on 27 March 2013
'This stuff used to sound fine to me but now it's just stupid. You guys are stupid. I don't mean that in an insulting way, I mean that in a factual way.'
A boy 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. 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 and squabbling at times. It's also interesting to see the psychological effect of the grandparents on Lois and Hal. Eldest brother Francis has 'mother issues' - he's a rebel and seeks his fortune at a logging camp in Alaska but finds a hell hole. Reese is an underachiever, the school bully, hopeless at school but when it comes to inventing schemes to cause trouble and mischief he's outstanding. 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 Lois's workmate Craig Feldspar, Ida the grandma from hell, Lavernia who is Francis's employer from hell, Malcolm's gifted classmates including loyal best friend Stevie, and their tough teacher Lionel Herkabe, with whom Malcolm has to battle.
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 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! 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 all widescreen 16/9 and NTSC (not PAL). Picture quality varies between episodes and is very good in most cases, however the picture could be brighter in all cases. Overall I found the quality more satisfactory than the Series 1 and 2 releases. Unfortunately there are no optional subtitles.