When it was originally on: 2000-2006
Original network: Fox
Where you can stream it now: Hulu
Had I seen it before: I remember watching this show a lot as a kid, but I’ve never made any kind of attempt to watch the whole series in order. I honestly am not sure if I’d seen the pilot or not.
What IMDb says: A gifted young teen tries to survive life with his dimwitted, dysfunctional family.
Why I picked it: Malcolm in the Middle is a reasonably popular show that I think most of us have very fond memories of. And yet, if you ask people to name a great sitcom of the 2000s, I kind of doubt that most people would think of Malcolm in the Middle off the top of their head. I never hear about people binging it the way I hear about people binging The Office or Friends or Parks and Recreation. But I remember watching a lot of it, and I remember quite enjoying it, so I’m curious to see if there’s any reason why it didn’t stand the test of time the same way.
Malcolm in the Middle is also one of the first sitcoms to popularize the single camera format over the muti-cam format. This is a trend we tend to associate with shows from later in the ’00s, but Malcolm in the Middle was doing it when Friends and Frasier were still ruling the airwaves.
What I liked: First and foremost, this one is just plain funny. The cast is absolutely fantastic and has great comedic chemistry together. And yet, the comedy seems surprisingly realistic. This is neither a family sitcom that wields Full House corniness nor a Married With Children dysfunction for the sake of dysfunction. It hits a nice sweet spot in the middle that makes it easy for virtually anyone to watch the show and be reminded of their own family.
There’s also a really good balance between establishing this family’s day-to-day life while also introducing new curveballs to be dealt with in future episodes. We understand what kind of a kid Malcolm is and his usual life challenges: fighting with his brothers, dealing a school bully with a mother who doesn’t understand, so on and so forth. But by the end of the episode, Malcolm has a new challenge on his plate: he’s gotten into his school’s gifted and talented program. This inevitably is going to change the dynamic he has with his brothers and the other kids at school.
Another new element is the introduction of Stevie, who goes on to become Malcolm’s best friend throughout the series. So many sitcoms have a best friend character, and oftentimes we just get a simple “this is _______ my best friend.” And usually, that’s enough for me. But it was actually really fun to seen an origin story of how Malcolm and Stevie got so close. It’s a story that explains their bond, while still allowing them to be the antisocial nerd archetypes they’ll continue to be for the rest of the series.
What I didn’t like: A few of the characters fell pretty flat for me, and the most glaring example of this is Reese. I understand Malcolm. I understand Francis. Dewey doesn’t have too much of a personality outside of being in first grade, but he gets a pass because again, he’s in first grade and sometimes it’s enough for a cute sitcom kid to just be a sitcom kid. But I don’t really understand what’s setting Reese apart from the other brothers. I know in later episodes they make him comically stupid to play as a foil to Malcolm, but we haven’t gotten there yet so I just don’t really see how Reese fits into the puzzle right now.
Hal also doesn’t really get that much to do either. He seems nice and funny enough, but I still don’t really know much about who he is as a person or as a father. While Lois gets moments to interact with other characters while Hal’s not around, Hal’s scenes are mostly limited to family dinners where he almost just functions as an extension of Lois. Granted, this does reveal something about his character too. He’s not the strong assertive personality that Lois is, and that comes off here. Unfortunately, he’s not really much of anything else either.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Yes! It’s a fun show with a great pilot that I know only gets better as its series progress. I could definitely see myself binging it when I need a good comedy that doesn’t require a lot of mental energy.