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The series follows a dysfunctional, working class family and stars Frankie Muniz in the lead role as Malcolm, an adolescent who tests at a genius level. While he enjoys his intelligence, he despises having to take special classes for gifted children, which are mocked by the rest of the kids at school and called "Krelboynes". Jane Kaczmarek plays Malcolm's overbearing, hotheaded and stubborn mother, Lois, and Bryan Cranston plays his immature, manic but loving father, Hal. Christopher Kennedy Masterson plays eldest brother, Francis, the trouble-making son who, in earlier episodes, was in military school, but eventually marries and settles into a steady job. Justin Berfield is Malcolm's dimwitted older brother, Reese, a cruel bully who tortures Malcolm at home, even while he defends him at school. Erik Per Sullivan plays younger brother, Dewey, who is people-smart, musically-talented, and concerned about his well-being. In earlier episodes, the show's focus was on Malcolm, but as the series progressed, it explored all six members of the family more. Another character, Jamie (James and Lukas Rodriguez), was introduced as the fifth son of Hal and Lois at the end of Season 4.
The show received widespread praise from critics and proved an extremely popular draw for the network. It was placed No. 88 on Entertainment Weekly "New TV Classics" list, and was named by Alan Sepinwall of HitFix as one of the 10 best shows in Fox network history.
The series is about a boy named Malcolm (Frankie Muniz), who is revealed in the first episode to be a genius with an IQ of 165, places him in a class for gifted students (also known as "Krelboynes"), originally taught by Caroline Miller (Catherine Lloyd Burns). He is the third-born child in a comically dysfunctional working-class family of four, and later, five boys, of Lois (Jane Kaczmarek) and Hal (Bryan Cranston). As of the first season, their delinquent oldest child, Francis (Christopher Kennedy Masterson), has been sent away to military school, while younger brothers Reese (Justin Berfield), Malcolm and Dewey (Erik Per Sullivan) remain at home with their parents. With Francis away, Malcolm becomes the middle child of the family. In season four, the character Jamie (James and Lukas Rodriguez) was added to the show as the fifth son of Hal and Lois. The show's early seasons centered on Malcolm dealing with the rigors of being an intellectual and enduring the eccentricities of family life.
Later seasons expanded the show's scope by exploring the family's interactions with their extended family, friends and colleagues in more depth, including Lois' tyrannical mother (Cloris Leachman); Craig Feldspar (David Anthony Higgins), Lois' hapless coworker at the Lucky Aide drugstore; Malcolm's best friend Stevie Kenarban (Craig Lamar Traylor) (who is both in a wheelchair and highly asthmatic), and Stevie's dad Abe (Gary Anthony Williams); as well as a series of continuing subplots detailing Francis' misadventures at the military academy, from which he subsequently disenrolls to work in an Alaskan logging camp, before finally landing a job on a dude ranch run by an eccentric German couple.
The series differed significantly from the standard TV sitcom format/presentation commonplace at the time. Malcolm routinely broke the fourth wall by both narrating in voice-over and talking directly to the viewer on camera. The distinctive look and sound of the series relied heavily on elaborate post-production, including fast-cut editing, sound effects, musical inserts, the extensive use of locations, and the unusual camera styles, compositions and effects (e.g. overhead, tracking, hand-held and crane shots, and the frequent use of a wide-angle lens for both close-ups and ensemble scenes) that would be generally impractical or impossible to achieve in a standard studio-based video multi-camera sitcom production. The show employed neither a laugh track (which became a popularity in other TV sitcoms) nor a live studio audience. Emulating the style of hour-long dramas, this half-hour show was shot on film instead of on video.
Another distinctive aspect of the show is that the cold open of every episode is unrelated to the main story. Exceptions were episodes which were the conclusions of "two-parters"; each part two episode opened with a recap of its part one episode.
The family's surname is never mentioned directly in the series. Linwood Boomer's script for the pilot episode originally included the surname Wilkerson, but it was later removed because he did not want to put "any specific ethnic label on the characters". The surname appeared in early drafts of promotional material and also on Francis' Marlin Academy uniform in the pilot. In the last episode of the series, Francis drops his ID badge from work, which lists his name as "Francis Nolastname". Also in the last episode, the principal announces Malcolm as the speaker, clearly mouthing "Nolastname" as his voice is drowned out by microphone feedback. A publicist for Fox said that "officially the family's last name should be considered a mystery".
Malcolm (Frankie Muniz): the title character of the series. Malcolm is a genius with an IQ of 165 and a photographic memory. He is placed in a class for gifted student (or "Krelboynes" as they are known at the school). His high intelligence, as well as feelings of not fitting in, and a large ego fueled by a cruel streak of snarkiness cause numerous problems for him over the course of the series. As the title suggests, Malcolm is initially the middle child of the three living at home; chronologically, he is Hal's and Lois's third son. Despite his intelligence, Malcolm is just as immature and destructive as his brothers and is often the ringleader in some of their schemes. Throughout the show, Malcom often strives for independence away from his controlling mother and often tries to have her see him as an equal. Due to his intelligence, Lois often makes decisions that she feels will benefit his education while keeping a close eye on him. It is revealed in the series finale that she does this so that he'll one day become the President of the United States and use his position to help lower-class families like their own. His best friend is Stevie Kenarban. In the series finale, he graduates from high school and starts attending a prestigious college by both scholarship and working various jobs, specifically as a janitor at Harvard University.
Lois (Jane Kaczmarek): The family's wildly hotheaded and stubborn mother who is also an intelligent and decisive woman. Most of her bullishness comes from her constant battles throughout the series to keep her badly behaved, highly destructive boys in check, while maintaining a menial job at a Lucky Aide drugstore. Though she is hard on her children for their constantly bad behavior, Lois can be just as petty and spiteful as them, e.g., going after a group of girls that humiliated Reese before his senior prom. Despite her constant aggressiveness, she is motherly and will defend her family fiercely, especially against neighbors and others who view them as poor trash; in one episode, she finds that Malcolm and Reese discovered their neighbor having an affair with her Hispanic gardener while they planned to frame her son for theft, but doesn't punish them for their actions as this counted as revenge against the woman, who hated Lois. Lois is disliked by both Hal's wealthy family and her own parents. She has a younger sister named Susan, who blames Lois for stealing Hal from her. Neighbors despise Lois and her boys and celebrate the weekends when they're gone. In the series finale, she discovered that she and Hal are expecting a sixth child.
Hal (Bryan Cranston): Hal is Lois' husband and father to Francis, Reese, Malcolm, Dewey and Jamie. Hal is a well-meaning, loving, but inept and completely immature father, and completely dependent on Lois, whom he loves absolutely. He comes from a wealthy family that does not accept Lois as his wife and who wish that he married Susan instead. Because his family is disrespectful towards Lois, he rarely mentions them and avoids his family. Hal loves his boys and will sometimes sneak them out for fun father-son activities behind Lois' back. Hal is an indecisive character who frequently picks up new hobbies for short periods of time, such as speed walking or painting, and is irresponsible with the money he earns from his low-paying desk job. His indecisiveness was explored in "Living Will" from a childhood which he had a hard time making decisions for himself and because of this, he always deferred to Lois to make them for him. In the series finale, he discovers that he and Lois are expecting a sixth child. Hal has a high sex drive, this was revealed in the episode "Forbidden Girlfriend" when Lois is taking medication and is unable to have sex for an entire week, it is mentioned again in the episode "Poker 2" when Hal tells his friends he has sex 14 times per week. Hal's best friend is Abe Kenarban.
Francis (Christopher Kennedy Masterson): Hal and Lois' first son. At the beginning of the series, he is attending military school in Alabama, run by the strict Commandant Spangler (Daniel von Bargen). It is shown that his parents enjoyed a promising middle-class, comfortable lifestyle before he was born and that he was such a difficult, destructive child that their dream soon ended. He has himself legally emancipated at the start of Season 3, leaves the school, and travels to Alaska. He finds work at a logging camp and later meets and marries Piama (Emy Coligado) a girl of Inuit heritage. When the camp closes, they move to the western United States and take jobs at a Wild West-themed hotel/ranch, run by kindly but eccentric German, Otto Mannkusser (Kenneth Mars), and his wife, Gretchen (Meagen Fay). Francis and his mother have a mutual love-hate war of wills and his main motivation in life is to thwart or irk her (though, ironically, he marries a woman with the same personality as Lois). Although a juvenile delinquent, he is street-smart. Francis is seen less frequently after season 5, becoming an occasional recurring character and making only a small handful of appearances in Season 6 and the final Season 7. Whereas he was featured regularly in previous seasons as a side-story to the main family, Francis' steady job disappeared in season 6 due to legal issues, and he returned to being a delinquent, leading a questionable and poor lifestyle with Piama until it is revealed in the final episode of season 7, "Graduation", that he already has a steady desk job sorting out computers. He admits to Hal that he likes his job, but also enjoys frustrating Lois by telling her that he's unemployed.
Reese (Justin Berfield): Hal and Lois' second son. He is the older brother of Malcolm, Dewey and Jamie, and the younger brother of Francis. Reese is the most impulsive and physical of the boys. He lacks common sense, he is frequently outwitted and outspoken by other family members, and is gleefully violent. Despite being unwilling to think, Reese is as much a genius as his brothers, although in less traditional or obvious ways. Reese is better than Malcolm at devising plans, and is masterful at the rare things which can pin his drifting focus, such as driving or when he's revealed to be a culinaryprodigy, excelling at cooking and baking. In the series finale, he finally graduates from high school after intentionally failing many times before, obtains full employment as a high school custodian, and shares an apartment with Craig.
Dewey (Erik Per Sullivan): Hal and Lois' fourth son. He is the youngest child until the birth of Jamie, and often falls victim to his brothers' pranks. Dewey is very intelligent and musically gifted. He plays the piano. He has a very high tolerance for pain due to years of physical and mental abuse from his brothers. Despite his intelligence, he is placed in a remedial class for slower students (or "Buseys") due to a misunderstanding. Dewey remains in the class and serves as their self-appointed teacher. By the seventh and final season of the show, the Busey class is no longer mentioned. He is the only sibling that eventually breaks the cycle of abusing the younger sibling, which ends up with him acting like a normal, lovable brother towards Jamie. In the series finale, he and Jamie are seen hiding in the closet together after a prank.
Caroline Miller (Catherine Lloyd Burns) (seasons 1-2): Malcolm's "overly earnest" teacher. She ardently adores Malcolm due to his intelligence. Francis uses her adoration to pay a medical bill to stitch up Malcolm in one episode. She is the teacher of the Krelboynes in Seasons 1 and 2, at which time she is seen heavily pregnant. After she gives birth, Caroline leaves teaching. She is the only non-family member to be credited as part of the main cast in the intro.
The show's opening title features short clips from cult films or television shows, edited together with clips from the pilot and early episodes of the show, set to the song "Boss of Me" by They Might Be Giants.
The house at 12334 Cantura Street as it appeared in 2009.
Much of the filming for Malcolm in the Middle was done on location in various parts of the Thirty Mile Zone around Los Angeles. A privately owned home, located at 12334 Cantura Street in Studio City, California, was rented for upwards of $3,000 a day to film as Malcolm's house. Rebuilt in 2011, the property is no longer recognizable due to its modern two-floor design. However, the house directly to the left of it is nearly identical to what it looked like during filming, still making it a frequent stop for fans of the show. School scenes were filmed at Colfax Elementary School, in North Hollywood, and the Lucky Aide was represented by a Drug Emporium at 6020 Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood. In "Stock Car Races," when Hal and the boys are entering a race track, the billboard behind the entrance displays the place as Irwindale Speedway, a real race track in Southern California. The last episode in the first season ("Water Park") was filmed at a water park called Wild Rivers (now closed as of 2011) located in Irvine, California. Though palm trees and desert scenery are seen in shots of the local region and town throughout the show, indicating a location in the Western United States, it is never revealed which state the show is set in (except for Francis' whereabouts in early seasons, such as his military school in Alabama and his job in Alaska).
The show entered barter syndication in the fall of 2004 one month before the sixth season premiered on Fox and was later aired on FX in the fall of 2007 until the fall of 2011.
The show was launched on Nick at Nite on July 5, 2009 at 8:00 pm with an all night marathon. However, the episodes were either banned or heavily edited due to content that was too strong for the network's standards. When Nick at Nite pulled Malcolm it began airing on TeenNick from November 26, 2010 and continued until December 2010. The show returned to TeenNick's line-up on July 18, 2011.
On September 26, 2011, Malcolm in the Middle began airing on IFC.
On March 5, 2018, the series began airing on Fuse.
On April 11, 2019, it was originally revealed that the show will be available on Disney+, Disney's direct-to-consumer streaming service, at launch on November 12, 2019. However, the show was not available on launch day for unknown reasons. In March 2020, Disney sent a survey out to Disney+ consumers asking if they would like content on the site such as Malcolm in the Middle and other "mature" shows such as Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Modern Family.
In the UK, the show was originally aired on Sky1 from September 3, 2000, later also airing on Sky2 and Sky3 before finally leaving all Sky channels in December 2010. It was also shown on BBC2 from April 6, 2001 until March 7, 2009. From January 3, 2011, it was shown on Fiver (now 5*) at 6:00 pm and again at about 7:30 pm, later moving to a weekly slot at 3:15pm on Saturday afternoons. Repeats continued until January 18, 2014. 4 Music started showing two episodes daily at 5.00pm, from 6 July 2020.
Only the first season of Malcolm in the Middle has been released on DVD in the U.S. Season 2 was set to be released in the fall of 2003, but was cancelled due to high costs of music clearances.
Extended pilot episode, A Stroke of Genius featurette, commentary on select episodes, gag reel, deleted scenes, alternate show openings, bloopers, Dewey's Day Job featurette, Season 2 Still Gallery.
In February 2012, it was announced that Fabulous Films would be releasing the first season of the show in the UK in April, as well as releasing each subsequent season the following month, ending with a complete series set near Christmas 2012. However, in late March 2012, several retailers had removed the release date from their websites; this was later revealed to be because of "technical issues with the Masters" and that the release date had been pushed back to June. Other seasons will now follow on either a monthly or bi-monthly basis.
All the UK DVD releases are intact as originally aired with no cuts, with the original music, with the exception of one Season 3 episode "Company Picnic" which was originally aired as a one-hour special, before being re-edited and split into two parts for syndication. The DVD presents the syndicated version.
All seven seasons as well as the complete series set were released in Australia in September 2013. The complete series set altered the separate seven season sets to fit into four volumes. A collector's edition boxset which has the seasons split up instead of volumes was released subsequently in 2014. It features everything from the four-volume set and includes a bonus T-shirt. This set is exclusive to Australia.
In May 2019, Turbine Medien announced the first ever Blu-ray release of the complete series in Germany, due to be released in September 2019. The release however, will be on Standard Definition, in similar fashion to the PAL DVD releases.
Season one holds a Metacritic score of 88 out of 100, based on 25 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".
The show started off with ratings of 23 million for the debut episode and 26 million for the second episode.
Fox shuffled the show's air time repeatedly to make room for other shows. On January 13, 2006, Fox announced that the show would be moving to 7:00 pm on Sundays effective January 29, 2006. The 151st and final episode aired at 8:30 pm ET/PT (the show's original timeslot) on May 14, 2006. The finale was watched by 7.4 million.
Jane Kaczmarek and Cloris Leachman were nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award every year they appeared on the show, as leading and guest actress, respectively. Leachman won in 2002 and 2006.Frankie Muniz was nominated once for lead actor, and Bryan Cranston three times for supporting actor. The show won a total of 7 Emmys during its six-year run and a Peabody Award. Kaczmarek was nominated for three Golden Globe Awards, Muniz was nominated twice, and Cranston was nominated once.
Russian channel STS made a shot-for-shot adaptation called ? (Super Max) that comprises 1 season so far.