“Malcolm In The Middle” That Is!

Never watched the show when it was originally broadcast between 2000 and 2006.  I might have seen one or two episodes back in the early 2000’s as was the case with me and “The Golden Girls.”     It was, in fact, my curiosity about Bryan Cranston and his stellar performance in “Breaking Bad” that led me to “Malcolm” via a news article about Cranston’s acting career.   I thought I recalled that “Malcolm” was a comedy show and was curious about his performance there.  Both shows, “Breaking Bad” and “Malcolm” are a tribute to Cranston’s acting ability: no one could fault his Mr. White’s character as being hapless or bumbling just as no one could ever see Hal as the epitome of rationality and finely tuned decision making as father and husband. 

The contrast between Hapless Hal and Evil Mr. White could not be more artfully drawn and is a supreme testament to Bryan Cranston acting chops.  If you watch both shows in succession you wonder how it is that the bumbling, squirrelly, forever petrified, always wrong, Hal, can be so deftly transformed into the calculating, conniving, manipulative, soul destroying Mr. White.   Then, too, there’s Jane Krazniak, (Mother/Wife Lois) surely the uber-star of “Malcolm,” who plays a controlling, out of control, uber manipulative, screaming shrew of a Mom and yet for all her high pitched, blunderbussy, scatter gun approach to “guiding” her family, it’s done out of love.  No matter how horrifying.  She is brilliant as Lois.

Speaking of brilliant, I watched the last Malcolm episode last night and it, too, is brilliant.  Who knew that all the craziness in Malcolm’s family was planned, had a purpose and was not just futile attempt after attempt at “normalization.”   I won’t spoil it for you bit it’s one hell-of-a shocker!   I watched the pilot episode immediately after and was impressed how each of the characters had aged (particularly Dewey), matured to some degree (voices dropped, Stevie grew handsome) and yet the essential long term loony craziness was right there in the first episode.  Oh, and guys, Francis (Christopher Masterson) remained sexy and cute from beginning to end of the show’s award winning seven season run. 

Why am I in love with “Middle In The Middle”?  The easy answers are that the show is drop-dead hilarious, the acting is superb, the story lines are imaginative and there is a fundamental quirkiness about the characters, the plots, and the screw-ups that you won’t find anywhere else.  The characters – Malcolm as reluctant genius, Reese as inadvertent fuck-up, beguiling, lovable Dewey and military academy inmate, Francis, forever trying to match his mother Lois for manipulation and shaming but never quite succeeding, are all sharply etched with laser precision. 

But there’s something more and I’m not at all sure what it is.  In a way, Malcolm’s family is one that no one would choose to be a member of if we had a choice and yet, and yet………    Do we see in Malcolm’s never quite fitting in, Lois’s testicle-shrinking tirades which she sees as keeping her brood on the straight and narrow, father Hal forever trying to figure it all out and never succeeding, the tortured, whacked and predatory screwball familial relationships writ large and over the top but obscured by an overlay of comic relief and outrageous story lines, remind us of our own families?  Are the continual reconciliation attempts following one interpersonal disaster after another, the fundamental, if off-target, message “I do this out of love” and the intricately designed-for-failure revenge plots of the four brothers remind us of our own struggles to make sense of what seemed like a crazy, incomprehensible world?   Does “Malcolm In The Middle” bring back long-repressed memories of our attempts to navigate the treacherous shoals of our own family relationships? 

You Bet!!  But maybe not with quite as much humor. 



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