Malcolm In The Middle

2000 | United States

One of the better examples of how the traditional American nuclear family sitcom has been remodelled for a new century, Malcolm In The Middle centres on the title character (Frankie Muniz), the second-youngest of four boys who also happens to have a high IQ and is considered a gifted student.

Instead of being with normal kids at a normal school, Malcolm is stuck in a class for exceptional students (known as the Krelboynes) with other socially-challenged kids, including Stevie (Craig Lamar Taylor), Malcolm's African-American, wheelchair-bound, asthmatic best friend.

Malcolm's biggest problem is his family, which consists of younger brother Dewey (Erik Per Sullivan); older brother Reese (Justin Berfield); his no-nonsense and hot-tempered mom Lois (Jane Kaczmarek); his laid-back "Peter Pan" father Hal (Bryan Cranston). Also in the family is Malcolm's oldest brother Francis (Christopher Kennedy Masterson) who spent his first few seasons at a military academy before finding work in Alaska, marrying a girl of Inuit heritage, and working on a dude ranch.

The family lives in your typical messy and disorganized suburban home. Lois works at a chain drug store; Hal works in an office; nobody has time to clean. Unlike many of her sitcom mom predecessors, Lois seems to love disciplining her boys; making love to her husband; and living on the financial edge. Hal basically lets Lois do much of the disciplining; he's too soft on the boys. And Hal himself is a boy who never grew up emotionally. As a result, he usually ends up in the same doghouse with his sons. To a certain extent, he accepts his lot; as he reluctantly pointed out to Lois: "We've got you outnumbered five to one and we're still losing". Malcolm became more of a middle-man in the 2002-03 season, as Lois and Hal became parents again (prompted by Kaczmarek's real-life pregnancy).

On most episodes, Malcolm comments on the plot's action to viewers. It may be an overused gimmick on some shows, but the on-screen asides give "Malcolm" a context and dimension missing from many other family sitcoms. In a parody of the show (entitled "Malcontent In The Muddle"), "Mad" magazine--that wonderful barometer of American humour--came this line: "In real life, when a kid starts talking to somebody who's invisible, they jack up his dosage of Ritalin. On Fox, they gave me my own show!"

Malcolm In The Middle comes from the mind of Lynwood Boomer, a former actor on the drama Little House On The Prairie who later became a television writer and producer. In an interview with the "Philadelphia Daily News", Boomer admits many of "Malcolm's" situations are "from my old childhood, filtered through a lot of self-serving lies and distortions". That may be why we never know the last name of Malcolm and his family (although some websites list the last name as Wilkerson) or the town where they live, or even the boys' current ages. The last few seasons have had all the boys growing up. Muniz has seen the most physical and emotional changes; those changes were incorporated into the show.)

Boomer originally pitched the show to UPN; when the network passed on "Malcolm", it was picked up by Fox and premiered in January 2000. It was the second most-watched series premiere in Fox history at the time. "Malcolm's" quirky format and subject matter led to such failed copycats as NBC's Tucker and WB's Maybe It's Me.

The show's theme song "Boss Of Me" is performed each week by the group They Might Be Giants). And the lyrics probably best sum up the premise of Malcolm In The Middle: "You're not the boss of me now/And you're not so big/Life is unfair".

Published on January 2nd, 2019. Written by Mike Spadoni (2003) for Television Heaven.