Episode Title: "The Unnatural"
Production Code: 0504
Reviewed By: Nitzan Gilkis
MWC's take on the "guy gets benched by his teammates, makes a forced comeback at the crucial game and saves the day" routine offers little innovation to this trite and hackneyed formula, and finds the show at its least inspired. Simply divided into three scenes - introducing the problem, voting Al out, and Al's return - and lacking any plot twists to speak of, "The Unnatural" is a mostly "no thrills, no surprises" package that winds up feeling like going through the motions and little more. Some creativity could certainly have helped...
Peggy: Al, when you were talking
about women, you didn't mean me, did you?
Al: I never do...
"I know it was little compared to the big out God called on you, but still it was worth dressing up like a Ninja Turtle"
The opening scene immediately brings up memories of season two's "How Do You Spell Revenge?"; but while there it was Peggy who was costing the New Market Mallers game after game, here it's Al the team wants to get rid of. Yep, you got it - another MWC InconsistencyTM, and one which certainly doesn't help the episode's credibility, since it's hard to believe there was such a sharp deterioration in Al's softball skills over such a short period of time (and such an improvement in Peggy's). Even us discrepancy-accustomed Bundy fans will find this a little hard to swallow... Marcy, still in her "spouseless era", gets included in the script here as an umpire in the Mallers' softball league, a role which (as was more often than not the case in these episodes) feels somewhat forced and artificial. She's given no good lines whatsoever and for the most part is downright annoying, especially with her "you're out!" cries towards the end of the scene. Jefferson, where art thou??
Al: I'm gonna go upstairs now and
take a shower.
Peggy: What? After only three ball games?
Al: Can't I take a shower without there being a reason?
"Al, you've gotta feel this"
The following vote scene is a bit of an improvement, actually having some lines worth quoting, but it's weighed down by Al's boring "stink, do I?" speech which fails to produce any laughs (except maybe the Mrs. Shephouse line), and the kids are too easily swayed into voting against their father IMO, given their strong initial resistance. Peggy's fascination with Sven is quite laughable, though... The game scene itself is utterly predictable, but luckily Ed O'Neill turns in a very good performance, perfectly portraying Al's emotions as they turn from hurt and dejection to gleeful wielding of his teammates once he is needed. His short but effective victory speech at its end - a takeoff on Lou Gehrig's famous farewell speech - is one of the episode's few highlights.
Al: Who's the guy with the
backpack shaped like my wife?
Smith: Your replacement.
Al: Oh good. That way I can concentrate more on baseball.
The Bundy choir
The episode's ending, a copy of a scene from the John Sayles movie "Eight Men Out", can only be described as bizarre. It's the only time I can remember the show doing parody just for parody's sake, without any intention of making the viewers laugh, and as such it feels quite out of place and unfitting. Could it be that the episode simply turned out to have too short a running time, and the writers needed some additional filler? Only explanation I can think of for this 'anomaly'... :-)
Kelly: You're still not getting my vote. Just like I wrote in my 4th grade essay: "Daddy good sleepy now".
Al is overjoyed at his team's success
To be fair, there are a few nice touches in the episode that make it almost watchable, like Al's overemotional reciting of the "Daddy" poem, or Peggy and the kids' anything-but-emotional recital. But all in all, "The Unnatural" ranks as possibly the weakest episode in an otherwise very entertaining season. Hardly worth your time if you ask me.