Posted by: Paul | January 28, 2011

Malcolm in the Middle

Squeals of delight issued from the Paul household last week when Ali came across a particular trailer on Channel Five – spinoff channel FIVER are showing the entirety of Malcolm in the Middle, all seven series from start to finish on weeknights at 7.35pm, with no commercial breaks. Set those PVRs now! It started mid-January and has just entered season 2. Very important fact, that, as the only series available on DVD is the first (due to the apparently prohibitive costs of music rights clearance for DVD sales – the show used a ton of popular music).

Malcolm is, in my opinion, the most underrated TV comedy of recent years. Often brushed aside as ‘a kids show’, it’s anything but – and to be honest, letting your kids watch it might not be the best thing to do as a parent, there’s plenty of mischievious ideas on show that are best kept under wraps!

For the uninitiated, Malcolm is the story of bringing up boys in suburban America. Mathematically gifted Malcolm, the third child of four (later five) is moved into a high performers class at school, the denizens of which are delightfully nicknamed ‘Krelboynes’. Oldest brother Francis is the younger boys’ hero – such a tearaway he was packed off to military school, which he subsequently rules like a prison Fixer. Second eldest Reese substitutes intelligence for brutality, malevolence and a never-say-die attitude, while youngest Dewey lives in a strange internal world, where you wonder whether everything he sees is upside down or a different color. The show is chaotic, surreal, satirical of modern America, and so funny it’s hard to believe this is a US-made ‘family’ show (and NO laugh track). Occasionally, so unflinching is its portrayal of the American family struggling to make ends meet that it’s really quite touching.

Overseeing the fun is Mum Lois, a control freak so absolute that she could walk into traffic and glare it to a standstill. Played with tyrannical glee by Jane Kaczmarek, Lois has so much pent-up rage that threatens to boil over at any second, and is by turns feared, worshipped and unappreciated, carrying so much of the emotional and literal baggage for the family that she might aswell be a pack mule. Incidentally, Kaczmarek was married for 18 years to The West Wing’s Bradley Whitford, who appeared as a competitive Dad in conflict with Lois in a particularly funny episode of series 3.

But best of all is Bryan Cranston as Dad Hal. Cranston has found great acclaim recently in drug drama Breaking Bad, but to those of us with Malcolm in our hearts he will always be Hal – the show’s frustrated dreamer, a man so ineffectually idealistic that his own schemes are sometimes crazier than those of his kids. Hal is equally at home starting a fight with a group of clowns at a batting cage, rollerskating in a lyotard to Queen’s ‘We Are The Champions’, or being followed around by a group of bodybuilders who worship him like some weird messiah.

There are so many holes in the amount of shows I’ve seen that I’m looking forward to plugging all the gaps, most notably with series 2’s Emmy-winning, split-screen, ‘Bowling’ episode, which details the differing experiences the boys have when going bowling with Lois, versus doing so with Hal. If you’ve never seen it, then it’s as much fun to dip in and out of the odd episode as it is to follow the entire thing – but you won’t fully appreciate the little references and running gags. All I have to say is watch out for the hamster ball!

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