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MITM Series 2 - Episodes 5 stars, DVD set 3 stars,
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This review is from: Malcolm in the Middle: The Complete Second Season [DVD] (DVD)
'Grandma, I'm not going to hit you. A kid should never have to say that.'
The adventures of a boy genius growing up in a crazy family and unfair world. This is the show's premise, but it offers so much more. The characters and situations are quirky and amusing, it's just like an exaggerated version of real life. Kindly dad Hal abdicates control, and escapes work mundanities and family chaos by retreating into a world of his own where he is still, or wants to be, a boy. These scenarios provide much of the show's lighter comedy. Mom Lois is loud-mouthed, opinionated and a control freak, making her unpopular, yet she keeps the household running despite the chaos. It is fascinating watching the interaction of the characters and seeing why they behave as they do. For example, the parents seldom give their lively boys quality attention, so it's hardly surprising the boys are mischievous at times. It's also interesting to see the psychological effect of the grandparents on Lois and Hal. Eldest brother Francis has 'mother issues', is a delinquent and rebel at military school. Reese is an underachiever, the school bully, he's hopeless at school but when it comes to inventing schemes to cause trouble and mischief he's outstanding, and not averse to picking on Malcolm. Dewey, the traumatised youngest, also escapes into his fantasy world, where he imagines he is treated better. The show is also populated by eccentric larger than life supporting characters, for example Commandant Spangler, Lois's workmate Craig Feldspar, Malcolm's teachers and gifted classmates including loyal best friend Stevie, and in 'The Grandparents' Lois's nightmare parents Ida and Victor are introduced - they have to be seen to be believed!
Stuck at the centre of all this is cynical Malcolm, IQ 165 but easily outwitted by his mother. He's a genius and in the Krelboyne advanced class at school where he is surrounded by geeks, but just wants to be a 'normal' popular teen. He's put upon, not listened to, his needs not met. He craves popularity but can be tactless, critical and complaining. He has a low opinion of others, yet is genuinely hurt when people don't like him. Malcolm worries about everything, and a lot of the show's comedy stems from his reactions to the situations he finds himself in. He can also be charming, loyal and fight against the odds for what he believes right. His tirades against unfairness can make him unpopular and some of the show's darker comedy stems from watching him set himself up for inevitable disappointment.
The show is insightful, amusing, well written and incredibly well acted. Frankie Muniz is perfect as feisty, loquacious Malcolm, his performance has passion, contrast (for example the contrast between the genius Malcolm is and the normal teen he tries to be) and plenty of subtle details, and he is excellent at conveying Malcolm's nervousness and embarrasment. His natural warmth and charm offset some of Malcolm's less likeable characteristics, which are understandable in context. I love the way Malcolm engages the viewer with his commentaries to camera embellished by various apposite facial expressions. Jane Kaczmarek and Bryan Cranston (Lois and Hal) are outstanding, really plausible and convincing as the parents. Their acting is so good they could easily pass off as a real married couple with four lively boys! As Malcolm's brothers, Christopher Masterson (Francis) Justin Berfield (Reese) and Erik Per Sullivan (Dewey) are also outstanding in their own unique ways and also bring plenty of talent and commitment to their roles, which they get into with assured confidence and gusto. The cast work and blend together really well, which is so important. Clearly a lot of thought went into the richly varied music soundtrack which is usually appropriate and adds to the scene it accompanies. At its best the show is something special, and benefits from repeated viewings because there is so much to appreciate and enjoy.
Episodes are widescreen 16/9 and in NTSC (not PAL). Picture quality varies between episodes, in most episodes it is very good, unfortunately in a small number of episodes I found picture quality slightly inferior to when I watch the same episode from alternative sources. Picture brightness is darker than alternative sources in all episodes. The opening shots of the first episode 'Traffic Jam' gave a poor first impression, blurry and grainy on the long shot in the car park, a caption saying High Definition, and a TV-PG caption lingers annoyingly (also at the start of a few other episodes) which suggests the source material is not original film negatives. In 'Old Mrs. Old' picture and sound freeze momentarily at 15'22. There are no optional subtitles, which is a shame. The DVD retainer clips are excessively tight and though very dextrous I had to force and flex the DVDs repeatedly to release them (those in Series 1, 3, 4 and 5 are fine). The episode list is partly obscured. The DVDs are now in paper wallets which defeats the point of a presentation case. Despite these criticisms and reasonable consumer expectation of excellent picture quality and user friendly packaging, most people will find the picture quality at least acceptable enough to enjoy the episodes. It saddens me to give this release less than the 5 stars the show deserves, but the review and rating are for the DVD product supplied.