Once upon a time, there lived a little boy named Frankie Muniz. Frankie teamed up with another three lads; Justin Berfield, Erik Per Sullivan and Christopher Kennedy Masterson, and a high-profile actor, Bryan Cranston, and actress, Jane Kazmerek (well, sort of high profile, they did have numerous TV/Film credits before then), and thus was born one of the greatest American sitcoms to have ever existed, Malcolm In The Middle.
It’s ten years since Malcolm In The Middle ceased production and would you believe after all them years how grown up the youth actors are with Frankie turning 30 last year, Justin reaching his age a couple of months later. Hell, Erik has recently hit 25, so happy birthday to him for last week.
Also, there maybe a chance for a cast reunion later on (see this link for details: http://www.indiewire.com/2016/06/bryan-cranston-malcolm-in-the-middle-reunion-1201692100/). Oh and Bryan Cranston is to appear as Zordon in a new upcoming Power Rangers movie, so good luck to him.
In celebration to all them events, I shall observe what I personally regard as the top ten episodes of Malcolm In The Middle.
Home Alone 4 (1.3)
I suppose the producers had to name this episode that, considering how many Home Alone movies there were at the time. In this one, Francis comes home from military school to sort-of babysit his younger brothers, while Hal and Lois are attending a wedding. Looking after Malcolm, Reese and Dewey proves questionable for Francis, being that he is their older brother and not their parent. Plus, stereo-typically, the brothers are occasional slobs and as a result, the house is in a bit of a mess. However, when Francis’ old friends hear that he’s returned to the suburb, they decide to pay a visit and end up throwing a wild party.
As a result of the party, the house is over-trashed. Knowing that the parents, especially Lois, will kill the boys, especially Francis, because he’s been left in charge, the quartet set to cleaning up the house. This leads to one of the most amusing parts of this episode; they find that they’ve over-cleaned the house and thy know that the parents are more used to the boys not being that tidy. So they make a few alterations; you have Francis sprinkling scrabble pieces on one of the side tables, Dewey putting footprints on the wall, etc. But then Malcolm has an accident when he dirties the book shelf, causing it to break and injure his head.
Again, the boys attempt to keep out of trouble with their parents and need $400 to heal Malcolm’s injury. The price puts them in a much more awkward situation, because who could possibly help them besides their parents and if they find out, Francis may be harshly banished back to military school. Plus they’re away, so they can’t get the money in time. They even ask Malcolm’s teacher who’s passing by in the hospital. She initially refuses, so Francis comes with a backup plan, an emotional talk with Dewey, which then talks the teacher into helping them after all. And I have to say, I often get teary-eyed every time I see Francis telling Dewey that he may be back in the military academy forever, Dewey in tears and Francis feeling emotional himself.
The entire series is a coming-of-age tale, but Home Alone 4 is more than that. It’s an episode about taking mature responsibility.
Reese Drives (3.13)
Those who took driving tests in the past, think back to how you felt before you took your test and during your test. Reese Drives sees Reese taking his very first driving test. Before then, he tries to stay calm and ensure he focuses. This, I can so relate to. I remember before I took my test, I was constantly trying to eliminate everything from my mind that was not related to driving. Of course, it was all worth it, since I passed my test and now hold a full licence.
Anyway, enough about me, back to the episode. Speaking of pre-test experiences, Reese attempts to remain calm (because of course, stress could lead to road rage, which could lead to disaster) and Dewey takes advantage of his stress by stabbing Reese with a fork and Reese very nearly hits his brother, but calms and relents. In another moment, he has himself tied up in bed ready for the big day and then Dewey hits him with a sack of heavy items.
Now onto the ultimate moment; the driving. At first, he has to sit in the car with an abysmal driving student, named Jackie, who clumsily knocks down numerous traffic cones and other obstacles. Jackie’s clumsiness wastes Reese’s time and he loses his turn due to the fact that the instructor wants to nip to the post office, despite a long queue. We know that Reese is the least intelligent of the Wilkerson family, but we can’t really blame him for protesting and driving the car himself, without the instructor. However, he also goes to war with the law, a very dangerous task. Reese proves to be a great driver, but being that Jackie is with him and he’s driving without the instructor, he ends up being chased by the cops. I know how he feels when he finds out his test has been cancelled at the last moment. I’d be annoyed if that happened to me. And when he hijacks the car, I remember when I first saw the episode, I was cackling, as soon as Reese told Jackie to move over, she refused and he belched into her face causing her to give in. How can that not crack a smile? Of course, it didn’t happen to me, but if that was me, I would’ve called the company to complain, but Reese’s actions are part of the comedy to this episode.
The sub-plot is also enjoyable; Craig’s at his usual roguish ways when he tricks Malcolm into believing that he egged his house only to find that Craig wants a hand with his home cinema. Malcolm eventually enjoys his new job. However, when he sees a news report on the TV with Reese’s car chase, he runs off to help him, because despite their occasional irritation and Reese’s low intelligence, they are after-all family. This of course leads to one of the funniest Craig related scenes in the show; he falls off the roof and the next moment, his cat is watching and… you know the rest.
I know, I know, but Christmas is one of the greatest festive-themed TV episodes in general to have ever aired and it ain’t hard to see why.
The Wilkersons have just about finished their Xmas shopping and as usual, Malcolm, Reese and Dewey are driving Lois insane with their constant fights. The final straw occurs when the boys play a game that involves throwing baubles at each other. Lois issues an ultimatum; either the boys behave or the vacation is cancelled. This leads to Malcolm, Reese and Dewey, fearing that she could use that sort of blackmail on them for the next few Christmases, to teach their mom a lesson, only to find that things are not as bad as they thought. Meanwhile, Francis is forced by Lois to spend a torturous Christmas with his grandma Ida, despite his objections.
Not many festive editions are great, but this one certainly is. As Lois points out, Christmas is meant to be one of the happiest times of the year. But this is a TV episode and just because it’s about Christmas, doesn’t mean it has to be all Sunshine Lollipops and Rainbows. TV shows and films need to include conflict to tell a story. This one tells it brilliantly. Lois wants a nice family Christmas, but her plans are constantly ruined by the boys’ rough games/activities, which she views as basically hell. We can see both sides of the conflict; the mother wanting a nice peaceful holiday and the boys only having a bit of fun and the way they view fun. While they protest against Lois’ authority, (spoiler) they discover that she and Hal did indeed buy them what they wanted for Christmas. It does go to show that although the Wilkersons are a dysfunctional family and have so many conflicts, they do indeed care for each other and that’s what the vacation is all about, caring.
This also goes for Francis and Ida. Lois cares about her mom, because this is Ida’s first Xmas without her husband Victor. It’s a mystery how he died, because I don’t think there’s an episode where we see him die. But Francis has doubts, because he knows how evil she is, which I’ll explore later on. When he does visit her, he shows how much he cares by giving her a card. Ida hates it, because the card plays Jingle Bells every time it’s opened and she hates songs that are about Christmas. Francis of course doesn’t mean to ‘torture’ her. Later, after a rocky start, Francis and Ida do sort of bond and he finds that she did indeed buy the family some gifts. She does have love for her family, but she happened to withhold them, due to some petty offences they committed. So Francis at his usual rebellious mode plays a trick on his gran and stashes multiple musical cards around the house, driving her mad.
Christmas is one such awesome episode I recommend you get a hold of during Christmas.
If Boys Were Girls (4.10)
We all know that Lois is the only female member of the Wilkerson household. And with that, she’s forced to put up with the male antics around the house. If Boys Were Girls takes place an episode after Lois discovers she’s pregnant with Jamie, the fifth child, who was later introduced at the end of the fourth season.
In this episode, Lois takes Hal, Malcolm, Reese and Dewey clothes shopping. The boys (excluding Hal, of course) constantly fight and bicker and Lois, suddenly, enters a dreamworld and imagines her kids as girls. Lois feels more secure in that world, then in the real world and sees the ‘girls’ as more light-hearted and co-operative, just like her, well almost. I mean she would be that way if she hadn’t have had to put up with the boys.
Before I was born, my mom apparently predicted I was going to be born a girl. Of course the prediction was wrong and one can’t always be right about what gender the baby’s going to be. Lois hopes the baby is the girl as soon as she see Hal, Malcolm, Reese and Dewey rushing off to play basketball. Being that she’s the only female in the house, we can understand her imaginations. One moment, the boys are pigging on their hamburgers. The next moment, she pictures them as girls, feeding on salads and having a nice lunch conversation with Lois. I also love how she pictures Hal as more obese and with a comfort eating disorder and struggling with the terms that he’s the only male in the family.
But then in reality, the majority of females are just as difficult as males. As If Boys Were Girls progresses, we find out that the girl versions of the boys also have problems. Mallory (Malcolm’s female version) turns out to be a spoiled brat, wanting make-up, Renee (Reese) is as dumb as Reese and is revealed by how younger loud-mouthed sister Daisy (Dewey) to be pregnant at teen-age. This is when Francis as Frances steps him and would you believe that it’s the same actor? She turns out to be a college-drop-out and stripper. How I love that image and scene!
Red Dress (1.2)
Another Lois-dominated episode, Red Dress contains just the one simple plot and it involves a red dress owned by her.
Lois and Hal are getting ready to eat at an expensive restaurant in celebration for their wedding anniversary. Lois intends to wear her favourite dress, a red one, but finds out that it’s been destroyed; burned and flushed down the lavatory. This drives her wild and while poor Hal is waiting for her at the restaurant, Lois furiously interrogates the boys in an attempt to find out the truth of who burned her dress.
Red Dress was only the second episode of Malcolm In The Middle that came out and this is a great debut for Lois Wilkerson. Well technically, her control-freak personality. This is one of the episodes that demonstrates Lois at her best; a woman full of rage. In this case, she’s raging over a simple piece of clothing, but it is in fact her favourite dress. So in the end, we can understand why she’s as mad as a hippo with a hernia. Her anger management is one of the reasons why I rank Lois as my favourite character in the series. I understand how hard it is to have a bossy loud-mouthed mother like her, but for some reason and despite the fact that I’m a male, I can kind of relate to that. I’ve been known to lose my temper easily, especially when something went wrong. By the way, on the topic that I said Lois was my favourite character, I just like to make clear that I can’t think of one character from the series I like the least. I can’t decide which of the other characters I like better than one another, but I have to rank Lois as my fav, her raging attitude being one of the reasons.
(spoiler) In the end of course, we discover that Hal is the culprit, though he actually burned the dress by accident, hence why he flushed it down the bog in order to hide the evidence. And I have to say I agree with the Nostalgia Critic, who once ranked him and Lois as one of the eleven best if strange fictional couples. They do truly love each other, but even Hal can get frightened of Lois, so we can’t really blame him for trying to get rid of the dress following the accident.
Lois’ raging persona would prove to be a trademark throughout the series, and I thank Red Dress for it.
The Grandparents (2.15)
The Grandparents marks the first appearance of Grandma Ida and the first and only appearance of Grandpa Victor.
The grandparents (also Lois’ parents) pay a surprise visit to the Wilkersons. Lois and Hal are of course delighted to see them, yet surprised that they didn’t bother to tell them that they was coming. Reese is especially thrilled and bonds with Victor. Malcolm feels positive at first, but then doesn’t feel approved of by them. Dewey on the other hand is horrified and his childhood fears come flooding back. In-between this episode, the family is having trouble with their refrigerator.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like if any of your relatives were pure evil? I never experienced that myself, but apparently one of my distant relatives used to bully his cousins at a younger age. Yet, many families have their own burden(s). When I ranked Christmas, I mentioned that Francis pointed out how evil Ida is. Even The Grandparents points out the evilness within Ida and her husband. Of course, Francis ain’t the only one who knows so. Dewey doesn’t exactly sense any luminosity within them. With that said, I should like to mention that this episode is probably his quietest role. When he sees his grandparents for the first time, he looks afraid. Then we get a brief flashback of him as a baby and the grandparents dropping him on the floor on purpose. As soon as it flashes back to the present, you’d expect Dewey to scream, but actually, he just runs away like hell without making a sound. Later Dewey sees Hal and Lois having a conversation with Victor and Ida and Hal tells him that Victor and Ida are staying longer. We then see Dewey remembering another haunting memory where as a toddler, he nearly got carelessly run over by Victor. Then back in the present, he runs off again. It may be cliched, but it’s also funny and subtle. It’s actually one of my favourite bits in the episode.
Reese of course gets on really well with Victor and this leads to another favourite scene of mine. Victor’s present to Reese turns out to be military equipment, including a grenade, which Reese clumsily handles and ends up removing its pin. We then get into both a bit of a panic and some giggles when Reese, Victor and Malcolm of course get into a stew with the grenade, which Malcolm ends up placing in the refrigerator, which blows up, something you’d expect to see on The Young Ones. We can just about imagine how Lois reacts; “You gave my son a live grenade? You brought live ammunition into this house?! WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH YOU?!!”. And at her own parents too.
A perfect introduction to a recurring character, classic scenes and an explosive finale, you name it, that’s The Grandparents. Shame they had to kill Victor off later on in the series.
Traffic Jam (2.1)
Traffic Jam is the first episode to the second season of Malcolm In The Middle and a continuation to Water Park (the final episode of the previous season). While I state what this episode is about, I shall give a brief overview of the previous episode.
Hal, Lois, Reese and Malcolm are heading home, after being kicked out of a water-slide park when they suddenly end up in a traffic jam, caused by some car wreck. Meanwhile , Dewey, who has had to miss out on the outing due to his ear infection, is trying to get home himself, following his babysitter’s heart attack and him chasing a red balloon (get it, Red Balloon?) and ending up in the middle of nowhere, leading to some strange adventures he has.
Traffic Jam maybe part of a two-part episode, but you can get the jist out of what’s going on in this ep, without needing to watch the first part (though I’d recommend watching that episode as well). Most of this one’s about coming across a traffic jam and how hard it is to cope when one is in the jam for a while. Lois is furious that the workmen are doing very little to clear up the mess which she knows looks blatantly easy to do and poor Hal is attempting to calm her down. You’ve got Reese at war with an ice cream man who refuses to sell the products. I can definitely see why, considering that as Malcolm points out, it’s 95 degrees Celsius and how questionable the ice cream man’s attitude is; Reese at one time points out that the man could’ve sold some ice cream while there’s a traffic jam going on and to make some money. Malcolm on the other hand doesn’t feel fantastic about the jam either, but he feels more positive when he meets a Canadian girl and to pass the time, they begin chatting and bond together. I love how they admire the view, including when they see Reese violently jumping on the van and when they see Lois shouting on the emergency phone. Speaking of which, let me talk about Lois’ angry phone call. She tries to call home to see if Dewey’s okay, but because it’s an emergency phone, she can’t get through. The best bit is when Lois asks to speak to the supervisor and then the man lowers his voice; “Hello this is the supervisor”, but Lois is not dumb enough to fall for it; “No it isn’t. You’re just disguising your voice,” “No I’m not. I’m really the supervisor.” I do in fact empathise with her eventual emotional breakdown. The thing with being stuck in traffic jams for hours in the hot blazing sun can lead to boredom and stress.
I should also mention the sub-plots which I think are amazing! Dewey finds his way home through various ways; with a store robber, a group of hillbillies on a truck, then in a limousine, then in a tour bus and then with a motorcycle gang. Meanwhile Francis enters a contest which involves eating 100 pieces of candy.
Traffic Jam is definitely one to check out.
Hal Coaches (3.16)
Games can sometimes be frustrating. When I talk about games, I mean both video and physical.
Hal Coaches pictures Hal coaching for Dewey’s soccer team, who seem to be failing against the opposing teams. Meanwhile, Malcolm becomes obsessed with a video game after a new computer is delivered to the household.
Sometimes when you play for a sports team, the games require a bit of logic and geometry and strength and stress. Near the start of the episode, we see Dewey on the verge of quitting, because he feels that he and the team such at soccer. Hal is obviously optimistic that he can do better and urges his son to rethink about quitting. Then, because the original coach walked out, he decides to fill in, despite Dewey’s objections. Being that he is his father, he proves to be soft on the team, while the coach for one of his opposing teams is a tough ass. Sometime afterwards we see that Hal and Dewey’s team have lost. So Hal suggests that the team imagine themselves as superheroes i.e. “the X-Men” and that the opposing team is the force of “evil”. Though the kids do end up taking things literally. This episode does go to show that although sports coaches should treat the players like they would want to be treated, they should also try and introduce a logical way of fighting to win the game.
But Hal Coaches couldn’t be complete without the awesome sub-plot, which I personally find the best part of the episode; Malcolm becoming addicted to the newly delivered computer and a video game called the Virts (an obvious reference to The Sims). First of all, I give a lot of credit to the producer for the way they created the game; its commodore-64 style music and the ludicrous graphics, lol. I also admire how Malcolm creates a virtual version of his family (raising his mother’s aggressiveness to 10, lowering Reese’s hygiene level to 0, then upping his positives (appearance, intelligence, social skills) to 10). He at first enjoys the game, but then some games have its own problems. I remember as a kid when I cursed through some complications I experienced playing certain games. The Virts eventually turns against Malcolm. The funniest part is that his virtual self experiences negatives whereas the others are getting on fine, too fine, no matter how hard Malcolm tries. When the final straw occurs, guess what Malcolm does with the computer. It left me cackling and thinking ‘I bet that computer was expensive’.
Book Club (3.3)
Yeah I know, another Lois-related episode. But believe me, Book Club is a really great episode and here’s why.
Book Club, apart from the cold open of course, begins with the Wilkersons having dinner and the males are constantly making obnoxious noises. Lois gets bored of the antics and so decides to join a local book-related society in order to escape from the family. However, on her first meeting, it turns out to be a group of other mothers having the same family troubles and looking for an excuse to socialise and get drunk. Meanwhile, since his wife has gone into the outgoing habit, Hal must watch over the boys.
First, let me start with the opening scene. It’s one of the funniest moments in worldwide comedy history! One would think that some of the British comedians thought of that idea. The males are belching through speech at the dinner table, and formal dinner conversation too. For instance, Malcolm’s belching “Could you pass the peas please?”. Hell, even Hal’s at it as well! Everyone but Lois, who hopes for a more pleasant atmosphere. When the males finally cease with the sound effects, we then get Malcolm talking about how he witnessed a fight in school. Hal, Reese and Dewey are invested, but Lois obviously ain’t and has hoped to hear about something more pleasant.
I’m a lad myself and as a result, and because my old elementary classroom was mostly full of boys (there was a few girls too), I occasionally joined in with their obnoxious antics. I can remember one time when one of the boys farted out-loud and we cackled and our teacher, a woman, went absolutely wild. There were few girls in my class and the majority of them were the more sensible ones. So in a way, I can pretty much relate to what’s going on in this episode.
It does go to show the understanding between males and females. I do feel for Lois. She’s surrounded by boys and listens to “boy talk and boy noises” every night, so I can’t really blame her for joining the women’s ‘book’ club. Yet again, every member of a family needs a chance to socialise and see the outside and I’ll get to that later. But I ought to say that when Lois does attend the club, the other members explain that they formed the club to unite the females into socialising, drinking and, guess what, plotting against some wealthy PTA-mother, whose car they soon go to vandalise and as a result, face the cops. Lois does question the rights and wrongs. I’d be in favour of joining a political society, but then something that resorts to violence and/or destruction would be a dangerous move. And Lois wanted to do was discuss books.
We also feel for Hal too. We too know Lois needs a break, but she’s still a control freak and orders Hal to keep an eye on Malcolm, Reese & Dewey. He’s like “if I’m to do what Lois does, I have to think like Lois”. He pretty much over does his job of ensuring the boys are out of trouble and stresses so much that he makes hilarious outbursts in front of the kids and do I need to mention the bit where he sees smaller versions of himself, who try to give him advice? God I love that scene! It also goes to show that Hal is not Lois. Message; be yourself.
Book Club is an episode that really defines Lois and Hal’s characters.
Before I reveal the number one pick, here are some honourable mentions;
Watching the Baby (5.2)
Reese Comes Home (6.1)
Hal’s Christmas Gift (6.6)
And the number 1 episode of Malcolm In The Middle is;…
And Thunderbirds Are Go! The first episode from the fourth series has got to be the most hilarious, adventurous and cleverly written episode I’ve seen from Malcolm In The Middle. It’s one such episode that shows that life can be unfair sometimes, as was once quoted through the theme tune.
What’s the story? Malcolm, who has reached the age of 14, is going through a depressed teenage crisis. But that doesn’t excuse him from a family trip to the zoo. He and Dewey end up in a tigers’ den, Reese butts heads with an aggressive goat and Hal and Lois encounter an old friend. Meanwhile Francis gets a new job.
Starting with the opening scene, following the credits, I absolutely adore that bit, but also relate to that. Lois finds Malcolm wrapped up in his quilt and moaning. She orders him to get up and his response is; “I’ll get up when the world stops being a cruel joke, which is never!”. This, I can’t help smiling through, but of course I remember going through that phase when I was a teenager. I remember hating life and wanting to run away. A lot of teenagers do get depressed sometimes, as Lois does point out; “I did, your father did, Francis cried in the shower everyday for 6 months, Reese wouldn’t get out of the dryer”.
But the best thing about the episode is when the family come face to face with the animals they meet in the zoo. Reese for instance pokes fun at one goat, then another carelessly head-butts him and he ends up in a fight with it. Then you have Hal and Lois attending an exhibit held by Lois’ old boyfriend Matt, who offered Lois and the family a ‘coupon’, which contributes to Hal’s jealousy, and he ends up getting bitten by a tarantula. And gee, check out that mark he gets. They then of course end up in a row over their past lives involving Matt.
Then you have Malcolm and Dewey; Dewey gets excited when he notices the tiger exhibit, but falls in the den. This is when Malcolm’s grumpiness lowers and goes to help his brother, ending up in the den himself. But before they can get to the exit, they get surrounded by tigers. Malcolm is clearly scared, hence why he repeats; “don’t move, don’t move, don’t move”, but Dewey is calm and more optimistic and you’d often expect the younger one to be more scared, but it’s the other way round. And we as viewers really fear for their lives and worry that they’re about to get ripped to shreds, and considering how young they are. Even Lois’ panicking reaction as soon as she sees them (“oh my god”) says it all.
The music is awesomely written too. Most of the soundtrack for the series is written in a techno/funk/alternative format, but if you listen to the music whenever Reese comes across the goat, it’s written in hard-edged staccato piano notes. Amusing, but it also contributes well to the fact that Reese is facing real danger. The same is said for Malcolm and Dewey as soon as they come across the tigers, except the music’s more synthesised and written in a diminished tone, which creates the tension.
Zoo is a very well written episode; Lois has ‘coupons’ for the zoo, her excuse to get Malcolm out of bed and join the family at the zoo. The coupons are actually free tickets provided by Lois’ ex-boyfriend, contributing to Hal’s jealousy and his and Lois’ row over relationships. Malcolm’s depression sinking when he goes to help Dewey, but puts himself in danger too, which stops Hal and Lois’ argument. But then as I forgot to mention, Reese’s fight with the goat, that soon proves useful to (spoiler!) Malcolm and Dewey’s eventual rescue; Reese throws the goat in the tiger’s den (that gets a lot of laughs too)! Right after Malcolm states “Superman isn’t going to save us.”
As for the cold open (the scene before the credits), it is one of the best. Malcolm and Reese are playing ball and Lois scolds them each time (“Don’t play ball in/on/through the house”) which is without a doubt hilarious!
So yeah, Zoo is an adventurous, fun-packed flick which all the family can enjoy. It’s no wonder that Malcolm In The Middle is often compared to The Simpsons.
That was my personal top ten episodes of Malcolm In The Middle. Thank you for reading. If there are other TV shows whose episodes I should construct top ten lists of, by all means throw ’em in.