Synopsis and review of Pearl Harbor

Written by Petch

Highlighting yet another returning character from a memorable past episode, "Pearl Harbor" chugs along balancing two incongruous storylines, one of which is acting-driven while the other richly employees sight gags for its payoff. The result is Season Six's first potential Emmy submission candidate.

Shrill, wily-haired Jessica (Hayden Panetierre), who was introduced two seasons ago in Stereo Store, has lately insinuated herself into the household after school, feigning problems at home. Lois has taken a shine to her, while Malcolm and Reese are annoyed by her domineering and meddling ways. They are further aggravated by Lois' purchase--at Jessica's suggestion--of tickets to the touring musical Mamma Mia for a family night out.

Both Malcolm and Reese privately--and separately--convey their irritation to Jessica, but she's got an agenda to amuse herself. Through skillful manipulation, she convinces both that the other is gay. Hence, both brothers suddenly become unusually hospitable to the other, each privately assuming he is offering support to his brother's "coming out." By the time of Mamma Mia, which is of course a revue of Abba tunes, both Malcolm and Reese pretend to love the show, while musical snob Dewey critiques the songs' simplistic chord structures. The showstopping scene of the episode is Malcolm and Reese nervously bebopping along to Abba's "Take A Chance On Me" in the living room following the performance, to the mystification of Hal, Lois and Dewey--and the sadistic glee of Jessica.

The subplot involves less screen time, but it's understandable why it inspired the outing's title; who would want to pass up dubbing an episode "Pearl Harbor"? Here, Hal's propensity of one-upmanship is taken to new comic heights as he plots to out-do a haughty neighbor whose holiday decorations are always much better than his. This year he's got no shot at a superior Yuletide display, so Hal opts instead to construct an elaborate commemoration of--you guessed it--Pearl Harbor Day. He enlists Dewey to assist him on the project, but Dewey is busy with a school assignment. Hal is delighted when he learns that it's a "My Hero" essay and that Dewey has selected him as the subject, but when he realizes that Dewey has invented a bevy of fictional accomplishments for his dad, Hal insists that Dewey start over and write a more truthful paper. He is further vexed, however, when he finds out Dewey now intends to do his essay on Lois instead.

Meanwhile, it's only a matter of time before Malcolm and Reese attempt to have a heart-to-heart talk about "the gay thing," only to stumble onto the truth about Jessica's ploy. The cackling Jessica leaves them fuming, promising she'll see them at dinner. The brothers quickly devise a hilarious revenge plan, and later that night lead Lois to believe that Jessica and Malcolm have been "making out." The no-nonsense Lois confronts Jessica, and after listening to the girl's wildly invented story, calls her bluff and informs her that she's figured out the whole scenario. She also decrees that because of the breach in trust, Jessica is "officially" banned from the house, then slyly adds that she knows the rebellious boys will just sneak her back in anyway; so Lois details her "unofficial" rules about how she'd like Jessica to run the household while she's at work. It's one of Jane Kaczmarek's best scenes in a while and would make a great Emmy consideration submission.

Hal's frontlawn Pearl Harbor display is a commendable little work of heart, soul and cardboard, but the neighbor responds with a vastly improved version. Seething, Hal enlists Dewey once again, this time to sabotage the competition. Infesting the man's creation with buckets of earthworms during the night, both father and son await eagerly the next morning under the cover of foliage and with binoculars to view the onslaught. And as the haughty neighbor steps out to retrieve his morning newspaper, fleets of blackbirds descend from on high--shades of Japanese fighter planes--to snatch up a quick breakfast and to also bombard the display with, er, "digestive bombs" of their own and generally destroy the man's work. Again, it's one of those sequences that just wouldn't fly without Malcolm In The Middle's single-camera cinematic style of filming, complete with a Flight Of The Valkyries-clone musical piece.

It's hard to resist the temptation to make one of those cutesy closings that play on the episode title like I've been prone to do; "Pearl Harbor' is an episode that will live in infamy" is just too contrived and lame. But the outing is certainly a strong writing effort, with above-par performances and impressively clever visuals. Hayden Panetierre as Jessica perfectly fits the Malcolm mold as a recurring character: loud and over-the-top but with enough restraint to be devious. Director Peter Lauer, who has recently helmed episodes of Arrested Development, has truly delivered a pearl in the shell, and I harbor no lies. Damn. I said I wasn't going to do that.

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