|Malcolm in the Middle episode|
|Episode no.||Season 2|
|Directed by||Todd Holland|
|Written by||Alex Reid|
|Original air date||April 1, 2001|
"Bowling" is the twentieth episode of the second season of the American comedy television series Malcolm in the Middle and the show's 36th episode overall. The episode originally aired on Fox in the United States on April 1, 2001. The episode was written by Alex Reid and was directed by Todd Holland. The plot serves as a parody of the 1998 film Sliding Doors.
"Bowling" has received positive reviews from critics since airing. Reid and Holland later received Emmy Awards for their work on the episode.
Malcolm and Reese are getting ready to go to a friend's bowling party, but need to be driven there by Lois or Hal. Dewey is being punished for killing a neighbor's parakeet, and one parent must stay home with him. When Lois and Hal are asked who will take Malcolm and Reese, the screen splits, with Hal offering to take them on one side, and Lois offering on the other. From this point forward, the episode alternates between the two realities: one in which Lois takes Malcolm and Reese while Hal stays home with Dewey, and another in which Hal drives Malcolm and Reese while Lois stays home.
When Lois takes Malcolm and Reese, she warns the boys to behave themselves if they want to avoid spending one of their evenings at the laundromat and embarrassing their family by earning them another ban from a public place. They immediately arrive at the bowling alley. However when she tries to buy two pairs of shoes, she only has enough money for one pair of shoes and forces them to share. Right away, both Malcolm and Reese notice a pretty girl named Beth (Alex McKenna) at the party, whom they assumed was responsible for getting Mr. Thomas fired. Lois soon learns that there aren't any adults chaperoning the party and demands to know where their parents are. Much to the boys' dismay, she decides to stay and chaperone it herself. Reese impresses Beth, but is constantly interrupted by Lois just before he can tell her a joke. Malcolm is terrible at bowling, and is ridiculed when he gets a ball with "Connie" engraved on it. Lois' overbearing cheering isn't helping him in any way and only makes the ridiculing worse. When he finally stands up to her, he embarrasses himself and is further ridiculed, while Beth has had enough of Reese and her classmates. Malcolm gets a kiss from her, but Lois breaks it up and takes everyone home. Meanwhile, Dewey tricks Hal into reading him a bedtime story, which puts Hal to sleep. Now free to do whatever he wants, Dewey orders pizza and ends up watching R-rated movies on television.
In the alternate timeline in which Hal goes to the bowling alley, he and the boys get lost on their way there. At the bowling alley, Hal buys two pairs of shoes, having taken money from Lois' wallet, and sends the boys off for a good time, while he takes a lane to himself. Reese tries to impress Beth, but he immediately disgusts her by telling her a joke that involves spitting soda in her face and messing up her hair. Insulted, she walks away to try and recollect herself. Malcolm is great at bowling and Beth is impressed with him. A jealous Reese attempts to hit Malcolm by throwing a bowling ball at him. However, he misses and accidentally hits a large man who chases after him in frustration. A fearful Reese spends the rest of his evening hiding from the large man. Hal makes a strike and attempts a perfect game by repeating his actions (sipping his soda, putting his fly down) leading up to the strike, and he attracts a large supportive audience. Malcolm leads Beth to an area behind the pinsetter machines to make out but his shirt gets caught in a pinsetter and he tumbles into Hal's lane, knocking all the pins down just as Hal is about to win. With Hal's perfect game ruined, he picks up Malcolm and orders Reese out of the auto picture booth so they can leave. The large man finally finds Reese and beats him up inside the booth (while getting pictures of himself doing it). Meanwhile, Dewey discovers that he can't fool Lois, who is in control of the situation. When Dewey appears to have given up, she suspects he is up to something. Eventually, Lois allows Dewey to watch T.V., but only something he won't enjoy like C-SPAN, and neither is sure who won.
In the end, the two realities are shown side-by-side once again, with Hal and Lois simultaneously coming home and saying to their spouse: "Next time, you take them."
The episode's plot serves as a parody of Sliding Doors, in which two different timelines with the same characters are explored. The X-Files had previously done a similar episode and Dan Harmon used this episode for inspiration of the Community episode "Remedial Chaos Theory".
"Bowling" has received positive reviews from critics, since its airing. The episode was named among The A.V. Club's "best TV episodes of the decade" for series that weren't included in their top thirty television series of the decade. The A.V. Club reviewer Emily VanDerWerff praised the episode for its "wild stylistic innovations" and compared, both the series and episode, to The Simpsons. He went on to praise Jane Kaczmarek and Bryan Cranston's performance in the episode.
The episode won two Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Directing and Writing for a Comedy Series for Todd Holland and Alex Reid, respectively, in 2001. Leading on from this, Holland won the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Comedy Series in 2002. Frankie Muniz was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for this episode.
- VanDerWerff, Emily (June 10, 2011). "Dan Harmon walks us through Community's second season". The A.V. Club. Retrieved November 21, 2011.
- VanDerWerff, Emily (November 12, 2009). "The best TV episodes of the decade (from shows not on any of our other lists)". The A.V. Club. Retrieved March 11, 2012.
- "TV Guide's Top 100 Episodes". Rev/Views. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
- "Malcolm in the Middle (2000–2006) Awards". IMDb. Retrieved 26 April 2016.