Special Features: ★★★
Malcolm in the Middle is the closest a live action series has ever got to The Simpsons, not just in its level of chaos but also in terms of delivering biting satirical humour in a family setting. It is astonishing it has taken this long for the first series to be released here on DVD.
The show tells the story of a gifted child in a poor eccentric family. Much as The Simpsons started with Bart as the main character eventually Malcolm in the Middle’s episodes began to focus more and more on other members of the family.
Much as Homer became the star, for me it is again the father who became the funniest character. Malcolm’s father Hal, was played by Bryan Cranston who has since gone onto to give another brilliant performance as the protagonist in Breaking Bad. He is a truly gifted comedian and is very watchable as the lost but loving father of four – and eventually five – difficult boys.
Jane Kaczmarek plays his wife, a character who is anything but lost. The mother of the family is a tyrant, the boss of the house who controls the boys with an iron fist. She is simultaneously hilarious and unlikeable but Kaczmarek does a wonderful job at making it seem that her drastic actions and punishments are totally necessary in order to stop the anarchy all the men in her life create.
Speaking of her anarchistic boys, each of them; Malcolm (Frankie Muniz), Reese (Justin Berfield), and Dewy (Eric Per Sullivan) are marvellously differentiated characters and all give great performances that never outstay their welcome as many child performances can. Their oldest brother Francis (Christopher Masterson) is also incredibly likeable and, mostly away from the rest of the family, provides funny side stories.
The crazy plots are brilliant. Almost every episode seems to “jump the shark” but part of the show’s genius is to make it all seem logical. This is thanks to the marvellous set up of each of the family member’s outlandish characteristics. The story of each episode is fantastically constructed and beautifully executed. The direction in the series is some of the best seen in American sitcoms, right up there with Arrested Development.