on 30 March 2013
'I'm just trying to help her. She went to all the trouble to express something in a way that's actually good, and now she's being silenced by a bunch of stupid, arbitrary people for stupid arbitrary reasons, and I just think that's wrong.'
A high school genius growing up in a crazy family and unfair world. That is the premise, but this quality show offers so much more. The characters and situations are quirky and amusing, it's just like an exaggerated version of real life. However in Series 5 some of the storylines are a bit more surreal and bizarre. Kindly dad Hal 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, which makes 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 and squabbling at times. It's also interesting to see the psychological effect of the grandparents on Lois and Hal. Eldest brother Francis and feisty wife Piama have landed on their feet at The Grotto dude ranch. Reese is an under-achiever, the school bully, he's hopeless at school but when it comes to inventing schemes to cause trouble and mischief he's outstanding. Traumatised Dewey 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 Ida the grandma from hell, Lois's workmate Craig Feldspar, Otto and Gretchen, Malcolm's loyal best friend Stevie, and high school teacher Mr. Herkabe, who wastes no opportunity to put Malcolm down and humiliate him.
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, 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 is 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, acting with 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 embarrassment. His natural charm offsets 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 and a baby! As Malcolm's brothers, Christopher Masterson (Francis) Justin Berfield (Reese) and Erik Per Sullivan (Dewey) are also outstanding in their own unique ways, with their own range of appropriate memorable facial expressions, and also bring plenty of talent and commitment to their roles, which they get into with assured confidence and gusto. Special mention must go to Justin Berfield playing Reese as thuggish with a touch of vulnerability. 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. Snappy editing and sound effects emphasise a cartoon-like aspect of the show. At its best the show is something special, and benefits from repeated viewings because there is so much to appreciate and enjoy.
Episodes are in widescreen and NTSC (not PAL). While picture quality is mostly good, unfortunately some of the episodes suffer slightly in that occasionally panning shots, even very slow panning shots, are marred by rapid bright flicker and picture judder. I also notice some colour wash and blur on some shots when trying to freeze frame or slo-mo. These flaws are not evident watching the same episode on DVDs of digital TV broadcasts recorded solely for personal use. The lack of optional subtitles is a shame also the lack of sensible chapter points in some episodes. A qualified 5 stars then, despite these criticisms other people will probably find the picture quality perfectly acceptable and I would not wish to deter anyone from buying the DVDs.