Binge Watchin' TV Review: Malcolm in the Middle
Welcome to Binge Watchin,’ where we take a look at some of the best TV shows available on streaming or disc that have a great catalogue of seasons to jump into and get sucked into the beautiful bliss of binge watching! From crime, action, comedy, drama, animation, etc., we’ll be evaluating an assortment of shows that will hopefully serve as a gateway to your next binge experience.
Series: Malcolm in the MIddle
Number of Seasons: 7 (151 episodes)
What’s the show about?
Following the exploits of Malcolm Wilkerson, a pre-teen with a genius IQ, who lives with his parents and four siblings who all view the world entirely differently than he does. Matriarch Lois is stubborn and prone to anger, father Hal is a goof who is a kid at heart and often seen in nothing but his underwear. Older sibling Francis is often not at home, either at military school or with his eventual wife. Second sibling Reese is a troublemaker and the polar opposite of Malcolm in terms of intelligence. The youngest sibling, until the birth of Jamie mid-series, is Dewey who is precocious and melds elements of all of his brothers. The series chronicles the ups and downs of this family who are often viewed by their neighbors as weird or the black sheep of the neighborhood, but Malcolm's clan often proves them absolutely right.
Why should I watch it?
We take for granted how recently the trend changed on network television from presenting sitcoms as multi-camera productions shot on video with studio audiences and/or laugh tracks piped in rather than single-camera productions shot on film without that canned laughter piped over the audio. Long before The Office became a hit on our shores, FOX's Malcolm in the Middle helped usher in this more cinematic take on TV comedy and changed the landscape for the better. Lasting for seven seasons, a rare feat for most comedies these days, Malcolm in the Middle brought a unique and less than glamorous clan of characters who would go on to become one of the most iconic families in broadcast history.
Centered on Malcolm, the show gave us a look at a less than average family that struggled to make ends meet financially while dealing with the titular son who clearly was on track for bigger and better things. While Malcolm himself would get into his fair share of conundrums and humorous situations, he also served as our gateway into this crazy family thanks to his breaking of the fourth wall to speak with the audience about what was going on in his life. Like a less vulgar Deadpool, Malcolm would comment and criticize his parents and siblings but not be able to change the course of what was happening. This very meta plot device was very effective in bringing us into the story much in the way Frank Underwood did on House of Cards. But, what really makes Malcolm in the Middle worth watching is the wide ensemble cast. While this may be about Malcolm, every character in his family are worthy of acclaim, especially his parents. Jane Kaszmarek was brilliant as the volatile Lois and future Breaking Bad legend Bryan Cranston showed his depth in playing patriarch Hal as a lovable loser and idiot.
Over the seven years of the show, we watched as the children all grew up, something rarely accomplished on sitcoms due to cancellation or cast changes, but this show managed to develop every member of the family instead of keeping them as two-dimensional characters. Even friends and characters introduced at the various schools were brilliantly written creations, especially Cloris Leachman as Grandma Ida. While the show would often struggle with delivering a network season of 22 episodes worth of original stories, there are very few missteps along the way to tarnish what is otherwise one of the best family sitcoms of all time.
The first season of Malcolm in the Middle remains the best as it introduced the family and setup six more years worth of hijinks, but it was also the time spent with Francis at his military school with Daniel Von Bargen as the eyepatch and hook-hand wearing commandant Edwin Spangler. Season one also managed to feel the most innocent of the entire series and was before the writers really let loose with surreal and bizarre story arcs for the characters which made the show begin to feel like a live action Simpsons. Still, there are no bad episodes during the entirety of the freshman run. If you only watch a few episodes, make them the pilot, "Stock Cars Races" and "Home Alone 4".
The true sign of a brilliant series is the ability to drop into any episode and be able to understand the context of the show. Malcolm in the Middle benefits from every episode serving well as a standalone story while also fitting into a series-arching narrative that develops every character into a mult-layered and original creation. This is a brilliant show that is rivaled by very few shows in all of television history and has introduced current hits and similar series like The Middle and The Goldbergs. Plus, there is that great fan theory that this show may be connected to Breaking Bad. I will let you Google that yourselves.