Synopsis and review of Kitty's Back

Written by Petch

Season Six now enjoys its first toe-dip into the waters of "dramedy," as a long-dormant side character returns. Meanwhile, Francis' inevitable return to the homestead is relegated to a mere subplot, though an effective one. There's no mention of Piama or the job at the Grotto. But there's lots going on about Malcolm's digital voice recorder, Reese's peeling skin and Stevie Kenarban's upcoming Manners Award.

A staple during the first two seasons of Malcolm In The Middle, Merrin Dungey's commanding persona of Kitty Kenarban unceremoniously disappeared after the shrewd third season opener Houseboat, only to be occasionally mentioned until the titularly-explanatory Goodbye Kitty from last season. And after Abe and Stevie depart from a markedly non-festive birthday party for Dewey, Lois is surprised by none other than Kitty, who has been watching from the back window. During her time away, the once-straightlaced dainty has been carousing the world and "trying everything." Now that it's out of her system, she'd like to insinuate herself back into her own family, except that she needs Lois' help to do that. Absolutely not, Lois contends. Kitty's actions can't be resolved with a mere apology.

Francis returns later with the announcement that it's Dewey's turn to be initiated into full brotherhood, same as Reese and Malcolm had been before him. This includes such escalating inconveniences as sleeping pillow-less on the floor, sucking ants from a straw and later drinking from the refrigerator drip pan. Meanwhile, Malcolm is assisting Stevie with his acceptance speech at an upcoming award ceremony. By now there is a rift between both Malcolm's family and the Kenarbans, as both Abe and Stevie have forgiven Kitty and resent Lois' judgmental stance. And on another feckless but funny attempt at greatness, Reese has been recovering from a recent heavy sunburn by meticulously pulling the dead layer of skin away from his body and saving it as one piece, gradually forming the equivalent of a Reese snakeskin. It's another sight gag that has to be seen to be appreciated, but it, along with the other subplots, keep this outing very busy.

Malcolm cleverly devises a plan to have Stevie first draft his speech and then record it, so that Malcolm can digitally edit out the pauses and deep breaths caused by Stevie's asthma; for the presentation, Stevie will simply lip-synch what's on the tape. Francis won't be attending the ceremony, though, because he's babysitting an ill Dewey, who has mysteriously contracted a rare dysentery. In an amusing scene, Francis admits that he went overboard on the whole initiation ruse, but that he simply missed tormenting Malcolm and Reese. And to make up for the malfeasance, he informs his younger sibling of a special vanilla candle in his parents' room that will distract them from any trouble he might find himself in. Dewey understands.

Trouble does brew at Stevie's award ceremony. Lois insists on attending even though she's not welcome. Reese also attends with his mostly-shed skin layer hidden in a plastic bag alongside his dress coat; he's got his own score to settle with Malcolm and Stevie for their non-cooperation in his plan. An uncomfortable Abe and Kitty are present. And Hal manages to get totally sauced on margaritas. Only when the esteemed emcee Frank Walston (veteran comic Henry Gibson, in a wonderful cameo) takes the stage and launches into a touching vignette on the value of friendship, support and forgiveness does Lois realize the error of her ways. She and the Kenarbans enjoy a sweet moment of reconciliation right before Stevie takes the stage to accept his award, and then begins lip-synching to a speech which Reese secretly sabotaged. For more insight into what's actually on the tape, check out the Quotes section. Meanwhile, the inebriated Hal is the only one who enjoys Stevie's "speech." All in all, irreverently hilarious.

Punishment looms for Reese, whose fully-shorn skin is unceremoniously vaccuumed by Lois while he's doing his penitent housework. Meanwhile, Dewey brings home a disappointing report card, the consequences of which he meticulously diffuses by casually lighting a certain vanilla candle. Soon Hal and Lois are more interested in getting to the bedroom than dealing with Dewey's report card, so all is well.

Matthew Carlson has finally steered the sixth season back into the multiple-storyline dynamic which makes the show work best. The occasional star cameo is always a treat (who can forget Henry Gibson's famous line as the "Illinois Nazi" in 1980's The Blues Brothers: "Get their license plate number. We're gonna kill that son of a bitch!"?). Hal's drunk turn here is the funniest yet, and Lois' repentance as she asks the Kenarbans' forgiveness is simple but full of heart. Francis' return to his dastardly ways is notable in that it's finally Dewey he torments. And let's not forget that, for better or for worse, Kitty's back. It would be nice if she stayed.

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