Episode Title: "Children of the Corns"
Production Code: 1102
Reviewed By: Nitzan Gilkis
Rating: 7/10

   For all its unevenness and general mediocrity, season 11 actually got off to a very promising start, with five of the first six episodes produced* being strong, solid affairs. Then the production blunders began, the show fell heavily behind schedule and the writing level inevitably deteriorated (and the rest, as they say, is history). But for a while at least it seemed that Columbia's decision to replace almost the entire production staff and hire four new unexperienced writing pairs was proving itself and bringing a new freshness to the show.

Al: Big day today, Peg! I'm getting a raise!
Al, you haven't had a raise since our honeymoon. And even that was below minimum.

Betty and Moronica in action

*pop* *pop*

   "Children of the Corns", the MWC debut of Matthew Berry and Eric Abrams (one of the aforementioned writing pairs), shows they have a good knack for gags, but their storytelling needs polishing. The main storyline is an obvious spoof on Kathie Lee Gifford's then-recent child labor scandal, that was probably built around Gary's almost word-for-word copy of Gifford's famous "You can say I'm ugly..." speech (a rare - and very welcome -  bit of late-MWC satire) but has enough twists thrown in to justify its existance. The sweat shop scene in particular - with Al's failed attempts at getting Bob Thompson (remember him as an exterminator in season two? He sure went places... *g*) to incriminate himself on wire, and David Faustino's trademark screams - stands up well to repeat viewing, and the use of double-meanings with regards to Gary's facial and later Al's deficient performance in bed is brilliant. Al's wage as a plot device is hardly new ("Raingirl", for example), and the Al's-plan-blows-up-in-his-face ending even less so, but somehow that doesn't really seem to matter; however, the script is not without its faults. For one thing, both Al and Gary are rather out of character in their interaction here: there's no way Al would've let himself poke fun at his boss like that in seasons nine or ten, and Gary's almost complete lack of reaction is even stranger. I would've also expected a stronger response from her to discovering Griff and Al "working hard" with the customers locked out of the store (hee). Another problem is with the pacing: I'm all for a fast-moving story, but some of the scenes are too well-paced, moving along at an almost frantic gait. That especially holds true for Gary getting busted, which lasts about two minutes from start to finish, including the speech and Miranda's (final) cameo - it just feels like everything happens too quickly. And one final quip about this storyline: why did Al and Jefferson boast about blackmailing Gary in the presence of the wives in the first place? Didn't they know Marcy would have to take action? And why is Peggy ashamed of Al? She sure didn't seem to care when he was accused of stealing a million dollars in "If I Were A Richman", or did other illegal stuff in the past...

Peggy: Well, honey, actually, uh, Timmy Turtle had a terrible disease and we decided to freeze him until we could find a cure.
Kelly: He has no head, Mom!
Peggy: Well, that was his disease.
Kelly: Well, do they have a cure for that yet?
Bud: Oh, when they find a cure for that, you'll be the first to know.

Miranda makes her final appearance

"What kind of trashy tramp would wear these?"

   The main story is good, but it is in fact the microwave b-plot that's responsible for most of the episode's highlights. The "2001" take-off at the beginning is a fine example of the fresh ideas brought to the show by the new writers (others include the ER-style filming in 1107 and the whole "Cops" plotline in 1106), and it only gets better from there. Lots of great surprises, like "Ahh!! Timmy!!" (he must've been keeping Freddie company in the fridge ^^), Peggy measuring Bud's head and the closet/elevator gags, and even some good Kellyisms that are triggered by the female Bundys' hilarious misconception of what a microwave does ("I wonder which one it will be" after pressing 'lamb, pork or veal' had me on the floor), although it's a bit weird to have Peggy chime in to the dullard-fest. The b-plot is also responsible for the episode's two biggest lamers - Kelly's "I think we're going back in time" and Marcy's "I'll just keep it simple: you're a shoe salesman", which are among the weakest lines the show has known. Oh well, I guess you can't expect two newbies to write like total pros from day one...

Al: Mmm mmm mmm. Something smells good.
Peggy: Gee, Al, I saw that on Oprah. Smelling things that aren't really there is the first sign of a brain tumor.
Al: Gee, Peg, I thought that watching Oprah was the first sign of a brain tumor.

"This isn't the closet, this is the, uh... *ding* ...the elevator!"

   All in all, a somewhat bumpy but generally enjoyable ride.

- I'm not particularly fond of "Crimes Against Obesity" (1105)