|Season 04, Episode 01|
|Air date||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.
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, who's had his ass on his shoulders for most of the episode, is now in a state of near-panic, while Dewey calmly keeps him at bay as the carnivorous beasts close in. And if one of the sons needs to remain static, it's Reese, and Justin Berfield makes sure his character does just that. Ever the bullying type, Reese antagonizes a goat, who gets revenge by chasing the lad around the zoo for the majority of the outing. As usual, Berfield underplays just right, and the results are brilliantly funny. Especially when, in a fit of desperation, Reese chucks the marauding goat into the tigers' den, distracting the animals 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. 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 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 Zeke off 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 zoo tickets, it turns out, were gifts from Lois' old boyfriend Matt, who now runs an exotic rain forest exhibit there. Thus far, we never knew that Hal had a jealous streak, but his interactions with Matt--plus a hilarious 'flashback' montage of jealousy-related vignettes from the past--bring to light this new wrinkle in his character. 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. In the end, Los tells Matt off that she loves Hal and there's nothing he can do to change her mind even when he tried to convince her to leave him.
- 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.