I started watching “Malcolm in the Middle” by myself on a whim, a couple years ago, when my oldest kid was too tiny to have a clue about anything inappropriate it might contain if he was listening nearby. And then my husband saw it in my Netflix “Continue Watching” list and reminisced about watching it occasionally on TV in his adolescence. So it became our go-to nightly show for some time, as we watched through the seven seasons of hilarity and family conflict.
Frankie Muniz, or “Malcolm,” is the third of four boys in a mildly eccentric family, and he’s kind of a genius. The rest of his family members are somewhat weird, dumb, spazzy, over-bearing, etc. Malcolm often narrates, and sometimes there are funny imagination sequences. His mom basically rules their life in a comical dictator-type fashion, and his dad (Bryan Cranston – yeah, the guy from “Breaking Bad” before he was the guy from “Breaking Bad”) is often sort of oblivious about life but still a fairly good dad.
The High Points
I think what I like most about this show, apart from it being pretty darn funny, is that is does a decent job showing the ins and outs of family life, in all its messiness. It’s not trite, it doesn’t wrap it all in a cozy little blanket of love and affection, but it still shows family life as a good thing despite how hard it is.
In particular, the parents’ love life always struck me. Neither one of them are people that are easy to get along with, but they love each other fiercely and have an apparently robust sex life (referred to frequently, but never really shown). Is it a perfect portrayal of marriage? No. But it is pretty positive over all.
First of all, a note: I don’t call this show simply a “family sitcom.” I think there’s a difference between family shows and shows about families, the former being something I can safely watch with my kids (largely non-existent these days) and the latter being something that is promotes familial life in a positive way but isn’t necessarily always appropriate for the entire family to watch (like “This is Us,” for example). I consider “Malcolm in the Middle” to be of this second category.
So while it has its moments of good clean fun, it does occasionally lapse into somewhat objectionable stuff.
My biggest complaints are these: Porn is mentioned a few times in a benign way; it happened infrequently enough that we kept watching (probably 4-5 times over the course of seven seasons, so actually pretty rare I guess). And contraception is promoted – again, pretty rare, but it does stick out in my mind as something that the mom specifically tells Malcolm about when she gives him a super awkward sex talk in one episode.
Apart from those, it’s some fairly mild sexual innuendo here and there. There’s also stuff like mild language, siblings beating each other up, your typical PG material.
So on the scale of shows you might consider watching with your kids, I’d say it’s definitely worse than something like “Full House,” or even “Boy Meets World” or “The Wonder Years,” but still probably a lot cleaner over all than most of what’s available today.
It’s a pretty good show. When something is able to last for 7 seasons, it’s probably because it’s doing something right. Well, this show does quite a few things right. If only it weren’t for those few issues, I could call it a true family show without reservations. But even still, it’s definitely worth a watch for us grown-ups.