TV

‘Malcolm in the Middle’ is the greatest show in the history of television and if you disagree you’re not coming to my birthday party

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Gary Ogden
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Often, I wake up in my bed at, I don’t know, 4am, and I’m instantly greeted with the unmistakable chords and whining vocals of They Might Be Giants – ‘You’re Not the Boss of me Now’. This is because I have fallen asleep watching Malcolm in the Middle again. 

This happens very very regularly, because I am always watching Malcolm in the Middle, and the reason I am always watching Malcolm in the Middle is because it is my favourite TV show of all time. I have watched it more than any other TV show and I will continue to watch it more than any other TV show. 

I saw Breaking Bad for the first time last year, and if I’m honest, I only did it because I heard about that alternate ending which crosses over into Malcolm in the Middle, and I wanted to get the full effect of the skit. So I watched one day, 23 hours and 32 minutes of television just so that I could understand a one minute, 23 second clip on the internet about Malcolm in the Middle. 10/10 was worth it.

The reason I was originally reluctant to watch Breaking Bad was because I thought it would ruin Hal for me. I wanted Bryan Cranston to be Hal forever, and Walter White would take that away from me. Turns out, post-watch, it didn’t, which is why I’ll have no qualms about watching him play a giant floating blue head when I go and see Power Rangers.

But yeah, I digress – Malcolm in the Middle is the greatest TV show ever and I’m going to shout at you until you believe me.

The cast is flawless

There is not a single bad actor in Malcolm, not a single one. And that’s a huge feat when you consider that most of the main cast were kids, like, mega young ones when it first started. Dewey is basically a fucking baby in the first episode, and he’s amazing. Obviously, all three main kids get better as the show goes on (as does the whole show), but they’re only improving on already-existing brilliance. Children are usually extremely annoying – in this case they are fully not.

The adults are just as good. Of course, the world’s greatest actor, Bryan Cranston, plays the dad and has rightfully gone onto ultra-stardom, but Jane Kaczmarek as Lois is just as good. Every aspect of family life is explored here, and they nail it each and every time. And nobody on television has had, or ever will have, a scream like Hal. It is a thing of unadulterated beauty.

Unfortunately, there was a downside to cast being so perfect. You see, they played their parts a little too well, and I certainly came to fully associate the actors with their characters, and only their characters. When I watched Agent Cody Banks, it was actually Agent Cody Malcolm. This appeared to be something I shared with the rest of the world, and as such, typecasting meant that the central cast never went onto hugely successful acting careers post-show. Apart from Walter White/Zordon, of course.

The supporting cast is flawless

It’s not just the famous five that knock it out the park – everyone in this show is good. Stevie, Abe, the Krelboynes, Francis (sometimes the Francis episodes are the best ones), Otto, Spangler, Ida and of course, the best supporting character that has ever appeared on screen: Craig Feldspar – they’re all impeccable. 

They all have their own, fully thought-out, distinct personalities too, and regardless of screen time, they are all entirely memorable. Like that kid who pretends to ride a motorbike everywhere – he’s one of my favourite characters and he’s a pretty minor point on the whole story arc, really. My enjoyment of his character might be because I used to pretend to ride a motorbike around, but still.*

*Still do pretend to ride a motorbike around.

No, seriously, everyone is flawless

Every single person in the show is flawless. I’m talking everyone. Even when a person is needed for the tiniest skit – they may only be in the entire show for a maximum of six seconds – the casting directors somehow manage to pick the perfect person for the job. Everyone is great. Extras notoriously have the capability to ruin things, but in Malcolm, they make them, always.

Look at this man:

This is the only episode he’s in and he’s hilarious. Or there’s this:

The girl who Hal frees from the bouncy castle is clearly trying not to laugh on camera, but somehow that just makes the scene even funnier. Perfect extras all round. Great stuff.

It’s also a fantastic testament to the casting directors, when you consider just how many actors playing minor characters went on to become famous in their own right. Emma Stone, Hayden Panettiere, Ashley Tisdale, Dakota Fanning, Eric Stonestreet, Tania Raymonde, Octavia Spencer, Patrick Warburton, Busy Phillips, Danielle Panabaker and Sara Paxton all appeared in the show before their careers took off.

It is worryingly realistic

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OK, I guess the episode where Reese builds a balloon chair and floats into the sky isn’t exactly hard-hitting realism, but I’m talking about the grounded (literally) parts of the show. It’s unusual (or at least it was for the time) to depict a family who so clearly have major money problems, let alone two parents who have zero clue what they’re doing when it comes to looking after a family. Also, when you look back at the kids (possibly with the exception of blissfully unaware Reese), really, they all hated being kids, and let’s be honest, weren’t having the best time of it.

Not that it was nihilistic, it’s just that it didn’t shy away from the darker sides of childhood (and adulthood). It never became depressing – it was a comedy show – but it dealt with things that few other sitcoms did. It shared a lot of sensibilities with The Simpsons, in that way – but where the yellow ones’ problems were reset at the end of each episode, the characters in Malcolm remained teetering over the edge of a cliff in cheap, rusty bus for the entire run.

It bridges a great gap

Because of the varied issues it tackles, it can be enjoyed by kids and adults. I loved it as a kid because I related to the kids, I enjoy it as an adult (haha, adult) because I can relate to Francis and I’m sure when I’m a parent (haha, parent), I will enjoy it because I will relate to Hal and Lois. Everything is shit in Malcolm, and you know what – a lot of things are shit in real life, too, best to laugh at them if you can.

When the show started, it was all about Malcolm, but as it progressed, each family member got their own episodes. Towards the end Francis got sidelined a bit, which was a shame, as some of the best episodes focused on him, particularly when he was at military school, or at the ranch, but regardless, everyone got their time to shine. Every aspect of the show’s audience was catered for. 

Then again, no matter how old you are, a bunch of little dickhead kids firing shitty nappies off a roof with a giant catapult will never not be funny.

It’s genuinely chock-full of real genius

Malcolm in the Middle is not your standard situation comedy – there was no lazy writing here, the situations changed. This was not The Big Bang Theory. Contained within Malcolm’s seven seasons and 151 episodes were some truly clever chapters. In the ep where the kids go bowling, the viewer is presented with two alternate realities – one where Hal takes them, the other where Lois does –  and it’s top-notch writing at its best. It deservedly won an Emmy for the episode.

The show also held an uncanny ability to have up to three different plot strands running concurrently in one episode, and have them all wrapped up neatly by the end; that’s three separate, individually compelling stories, often in different locations, in 20 minutes. That’s impressive. I can’t even form one thought in my head in under an hour – I’m still deciding which type of gruel to eat when I get into bed tonight.

It can make you cry for a multitude of different reasons 

I have cried many times at Malcolm in the Middle. Because I was laughing – like when Reese puts a fake body in his bed to make Hal think he’s sleeping, but Hal accidentally pops the balloon that’s substituting his head and thinks he’s killed Reese. Because I was happy – like when the boys give Lois a Valentine’s present which is a box of chocolates that they’ve eaten, but they’ve left her favourite ones. And because I was upset – the end of the last episode, obviously. I was utterly bereft.

It never ran its course

Of course, I would give anything for more Malcolm in the Middle, but they went out on a high – it was great until the very end. American sitcoms often have the tendency to run themselves into the ground if they continue to be popular (*cough* Big Bang Theory *cough*), but thankfully Malcolm stopped before it went stale. As such, it still retains a fond memory in the fans’ heads – there’s zero sour aftertaste.

Malcolm in the Middle bowed out in exactly the same way it came in – as the best TV show in television history.

Yeah I know, even better than Geordie Shore.

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Gary Ogden

Shortlist writer and "the least woke person in the office", Gary Ogden, likes horror movies, Cheestrings, tapping his leg under the desk, "having a drink", PDAs, not having eczema anymore, hiding from responsibility, screaming into the mirror whenever he is alone, and assorted other things. Mainly the eczema thing though. @garyblogden

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