Illustration by Shelly Freund of Malcolm in the Middle cast members
"Malcolm in the Middle" still holds up, today and everyday. (Illustration by Shelly Freund, Elon University)

‘Malcolm in the Middle’ Was Perfect for the 2000s — and 2020

As the sitcom celebrates turning 20 years old, we look back on what made the show so captivating — and why it’s still a delight to watch.

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Illustration by Shelly Freund of Malcolm in the Middle cast members

As the sitcom celebrates turning 20 years old, we look back on what made the show so captivating — and why it’s still a delight to watch.

2020 marks 20 years since “Malcolm in the Middle” first graced television screens. Some may be wondering what’s so special about a seven-seasoned, early 2000s, family sitcom starring a pretentious young boy and his dysfunctional family. I’m here to say there is a lot that grounds the show as a staple of 2000s television.

Warning: Some spoilers ahead.

The Dysfunctional Family

For readers who may have been too young to watch, or are simply unfamiliar with the premise, “Malcolm in the Middle” stars Frankie Muniz as Malcolm, the genius middle child of a less than functional family. Much to his dismay, Malcolm is placed in the gifted class at school; but even with his brains, Malcolm always finds his way into trouble along with his brothers.

The oldest child of the family is Francis, played by Christopher Masterson, who was sent away to military school prior to the events of the series. Many episodes follow his adventures while trying to escape the rules of the school’s Commandant Spangler. Francis’ storylines are easily some of the funniest in the earlier seasons of the show.

Reese, played by Justin Berfield, is two years older than Malcolm and serves as the most inept troublemaker of all. He is presented as a bully who relies on violence but consequently has few friends. Later in the series, it is revealed he is a rather talented chef.

The youngest child for the first four seasons is Dewey, played by Erik Per Sullivan. Dewey is the most unlike his other brothers. While he does engage in some troublemaking activities, he is less likely to cause the same amount of mayhem as Malcolm, Reese and Francis.

Later on in the show, a fifth brother Jamie is added to the clan, played by Lukas and James Rodriguez. Since Jamie is born in the Season 4 finale, he doesn’t have much of a role in the show. Even still, the limited episodes with Jamie storylines prove he will be just as much trouble as his older brothers.

Lois, played by Jane Kaczmarek, and Hal, played by Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad” fame, are the parents of the bunch. Lois is characterized by her strict rules and unwavering difficult attitude while dealing with her sons. Meanwhile, Hal is more laid back, downright goofy and sometimes incompetent.

The viewer never knows quite what to expect when their personalities are brought together, and every episode brings a unique twist to the daily life of the family.

A More Realistic Working-Class Family

Typically, sitcom families live in a big house. Zany antics ensue, and the characters mostly spend time navigating the consequences of their actions. Day-to-day struggles are kept relatable, but not too realistic.

“Malcolm in the Middle” subverts sitcom expectations by showing how a real working-class family might actually live. Smaller details, like the brothers having to share a bed or Hal and Lois constantly worrying about money, make the show more realistic.

Because the show is grounded in a certain realism, some of the plots can dip into the more fantastical and unbelievable. For example, in a Season 5 episode, Hal must defend himself in court. He demonstrates his innocence by proving that he hasn’t gone to work on a Friday in 15 years. What other sitcom could come up with the same solution and have it be 100% believable?

Another factor that makes the series memorable is the heart it shows for its characters. Growing up, I never saw another pair of sitcom parents who loved each other as much as Hal and Lois.

In one of my favorite episodes of the entire show, the family attends a reunion hosted by Hal’s dad. During the episode, the viewer begins to understand that Hal’s sisters seriously dislike Lois so much, they sabotage a family portrait so she wouldn’t be in the picture. Upon the revelation of being left out, Lois storms up to the bathroom with her family following close behind, as a rousing march plays in the background.

When Lois makes it to the bathroom, she slams the door and cries. Francis, Reese, Malcolm and Dewey then turn around and walk out with determination. The boys then wreak havoc to avenge their mother because, when push comes to shove, the boys are unmatched in showing their dedication to the family.

A Zoom Reunion

Recently, the cast of “Malcolm in the Middle” reunited on a Zoom call announced by Cranston on his social media accounts. The Zoom call was organized by the series creator Linwood Boomer to benefit his charity, Healing California. Boomer’s organization provides free dental, medical and vision care to those in need. On the call, the cast did a read-through of the pilot episode.

As of right now, no videos of the Zoom call have been uploaded, but pictures of the event can be found on Reddit. The series itself is available to stream on Hulu and Amazon Prime.

“Malcolm in the Middle” is Worth Watching

Whether this is your first time hearing of the show or you’re the most dedicated fan, “Malcolm in the Middle” is something worth watching to feel good in 2020.

If my word isn’t enough, here is Cranston’s recommendation in a 2011 interview: “It’s just good story telling. It’s funny, but it’s also poignant. It has heart, but then it goes absolutely insane. I truly believe ’Malcolm’ is one of those rare shows that make people laugh and feel good. It’s honest.”

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