Season 04, Episode 01
Air date November 3, 2002
Episode Guide

Zoo is the first episode of the fourth season of Malcolm in the Middle, which was broadcast on November 3, 2002.


Malcolm is depressed, and the family goes to the zoo. Reese battles a goat, while Malcolm and Dewey end up in a tiger pit. Francis and Piama's road trip across America results in them meeting a German couple named Otto and Gretchen who offer Francis a job at their dude ranch. Lois' ex-boyfriend (Tim DeKay) puts a tarantula on Hal and reveals to him how many boyfriends Lois actually had.


Lois comes into the boys room and finds Malcolm sulking under his covers having spent his entire summer depressed convinced that life is pointless. Lois claims he needs to stop since he has been alienated from the world so long Hal has thought they sent Malcolm to camp. Lois tries to reassure Malcolm that every teenager goes through this phase, then tells him to get dressed as they are going to the zoo. Malcolm asks why they are going to go stare at pathetic caged animals and fat suburban yahoos pointing and laughing at them, Lois says she has a coupon.

In the kitchen, Dewey asks Reese what the zoo is like since he has never been there before, Reese is also unsure because he has never been to the zoo when it is open. The zoo tickets, it turns out, were gifts from Lois' old boyfriend Matt, who now runs an exotic rain forest exhibit there. Lois telling Hal tha it has been 20 years and can't believe Hal is still jealous, Hal claims he isn' then a series of flashbacks showing how easily jealous he gets: such as seeing off a gas fitter for wearing shorts that are too short, breaking to tears over a Tom Cruise movie he and Lois went to, and even when she was breastfeeding Francis as a newborn. Hal then receives a phone call from Francis who him and Piama's car has broken down ever since leaving Alaska in the last season finale. Francis attempts to get some money from Hal but fails.

The family arrives at the zoo and Malcolm remains depresse, asking if he can wait in the car since it's technically still at the zoo. Lois refuses and puts him in charge of Dewey for the day since he is so committed to being miserable.

Meanwhile, Dewey has come a long way from the cartoon-addicted imp of the early days, with Erik Per Sullivan now displaying a healthy command of his character as perhaps the wisest of the four brothers, especially when he and Malcolm take a tumble into a perilous tigers' den in this tale. A grumpy Malcolm whose worried about his own well being and now in a state of near-panic. Dewey calmly keeps him at bay as the carnivorous beasts close in. Reese antagonizes a goat, who gets revenge by chasing the lad around the zoo for the majority of the outing. Reese tries hiding From The goat but it manages to find him, Reese out of love for his brothers defeats the Marauding goat by hurling him into to the tiger pit resulting in distracting the tigers long enough for the workers to rescue Malcolm and Dewey.

With their '74 Cadillac broke down at a dusty, mountainesque gas station, he and Piama are down to their last five bucks when a jovial German couple, Otto and Gretchen, befriend them. After a short conversation, Francis is offered a job as a foreman at their nearby dude ranch, despite his inexperience with horses. That doesn't seem to bother his new employers, who cheerfully set them up with decorative living quarters free of charge. Piama is greatful for their hospitality and settles herself in. The key to Francis' maturation comes after Otto introduces him to cowboy Zeke, who appears to be a weathered ranch-hand. Once Otto is out of earshot, Zeke reveals to Francis that he's not a real cowboy, and his real name is Murray, telling him that the job is a goldmine where no one does a lick of work but everyone still receives generous pay. It's easy to take advantage of the kindly Germans, as long as the employees watch each other's backs. However, Francis refuses to let Otto be played for a fool after he was kind in giving him a steady job and tells Murray that he's fired. In the end, he truly shed his delinquent value system, especially as he amateurishly helps a cow give birth during the concluding shot.

In the midst of these proceedings, Hal and Lois have a nicely-written subplot of their own which can't help but be obscured by the other proceedings. The highlight comes when Matt's pet Tarantula is loosed upon Hal's body for a public demonstration of the spider's inherent gentle nature....which means the arachnid inexplicably bites Hal on the face. And after Matt's brief mention that there was at least one other suitor for Lois' hand while she was dating him and Hal, he confronts her with this new information. Hence, the two argue and then make up before a growing (not to mention 'oooh-ing and ahhh-ing') audience of onlooking zoo-goers, with the hilarious sight-gag of Hal's bulging facial spider bite taking center stage during the heated exchange. Lois then berates Matt for humiliating her and making Hal jealous. When he attempted to defend himself, she points out that their relationship was a mistake and that Matt was too conniving for her taste.

At breakfast the next morning, Malcolm promises to be a better person ever since the zoo he has had a new outlook on life. This is short-lived however since he suddenly wonders why he and he alone has to learn lessons the hard way. Then coming to the realization that the universe thinks the only way to make him appreciate life is by almost killing him in the process. Malcolm concludes that life sucks and goes back to bed regressing into his apathetic state.


  • The show's opening theme is modified, replacing some of the season one scenes with scenes from seasons 2 and 3. This opening is used for the remainder of the series, (with the exceptions of shortened openings, which only have the ending "Life is Unfair" riff).
  • Following the events of Francis and Piama losing their jobs as loggers and leaving Alaska in Monkey. This episode features them, ending up in a Western area, where they get new jobs at a cattle ranch, working for an extremely nice German couple.
  • First appearances of Otto and Gretchen Mannkusser.


  • In one shot of Reese wrestling the goat, you can clearly see that it's a stuffed animal.
  • When Reese is hiding in the bathroom from the goat, he opens the stall door and sees the goat and both his hands are away from the door, but in the next shot, his left hand is on the stall door.
  • Whilst standing in the tiger enclosure, Malcolm's shirt changes several times from scene to scene.