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The series follows a dysfunctional working-class family and stars Frankie Muniz in the lead role of Malcolm, a somewhat normal boy who tests at genius level. While he enjoys his intelligence, he despises having to take classes for gifted children, who are mocked by the other students who call them "Krelboynes". Jane Kaczmarek is Malcolm's overbearing, authoritarian mother, Lois, and Bryan Cranston plays his immature but loving father, Hal. Christopher Kennedy Masterson plays eldest brother Francis, a former rebel who, in earlier episodes, was in military school, but eventually marries and settles into a steady job. Justin Berfield is Malcolm's dimwitted older brother Reese, a cruel bully who tortures Malcolm at home, even while he defends him at school. Younger brother Dewey, bitter about his ruined childhood, smart, and musically talented, is portrayed by Erik Per Sullivan. In earlier episodes the show's focus was on Malcolm, but as the series progressed, it explored all six members of the family more. A fifth son, Jamie, was introduced as a baby at the end of Season 4.
The show received widespread praise from critics and proved an extremely popular draw for the network. It was placed No. 88 on Entertainment Weekly "New TV Classics" list, and was named by Alan Sepinwall of HitFix as one of the 10 best shows in Fox network history.
Later seasons expanded the show's scope by exploring the family's interactions with their extended family, friends and colleagues in more depth, including Lois' tyrannical mother (Cloris Leachman); Craig Feldspar, Lois' coworker at the Lucky Aide drugstore; Malcolm's disabled friend Stevie Kenarban, and Stevie's dad Abe; as well as a series of continuing subplots detailing Francis' misadventures at the military college, from which he subsequently runs away to work in an Alaskan logging camp, before finally landing a job on a dude ranch run by an eccentric German couple.
The series differed significantly from the standard TV sitcom format/presentation in many respects. Malcolm routinely broke the fourth wall by both narrating in voice-over and talking directly to the viewer on camera. The distinctive look and sound of the series relied heavily on elaborate post-production, including fast-cut editing, sound effects and musical inserts, the extensive use of locations, and unusual camera styles, compositions and effects (e.g. overhead, tracking, hand-held and crane shots, and the frequent use of a wide-angle lens for both close-ups and ensemble scenes) that would be generally impractical or impossible to achieve in a standard studio-based video multi-camera sitcom production. All scenes were shot using a single-camera setup, and the show employed neither a laugh track nor a live studio audience. Emulating the style of hour-long dramas, this half-hour show was shot on film instead of on video.
Another distinctive aspect of the show is that the cold open of every episode is unrelated to the main story. Exceptions were episodes which were the conclusions of "two-parters"; each part two episode opened with a recap of its part one episode. The family's surname was never mentioned directly on the series. Linwood Boomer's script for the pilot episode originally included the surname Wilkerson, but it was later removed because he did not want to put "any specific ethnic label on the characters". The surname appeared in early drafts of promotional material and also on Francis' uniform in the pilot. In the last episode of the series, Francis drops his ID badge from work, which lists his name as "Francis Nolastname". Also in the last episode, the principal announces Malcolm as the speaker, clearly mouthing "Nolastname" as his voice is drowned out by microphone feedback. A publicist for Fox said that "officially the family's last name should be considered a mystery".
Malcolm (Frankie Muniz): the title character of the series. Malcolm is a genius with an IQ of 165 and a photographic memory. He is placed in a class for gifted students (or "Krelboynes" as they are known at the school). His intelligence, as well as feelings of not fitting in, and a large ego fueled by a cruel streak of snarkiness cause numerous problems for him over the course of the series. As the title suggests, Malcolm is initially the middle child of the three living at home; chronologically, he is Hal's and Lois's third son. His best friend is Stevie Kenarban. In the series finale, he graduates from high school and starts attending a prestigious college by both scholarship and working various jobs, specifically as a janitor at Harvard University.
Lois (Jane Kaczmarek): The family's wildly hotheaded and stubborn mother who is also an intelligent and decisive woman. Most of her bullishness comes from her constant battles throughout the series to keep her badly behaved, highly destructive boys in check, while maintaining a menial job at a Lucky Aide drugstore. Though she is hard on her children for their constantly bad behavior, Lois can be just as petty and spiteful as they, e.g., going after a group of girls that humiliated Reese before his senior prom. Despite her constant aggressiveness, she is motherly  and will defend her family fiercely, especially against neighbors and others who view them as poor trash; in one episode, she finds that Malcolm and Reese discovered their neighbor having an affair with her Hispanic gardener while they planned to frame her son for theft, but doesn't punish them for their actions as this counted as revenge against the woman, who hated Lois. Lois is disliked by both Hal's wealthy family and her own parents. She has a younger sister named Susan, who blames Lois for stealing Hal from her. Neighbors despise Lois and her boys and celebrate the weekends when they're gone. In the series finale, she discovered that she and Hal are expecting a sixth child.
Hal (Bryan Cranston): Hal is Lois' husband and father to Francis, Reese, Malcolm, Dewey, and Jamie. Hal is a well-meaning, loving, but inept and completely immature father, and completely dependent on Lois, whom he loves absolutely. He comes from a wealthy family that does not accept Lois as his wife and wishes that he married Susan instead. Because his family is disrespectful towards Lois, he rarely mentions them and avoids his family. Hal loves his boys and will sometimes sneak them out for fun father-son activities behind Lois' back. Hal is an indecisive character who frequently picks up new hobbies for short periods of time, such as speed walking, or painting, and is irresponsible with the money he earns from his low-paying desk job. His indecisiveness was explored in "Living Will" from a childhood which he had a hard time making decisions for himself and because of this, he always deferred to Lois to make them for him. In the series finale, he discovered that he and Lois are expecting a sixth child. Hal has a high sex drive, this was revealed in the episode "Forbidden Girlfriend" when Lois is taking medication and is unable to have sex for an entire week, it is mentioned again in the episode "Poker 2" when Hal tells his friends he has sex 14 times per week. Hal's best friend is Abe Kenarban.
Francis (Christopher Masterson): Hal and Lois' first son. At the beginning of the series, he is attending military school in Alabama, run by the strict Commandant Spangler (Daniel von Bargen). It is shown that his parents enjoyed a promising middle-class, comfortable lifestyle before he was born and that he was such a difficult, destructive child that that dream soon ended. He has himself legally emancipated at the start of Season 3, leaves the school, and travels to Alaska. He finds work at a logging camp and later meets and marries Piama (Emy Coligado) a girl of Inuit heritage. When the camp closes, they move to the western United States and take jobs at a Wild West-themed hotel/ranch, run by kindly but eccentric German, Otto Mannkusser (Kenneth Mars), and his wife, Gretchen (Meagen Fay). Francis and his mother have a mutual love-hate war of wills and his main motivation in life is to thwart or irk her (though, ironically, he marries a woman with the same personality as Lois). Although a juvenile delinquent, he is street-smart. Francis is seen less frequently after season 5, becoming an occasional recurring character and making only a small handful of appearances in Season 6 and the final Season 7. Whereas he was featured regularly in previous seasons as a side-story to the main family, Francis' steady job disappeared in season 6 due to legal issues, and he returned to being a delinquent, leading a questionable and poor lifestyle with his wife, Piama, until it is revealed in the final episode of season 7, "Graduation", that Francis already has a steady desk job sorting out computers. He admits to Hal that he likes his job, but also enjoys frustrating Lois by telling her that he's unemployed.
Reese (Justin Berfield): Hal and Lois' second son. He is the older brother of Malcolm, Dewey, and Jamie, and younger brother of Francis. Reese is the most impulsive and physical of the boys. He lacks common sense, he is frequently outwitted and outspoken by other family members, and is gleefully violent. Despite being unwilling to think, Reese is as much a genius as his brothers, although in less traditional or obvious ways. Reese is better than Malcolm at devising plans, and is masterful at the rare things which can pin his drifting focus, such as driving, or when he's revealed to be a culinaryprodigy, excelling at cooking and baking. In the series finale, he finally graduates from high school after intentionally failing many times before, he obtained full employment as a high school custodian, and shares an apartment with Craig.
Dewey (Erik Per Sullivan): Hal and Lois' fourth son. He is the youngest child until the birth of Jamie, and often falls victim to his brothers' pranks. Dewey is very intelligent and musically gifted. He plays the piano. He has a very high tolerance for pain due to years of physical and mental abuse from his brothers. Despite his intelligence, he is placed in a remedial class for slower students (or "Buseys") due to a misunderstanding. Dewey remains in the class and serves as their self-appointed teacher. By the seventh and final season of the show, the Busey class is no longer mentioned. He is the only sibling that eventually breaks the cycle of abusing the younger sibling, which ends up with him acting like a normal, lovable brother towards Jamie. In the series finale, he and Jamie are seen hiding in the closet together after a prank.
Catherine Lloyd Burns as Caroline Miller (seasons 1-2): Malcolm's "overly earnest" teacher. She ardently adores Malcolm due to his intelligence. Francis uses her adoration to pay a medical bill to stitch up Malcolm in one episode. She is the teacher of the Krelboynes in Seasons 1 and 2, at which time she is seen heavily pregnant. After she gives birth, Caroline leaves teaching. She is the only non-family member to be credited as part of the main cast in the intro.
Jamie (James and Lukas Rodriguez) (season 4 recurring; seasons 5-7): Hal and Lois' fifth son, born at the end of Season 4. Despite his infancy, he is shown to already have some of his brothers' habits, such as stealing and disrespecting Lois. He is shown to being the only child who is capable of defeating Lois. Like Malcolm and Dewey, Jamie is revealed to be very intelligent and takes advantage of his less intelligent older brother, Reese.
Craig Lamar Traylor as Stevie Kenarban, Malcolm's best friend since childhood who's in the Krelboyne class and is in a wheelchair. Stevie has difficulty breathing and is revealed in season 5 to have only one lung. He is socially awkward and has trouble making friends.
David Anthony Higgins as Craig Feldspar, Lois's overweight coworker at the Lucky Aide Drugstore, who has a secret crush on Lois. He is very geeky and self-absorbed and in the rare event he is given actual powers, he can also be as bossy as Lois, albeit much less competent than her. Craig also has a non-existent relationship with his estranged father, who is utterly obsessed with running his gym.
Emy Coligado as Piama Tananahaakna, Francis' wife. She is an Alaska Native. She is a good wife to Francis and helps him resolve troublesome situations. Piama has the same type of fiery, unyielding personality as Francis' mother, Lois, who initially dislikes Piama until a disastrous family reunion made her realize how unfair she was to Piama. (Seasons 3-7, 28 episodes)
Eric Nenninger as Eric Hanson, Francis' somewhat naïve friend from military school who precedes Francis to Alaska. It is his call which brings Francis to Alaska. However, Eric is left to hitchhike back home possibly as revenge for suggesting that he and Francis find work in Alaska.
Kenneth Mars as Otto Mannkusser, Francis' boss who owns the ranch he works at after he leaves Alaska. He is of German descent and he is a naïve and kind-hearted person. Francis tries to protect Otto from being scammed by con-artists and helped him reconcile with his estranged son, Rutger. He is married to Gretchen.
Evan Matthew Cohen, Kyle Sullivan, Kristin Quick, Will Jennings, and Victor Z. Isaac all play Krelboynes from Malcolm's class. (Season 1 - 4)
Gary Anthony Williams as Abe Kenarban, Stevie's overprotective father and Hal's best friend. (1-7, 18 episodes)
Daniel von Bargen as Commandant Edwin Spangler, the head of Marlin Academy. He is missing his right eye, his left hand, and his ring finger on his right hand, and he actually never served war time. He despises Francis because he fought against him. In the end, he loses his other hand to Francis' waving a saber about and later is fired from Marlin Academy. After arriving in Alaska, Francis gets Spangler a job at a retirement home, which gives him free rein to bully the elderly. (Seasons 1-3, 15 episodes)
Cloris Leachman as Grandma Ida, Lois' mother and Malcolm's grandmother. She despises Francis and Lois, except on one occasion when she was kind to Lois. Ida has one common interest with Francis: they both despise Lois for being a control freak. She is generally disliked by the family, bar Reese whom she clearly favors. She lost her leg saving Dewey from being hit by a truck, one of her few recorded good deeds. She once tried to sue Lois, her own daughter, for slipping on a leaf in the walkway of Lois' house and becoming temporarily injured. She was foiled by Francis and the boys who gave their support to their parents and the lawyer willingly abandons her. Ida favors Susan over Lois as she is more graceful and talented. (Season 2-7, 11 episodes)
Meagen Fay as Gretchen Mannkusser, Otto's wife who helps out at the ranch. (Season 4 & 5)
Karim Prince as Cadet Stanley, Marlin Academy student, Francis' best friend and informal bodyguard during the show's first season.
Sandy Ward, John Ennis, Richard Gross, and Christopher Michael Moore all play Francis' friends at the Alaskan logging camp.
Dan Martin, Jonathan Craig Williams, Edward James Gage, and Alex Morris all play Hal's poker friends.
Chris Eigeman as Lionel Herkabe, the second teacher of the Krelboyne class and a former Krelboyne himself. Despite sharing many of the same personality traits, he and Malcolm hate each other, but on one occasion Herkabe was nice to Malcolm. He is also bossy, stubborn and sadistic. Herkabe loses his GPA award in light of his actions for flunking Gym.
Brenda Wehle as Lavernia, Francis' first boss, a malevolent woman. (Season 3, 7 episodes)
Merrin Dungey played two different, unrelated characters. In the pilot episode Dungey plays Malcolm's teacher before he transfers to the Krelboyne class. Later in the first season, she appears as Kitty Kenarban, Stevie's mother who left him and Abe, but then returned. It is shown that Kitty is very overprotective of Stevie.
Tania Raymonde as Cynthia, a Krelboyne girl who had a crush on Malcolm but left for Europe and later returned. Her dad is played by Fred Sanders. (Season 2-4, 4 episodes)
Hayden Panettiere as Jessica, a girl hired to babysit Reese, Malcolm, and Dewey who later ends up living on their couch temporarily after her dad is arrested. Jessica is shown to be a very manipulative girl, once showing Malcolm how to emotionally manipulate Lois. She had been known to play tricks on Reese and Malcolm. Despite this, Jessica has a crush on Malcolm and has shown that she can be a loyal friend. (Season 4, 6 & 7, 4 episodes)
Landry Allbright as Julie Houlerman, a girl whom Malcolm had a crush on. (Season 1, 3 episodes)
Julie Hagerty as Polly, Jamie's babysitter, who is extravagantly open about her personal problems and medical conditions. In one episode it's revealed she has a sadistic, and somewhat threatening, ex-boyfriend named Danny, who only appears once in the show. They end up reconciling and getting back together. (Season 5, 4 episodes)
The opening title features short clips from cult films or television shows, edited together with clips from the pilot and early episodes of the show, set to the song "Boss of Me" by They Might Be Giants.
The house at 12334 Cantura Street as it appeared in 2009.
Much of the filming for Malcolm in the Middle was done on location in various parts of the Thirty Mile Zone around Los Angeles. A privately owned home, located at 12334 Cantura Street in Studio City, California, was rented for upwards of $3,000 a day to film as Malcolm's house. Rebuilt in 2011, the property is no longer recognizable due to its modern two-floor design. However, the house directly to the left of it is nearly identical to what it looked like during filming, still making it a frequent stop for fans of the show. School scenes were filmed at Walter Reed Middle School, in North Hollywood, and the Lucky Aide was represented by a Drug Emporium at 6020 Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood. In "Stock Car Races," when Hal and the boys are entering a race track, the billboard behind the entrance displays the place as Irwindale Speedway, a real race track in Southern California. The last episode in the first season ("Waterpark") was filmed at a water park called Wild Rivers (now closed) located in Irvine, California. Though palm trees and desert scenery are seen in shots of the local region and town throughout the show, indicating a location in the Western United States, it is never revealed which state the show is set in (except for Francis' whereabouts in early seasons, such as his military school in Alabama and his job in Alaska).
The show entered barter syndication one month before the sixth season premiered on Fox and was later aired on FX in the fall of 2007 until the fall of 2010.
The show was launched on Nick at Nite on July 5, 2009 at 8:00 pm with an all night marathon. However, the episodes were either banned or heavily edited due to content that was too strong for the network's standards. When Nick at Nite pulled Malcolm it began airing on TeenNick from November 26, 2010 and continued until December 2010. The show returned to TeenNick's line-up on July 18, 2011.
On September 26, 2011, Malcolm in the Middle began airing on IFC.
On March 5, 2018 the series began airing on Fuse.
On April 11, 2019 it was originally revealed that the series will be available on Disney+, Disney's direct-to-consumer streaming service, at launch on November 12, 2019. However, the show was not available on launch day for unknown reasons.
Only the first season of Malcolm in the Middle has been released on DVD in the U.S. Season 2 was set to be released in the fall of 2003, but was cancelled due to high costs of music clearances.
Extended pilot episode, A Stroke of Genius featurette, commentary on select episodes, gag reel, deleted scenes, alternate show openings, bloopers, Dewey's Day Job featurette, Season 2 Still Gallery.
In February 2012, it was announced that Fabulous Films would be releasing the first season of the show in the UK in April, as well as releasing each subsequent season the following month, ending with a complete series set near Christmas 2012. However, in late March 2012, several retailers had removed the release date from their websites; this was later revealed to be because of "technical issues with the Masters" and that the release date had been pushed back to June. Other seasons will now follow on either a monthly or bi-monthly basis.
All the UK DVD releases are intact as originally aired with no cuts, with the original music, with the exception of one Season 3 episode "Company Picnic" which was originally aired as a one-hour special, before being re-edited and split into two parts for syndication. The DVD presents the syndicated version.
All seven seasons as well as the complete series set were released in Australia in September 2013. The complete series set altered the separate seven season sets to fit into four volumes. A collector's edition boxset which has the seasons split up instead of volumes was released subsequently in 2014. It features everything from the four-volume set and includes a bonus T-shirt. This set is exclusive to Australia.
In May 2019, Turbine Medien announced the first ever Blu-Ray release of the complete series in Germany, due to be released in September 2019. The release however, will be on Standard Definition, in similar fashion to the PAL DVD releases.
Season one holds a Metacritic score of 88 out of 100, based on 25 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".
The show started off with ratings of 23 million for the debut episode and 26 million for the second episode.
Fox shuffled the show's air time repeatedly to make room for other shows. On January 13, 2006, Fox announced that the show would be moving to 7:00 pm on Sundays effective January 29, 2006. The 151st and final episode aired at 8:30 pm ET/PT (the show's original timeslot) on May 14, 2006. The finale was watched by 7.4 million.
Jane Kaczmarek and Cloris Leachman gained the highest honors in the cast for being nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award every year they appeared on Malcolm in the Middle. Leachman succeeded in winning 2002 and 2006. The show won a total of 7 Emmys during its six-year run and a Peabody Award.
Russian channel STS made a shot-for-shot adaptation called ? (Super Max) that comprises 1 season so far.