reclaims his place in the community, launching another diaper-balloon upon the folks below. The boys are back, indeed.

Many in the cynical "jump the shark" mindset have speculated on when Malcolm In The Middle will have run its course and be thrown onto the trash heap. This entertaining and endearing sixth season opener makes one wonder if it's even possible for the series to ever burn out. It remains a Fox Sunday night anchor, the principles still give Emmy-quality performances and look like they're having a great time doing it, and the writing remains at the top of the game. "Reese Comes Home," indeed, and it's a most welcome homecoming.

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