Malcolm in the Middle episode
Episode no.Season 2
Episode 20
Directed byTodd Holland
Written byAlex Reid
Production code06-00-223
Original air dateApril 1, 2001 (2001-04-01)
Episode chronology
← Previous
"Tutoring Reese"
Next →
"Malcolm vs. Reese"
List of episodes

"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 going to a bowling party. Dewey is grounded for killing a neighbor's parakeet, and must stay home. When Lois and Hal are asked who will drive Malcolm and Reese, the screen splits, with Lois offering to take them on one side, and Hal offering on the other. From this point forward, the episode alternates between the realities in which each parent drives.

When Lois takes the boys, she only has enough money for one pair of shoes and makes them share. Right away, both Malcolm and Reese notice a pretty girl named Beth (Alex McKenna) at the party. Lois soon learns that there are no adults chaperoning, then decides to stay and chaperone it herself. Reese impresses Beth, but is repeatedly interrupted before he can tell her a joke. Malcolm does terribly at bowling, and Lois' overbearing encouragement only makes the ridiculing worse. When he finally stands up to her, he only embarrasses himself. Beth finds Malcolm's courage endearing and kisses him, but Lois breaks it up and takes everyone home. Meanwhile, Dewey tricks Hal into reading him a bedtime story, which puts Hal to sleep. Free to do whatever he wants, Dewey orders pizza and watches R-rated movies.

When Hal drives the boys, he buys two pairs of shoes, having stolen money from Lois' wallet, and sends them off while he takes a lane to himself. Reese's joke disgusts Beth, but Malcolm does well at bowling and Beth is impressed with him. Reese, jealous, tries to throw a bowling ball at Malcolm. He misses and hits a large man, who furiously chases him. Hal makes a strike and attempts a perfect game by repeating his actions before the strike. Malcolm leads Beth behind the pinsetter machines to make out, but his shirt catches in a pinsetter. He tumbles into Hal's lane, ruining the perfect game. Hal takes Malcolm to the car and orders Reese to come out of hiding in the photo booth. The large man notices Reese and beats him up. Meanwhile, Dewey cannot fool Lois, but when he appears to give up, she suspects he is plotting something. Eventually, Lois lets Dewey watch television, but only something he cannot enjoy: C-SPAN. Neither is sure who won.

In the end, both realities are again shown side-by-side, with Hal and Lois simultaneously coming home and saying to their spouse: "Next time, you take them."

Cultural references

The episode's plot serves as a parody of Sliding Doors, in which two different timelines with the same characters are explored.[1] The X-Files had previously done a similar episode, and Dan Harmon used this episode for inspiration of the Community episode "Remedial Chaos Theory".[1]


"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.[2] 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.[2] She went on to praise Jane Kaczmarek and Bryan Cranston's performance in the episode.[2]

In 2009, TV Guide ranked this episode #90 on its list of the 100 Greatest Episodes.[3]


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.[4] Frankie Muniz was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for this episode.


  1. ^ a b VanDerWerff, Emily (June 10, 2011). "Dan Harmon walks us through Community's second season". The A.V. Club. Retrieved November 21, 2011.
  2. ^ a b c 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.
  3. ^ "TV Guide's Top 100 Episodes". Rev/Views. Archived from the original on June 22, 2009. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
  4. ^ "Malcolm in the Middle (2000–2006) Awards". IMDb. Retrieved 26 April 2016.