It’s been over a decade since Malcolm in the Middle first started airing, and for a lot of programmes, that kind of length of time is enough to make it seem more than a little dated. Malcolm in the Middle is not one of those shows. Its characters, storylines, and dialogue are just as hilarious as I remember, and I have the added benefit now of getting the jokes put in for the adults. The show has become somewhat iconic, with They Might Be Giants’ opening credits song readily singable by a generation, and for good reason.
Frankie Muniz stars as the young Malcolm, who is discovered in the pilot episode to be something of a genius, with an IQ of 165 at the age of 12. He’s moved from his regular class into the school’s gifted class, becoming a ‘Krelboyne’ in the process, and consequently labelled a nerd.
His brothers, Francis (Christopher Masterson), Reese (Justin Berfield), and Dewey (Erik Per Sullivan), are always there to keep things entertaining – though the oldest, Francis, has been shipped off to military school for all the havoc he’s wreaked – with all four children incapable of making life easy for their parents, Hal (Bryan Cranston) and Lois (Jane Kaczmarek).
The dysfunctional family setup is one that has been plenty of times on the small screen, but rarely does it work quite so well as it does here – the only memorable exception in the years since Malcolm in the Middle came to an end is, of course, Modern Family.
And one of the reasons that it does work so well is that they’re not afraid to try things to do things a little differently – the fourth-wall break, for example, isn’t seen on TV that much, but Malcolm addressing the camera works like a charm, and it’s things like that that make the programme as good as it is.
The 12-rating of the first season is enough to prove it’s not just for kids, or even aimed specifically for a young audience; there’s just as much entertainment to be found for older audiences as there is for younger ones.
Craig Lamar Taylor gives a terrific performance as Malcolm’s best friend, Stevie, who uses a wheelchair and has a (fictional, according to the commentary track) condition that allows him to speak only a few words at a time without pausing for breath.
Likewise, Daniel von Bargen is absolutely brilliant as Francis’ military academy leader, Commandant Spangler, the vindictive disciplinarian who cracks down hard on Francis for all his shenanigans.
But of course, the real credit is due to the family – whose surname, it strikes me now, is never known – for giving inconceivably brilliant performances as though they were a real family. The magic here is that we never feel like they’re acting, which is a very hard thing to find amongst child actors. The jokes always hit the right notes, the beats are always timed to perfection, and the plots are always the perfect fit for the twenty-minute episode without ever feeling procedural.
I’ve gone back and watched a handful of shows I used to watch when I was younger, but this has by far been the best goldmine to rediscover. Getting to Bryan Cranston once more in his earlier comic days has been utterly entertaining. All I can say is: roll on season two.
With plenty of commentaries on episodes and scenes through the season, as well as bloopers, a gag reel, featurettes, deleted scenes, and alternate openings, there’s something here for everyone.
My only slight issue with the DVD is the navigation of the menus, which features the same snippet of footage between selecting the episode name you want to watch, and then pressing play on the subsequent screen. But it’s a minor issue, that is fairly easy to forgive.
- Extended Pilot (a few extra snippets of footage, but nice to see nonetheless)
- Commentaries on selected scenes/episodes
- Malcolm Vision – Widescreen Bloopers
- Season 1 Gag Reel
- Four Alternate Show Openings
- Four Deleted Scenes
- ‘A Stroke of Genius’ Featurette
- ‘Dewey’s Day Job – A Portrait of Erik Per Sullivan’ Featurette
- Season 1 Promotional TV Spots
- ‘Behind the Middle’ Behind the Scenes preview of Season 2
Malcolm in the Middle Season 1 is currently available on DVD.
Seasons 2-7 will be released individually throughout the rest of the year, with a Seasons 1-7 Box Set due to be released on DVD and Blu-ray at the start of the New Year.