Life is unfair.
It really is when you think about some of the families that children are born into. Thankfully, I grew up in the most loving and caring home I could ever dream of. Both my parents love, support and care for me. Whenever I need one of them, they are always there for me. That’s not always the case for some families and the family of Malcolm from the television show “Malcolm in the Middle” is one of those families.
Malcolm in the Middle was a comedy about a lower middle class family that takes place in a suburb of Oklahoma. Nothing official on Oklahoma but that’s the theory with the license plates and weather. The family has too many children, all boys and all trouble makers. The parents struggle to keep the family together as well as to finance it. The show ran for seven seasons from 2000-2006. I could always count on it to be on Fox after I got home from school in middle school and high school at around 4 PM.
The main cast is played by:
Malcolm – Frankie Muniz
Reese (second oldest brother) – Justin Berfield
Dewey (younger brother) – Erik Per Sullivan
Hal (Dad) – Bryan Cranston (Yes, before Breaking Bad)
Lois (Mom) – Jane Kaczmarek
Francis (Oldest brother) – Christopher Masterson
Malcolm’s family is that family in your neighborhood that you hear about. “Stay away from them”. They are poor, uneducated, thieves and they bully. Growing up, we all knew some family that was like that, they had way too many kids and all the kids were the same rude little bastards that were never given enough attention or care.
The main focus of Malcolm in the Middle revolves around Malcolm of course. He is a genius with an IQ of 165. But that doesn’t stop him from joining his family in acting stupid or just being a troubled kid. Malcolm is special and his family knows it but they don’t treat him any differently, in fact for the most part, Malcolm tries to hide his genius around family and friends in fear of being a bigger outcast then he already is in society, coming from such a dysfunctional family.
He is such a genius that he is put into a special learning group that is for gifted students. The show focuses less and less on his classmates as the show goes on but in the early seasons watching Malcolm interact with his other genius friends is good for a laugh. Malcolm likes girls and often struggles to get a girlfriend or keep one. Mostly because his family is so crazy, one of the members ruins it for him. His social interaction with people evolve as the show goes on as he just wants acceptance in society. He is gifted and cursed at the same time. Wanting to fit in with “normal” people but being held back by his genius and his family’s place in society.
While Malcolm is the main character the show doesn’t just revolve around him. Each one of his family members has quite a part in the show and each show progression as the seasons move forward.
Malcolm’s older brother Reese is a year or two older than Malcolm is. Malcolm start out at 11 when the show premieres so I’m guessing Reese is 13. If Malcolm has an IQ of 165, then Reese has an IQ of 65. He is basically a bully with no brain. Reese frequently fails his classes and flunks. He has no motivation for anything in life besides beating up his brothers and school kids. There isn’t much hope for Reese, although he does find a hobby in cooking.
Malcolm’s younger brother Dewey is around seven when the show starts. He gets beat up the most and picked on naturally but turns out to be the second genius of the family. Midway through the show’s series, it is discovered the Dewey is a genius in music and can compose classical music. He is afraid of leaving his friends behind and purposely fails his classes and acts as a different kind of special needs kid to avoid the harassment that Malcolm grew up with.
Malcolm’s oldest brother is Francis. He doesn’t live with the family and is seen as a legend in the eyes of his younger brothers. Francis goes through many stages throughout the show. After burning down his parents car, he is sent away to boot camp school. In the early seasons he is often seen calling home asking for money or being asked advice. In the middle seasons, Francis runs away from boot camp to Alaska to become a labor worker in the middle of nowhere. In the final seasons, Francis travels back toward Oklahoma and starts work on a ranch. I could watch any episode and figure out where the series was at by where Francis was located. Francis has serious mommy issues, and he and Lois are always at each other’s throats. Francis blames everything that has ever happened to him on his mom who never gave him enough attention due to the fact that she was always pregnant every other year after him.
One of my favorite characters in the show is Hal, the father of the family. Hal, is almost as clueless as Reese is but has a big heart for Lois and most of the time his boys. He is the softie of the parents where the boys often get away with just about anything under his watch. Most of the time he is obliviously to his surroundings often fantasizing about being somewhere else other than his house of chaos. Hal does anything Lois tells him too and generally tries to keep their marriage fun in the midst of their middle life crisis. Hal and Lois have another boy named Jamie in the middle seasons, but they don’t pay much attention to him. Literally. Some plots revolve around him wandering off on his own. So just as they don’t really acknowledge him, I don’t either because he is just a toddler and isn’t at the start of the series.
Now for the queen of the house, the mother Lois. If you think your mom is a control freak, a grumpy bitch or a know-it-all, she is nothing compared to Lois. She routinely goes out of her way to ruin the lives of her sons. I don’t exactly know why she does it, but she does. I don’t know if she is afraid that if they are successful, then they will leave her or if she generally is a grumpy woman with something stuck in her ass. But Jane Kaczmarek, the actress that plays her totally kills her performances. A great performer. I understand that she needs to act like a boot camp instructor in fear of her boys becoming more out of control but when she sabotages their relationships, dreams and goals. I question her mothering.
There are some other really great characters in the show like Lois’ mother who might be the devil and Malcolm’s friend Stevie who is a wheezing genius stuck in a wheel chair. When I started watching this show from beginning to end I soon realized there was no plot. Each episode was one chaotic problem within the family to another. Sure, characters evolve and progress. Reese joins the military for awhile, Dewey discovers music, Malcolm gets a part time job with his mom and Francis jumps all around America, but there is no central plot to the series. It’s all gags and laughs from episode to episode. I really can’t remember a sad or dramatic episode.
I remember thinking with about five episodes left in the series that something crazy was going to happen, that some plot was going to be revealed and that serious things would happen. I kept thinking that. It never happened. The series finale had somewhat of a dilemma. Finally, I thought something that was going to mean something. Malcolm is offered a dream job but his Lois turns it down for him. Furious, Malcolm becomes enrages and goes off on his mom. She calmly explains to him that the family fully expects him to become President of the United States, but that he needs to go to college and struggle so he can remember families like his own when he is President. The closing scenes show Malcolm at an Ivy league school, as a full time student and a part time janitor. Reese has no goals or ambitious but becomes the high school janitor and is thrilled about it. Dewey becomes the big brother that he never had for Jamie, he is dead set on Jamie having a happy childhood, the one he never got. Francis has moved on from the ranch and has found a 9-5 job that makes him happy but he pretends that he is still a failure to piss off Lois and finally Hal and Lois are shown in the bathroom, with a pregnancy test showing that they will be expecting another child.
Malcolm in the Middle was a good comedy. It showed the side of families that I never knew, I didn’t realize that families struggled like Malcolm’s did when I was growing up. But they do, more often than not. I gladly will watch the comedy of a struggling family then live it and that’s what Malcolm in the Middle gave us. While the show shed light on the struggles of a lower class family, I’m sure the reality of that is not as funny as the show portrays. Plenty of laughs, but no plot throughout the show bothered me a little bit. Overall, a good show about coming of age, fitting in, overcoming obstacles and surviving. I give it a 8.5/10.