Is Malcolm in the Middle the best sitcom of the early 2000s? Yes. No. Maybe. I don’t know. Can you repeat the question?
Malcolm in the Middle was, in many ways, a fairly typical sitcom. Set in suburbia and telling the story of a lower middle-class family, it seems on the surface to be a story told many times. Yet, it manages to stand out in the crowded sitcom world. The reason for this is just how well the programme handles the family dynamic.
The show does not portray family life as syrupy sweet and wholesome, as many sitcoms do, but neither is it overtly cynical. Instead, it shows us the true workings of a family: warts and all. We see love and care, but also frustration and anger. The brothers, Malcolm, Dewy, Reese, and Francis torment each other and their parents Hal and Lois constantly but, as soon as someone else hurts their family, they are instantly united against them.
This loving but dysfunctional relationship is exhibited best in the episode ‘Family Reunion’. Throughout the episode, Hal’s family constantly puts Lois down, leaves her out, and makes snide remarks towards her, eventually leading to the music swelling and her marching away. Everything in the episode leads the audience to believe that she is going to stand up for herself. Instead, however, we see a rare moment of vulnerability as she locks herself in her room in tears and, instead of Lois standing up for herself, her children stand up for her, ruining the reunion in the process. This episode tells us everything we need to know about this family: they often cannot stand each other, but, at the end of the day, they still love each other.
Aside from the amazingly honest portrayal of family life, Malcolm in the Middle is also masterful at comedic delivery, of many forms. Every episode from the pilot to the finale is packed with recurring gags, slapstick physical comedy, and ridiculous storylines, and the show never seems to run out of steam. Moments such as Hal teaching Malcolm to roller skate, Francis trying to eat 100 quacks in a sitting, and Reese stealing a car are just as brilliant in 2017 as they were in 2000.
It should also be noted that Bryan Cranston’s portrayal as Hal is infinitely funnier to watch if you bear in mind that he would later go on to play the drug lord Heisenberg in Breaking Bad. Watching him perform so fantastically in both comedic and dramatic roles is a true testament to his immense skill as an actor.
Image: Gage Skidmore @ Flickr