Synopsis and review of Burning Man

Written by Petch

With the most outlandish offsite season opener to date, "Burning Man" ushers in Malcolm In The Middle's seventh go-around with a wacky Michael Glouberman script that recalls the sheer lunacy of the first season. This time it's not a mainstream tourist attraction (like the zoos, water parks, casinoes or even Pakistan from previous openers) but a counter-culture festival which serves as the backdrop. Burning Man really exists, and it is an annual event usually held in a desert-like location, usually in California, wherein free spirits come together and bond, creating innovative art, music, celebration and other non-mainstream festivities. In other words, the perfect place for Malcolm's family to come in and inadvertantly wreck.

It begins as an idea Malcolm and Reese have had for several years now: sneak off to Burning Man by themselves. Dewey pointedly reminds them that they chicken out each time, but the elder brothers are determined to forge ahead this year. In a particularly amusing touch, Malcolm devises a way to alert the rest of the family of their whereabouts by estimating how much toilet paper the family will go through for two days, scrolling the roll down that far and inking a short message on that portion of the spindle, then rolling the loose sheets back up to its original place. This will buy them the time they need to it the road, right?

Wrong. The message is prematurely revealed, thanks to some of Lois' undercooked chicken (YOU figure it out!), and the lads are nabbed while they're still trying to thumb rides. As an exasperated Malcolm tries to defend their decision by espousing the virtues of the event, he unwittingly unleashes a much larger monster: Hal and Lois buy his schtick and decide to make Burning Man a family vacation.

In a fancy RV borrowed from Hal's boss, the family strikes out for the road trip. Malcolm and Reese are determined to ditch their entourage once they arrive, which they do. Dewey reluctantly ends up as Hal's personal slave as he entrenches the precious motor home as a territorial domain, while Lois and toddler Jamie venture off with a group of hemp enthusiast women. Hal's pedantic mannerisms, including sweeping the rollout fake yard surrounding the RV, are misinterpreted by the rest of the free-thinking crowd. Hence, Hal is mistaken for a performance artist out to savagely parody suburbanite dads and is roundly applauded by the impressed onlookers. In an episode loaded with brainy laughs, this is the high point, and it works grandly.

Elsewhere, Reese finds a new friend in Nate, a middle-aged regular attendee who carries around a large Super Soaker toy rifle. Loaded within is not water, but rather the cremated ashes of his recently-departed buddy Stanley, who had in life been a fellow Burning Man participant. So Nate goes around spritzing fellow cavorters with "a little bit o' Stanley." It's not long before Reese, jubilant at being sprayed with "dead guy," takes to Burning Man with full force, participating in every cockamamie activity there. So much so, in fact, that when he's handed the ceremonial torch that will ignite the constructed wicker "burning man," he's so unwilling to end the fun that he casts the burning stick far from him, where it lands in....more on that later.

Malcolm, who has stepped on a cactus, finds himself bonding with Anita (Rosanna Arquette), the female shaman who tends to his wound. They bond, and there's even an implication that he may have lost his virginity with her. But free spirit that she is, she can't commit to Malcolm because of his cynical ways. When he drops those and willingly participates in one of her "rebirthing" ceremonies, Anita flatly rejects him for being too "malleable" instead. The newly "rebirthed" Malcolm can only lament that his new life is even crappier than the old one.

Lois, who is somewhat underused this time around, has also taken wholeheartedly to the proceedings and eventually comes riding proudly with the "Trumpet Strumpets," a group of topless, bugle-blowing babes who take the festival by storm. Alongside her is young Jamie, now adorned with modern art tattoos and tassles. Hal, crazed by the gawking spectators at his "performance art," is ready to pack up and leave, and so is dishevelled Dewey, who has been forced to do all the dirty work to keep the RV pristine. A broken-hearted Malcolm shows up just in time....

Just in time to see Reese's thrown burning torch land badly inside the motor home, igniting a bucket of cleaning supplies and quickly sending the entire RV up into flames. The crowd loves it. The family....different story. Shortly after, they're back home, surmising the experience. Both Reese and Lois are sold on Burning Man for a next-year visit, while Malcolm is indifferent. Hal's assessment is a thumbs-down, which is shared by Dewey, who must now help him dig a new septic tank for his boss--after they relocate the pet cemetery, course. It's an ongoing apology for the motor home incident. But they should be home by dawn, Hal estimates. Hell, at least he's not fired again.

There's enough socio-political commentary in "Burning Man" to keep it on track with recent seasons, but director Peter Lauer retains enough deft comic turns to the absurd that remind us where the show started. It's telling that Linwood Boomer now takes the credit "Creative Consultant." With such a strong season as the sixth one on its heels, there's no reason that to suggest that the creativity for Season Seven has stopped "burning, man." Okay, that was kind of lame, but you know what I'm getting at. "Burning Man" sizzles with comic spark.

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