Daddy Issues are the Least of your Worries
It's 2001. Bryan Cranston is on Malcolm in the Middle. He is singing a song about eating bacon while dancing around in tightie-whities.
Most people, believing that comedic and dramatic actors are two entirely different breeds, can't make the connection between these two wildly different stages of Cranston's career. They call the period he's in right now the most successful time of his career, when in reality he was a star on a long-running sitcom for over six years. And not a bad sitcom, either; people LOVED Malcolm in the Middle, and it certainly wasn't because of Frankie Muniz.
This article's not about Cranston (mostly). It's about why this show isn't a bad place to get your start. I wish more of the actors on this show had the same career boom as Cranston, because they ALL have chops.
Break out the PBR, kids. We're heading to our favorite Tri-County area with the Malcolm in the Middle drinking game.
"Malcolm in the Middle of Playing this Game": The Rules
1. Drink for Title Drops. For easy mode, that's the full title, "Malcolm in the Middle".
2. Drink when they drink.
3. Drink for Daddy Issues. "Your father was a drug lord in a past life" doesn't count as it can't be proven.
4. Drink when an adult yells at a child. Parents, teachers, other authority figures...it happens a lot.
5. Drink for fisticuffs. "Combat with the fists".
6. Drink for montages or flashbacks. Sometimes both will happen at once!
7. Drink when someone goes on a long-winded rant.
All the above rules apply. Also...
1. Title drops: Drink whenever someone says "Malcolm".
2. Drink when Lois and Hal get freaky. The only sitcom parents who make it clear they still have sex. Constantly.
3. Drink when someone talks to something that can't talk back. This includes when Malcolm talks to the camera.
4. Drink for dreams or fantasy sequences.
5. Drink when a child shows artistic or intellectual talent. Dewey is a musical prodigy. Reese cooks. They all have something.
All the above rules apply. Also...
1. Drink for episode title drops.
2. Drink when Hal or Lois talk about "the boys".
3. Drink when someone tries to woo a potential romantic interest. It's usually Malcolm or Reese.
4. Drink for warfare. Different from "fisticuffs" in that there's strategy involved and occasionally long-range weapons.
5. Drink when a conversation uses the phrase "What's wrong with me/you?"
And finally, our special rule...
If anyone can draw an immediate parallel between Hal and Walter White BASED ON SOMETHING HAL SAYS OR DOES, everyone must take a drink.
Krissy Pappau: Rules the roost (Medium)
Pooh Daddy: Dances in the corner (Easy)
Williams: Confessed halfway through that she'd just been drinking (Easy)
Dijan de Nero: Thought we were going to be watching Constantine (Easy)
Shirley Whiskas: Brought us a giant king's cake (Medium)
Bride of Buggerlas: Was horrified by the depictions of school life (Easy)
Champjagne Austgin: Master sleuth (Hard)
Big Moose: Thanks God he was an only child (Hard)
Velma Jinkies: Found pictures of all the cutest boys (Hard)
Everything is Terrible Forever
"Adults are horrible, children are evil, and everything is terrible forever."
Before answering, I'd like to note that this show drew more genuine laughter out of everyone watching than any TV comedy we've watched to date. So at the very least, this show is doing its job and doing it well.
Putting aside the clever writing and the stellar acting, this show is pretty dark. Malcolm's family is broke most of the time, a situation that isn't made better by all the kids' habits of destroying things. Malcolm goes from sympathetic underdog to whiny bitch PRETTY quickly into the show's run. The characters are angry, often hateful people who don't think further than a week into the future.
We know these people. We meet them every day. And we may dislike them a lot of the time, but we recognize that the people who actively hurt them are even worse.
This show deals a lot with ideas of injustice (hell, one of the opening theme's lines is "Life is Unfair"). Malcolm or one of the other members of his family will be put in a situation where they're fighting against an authority figure, and they'll have to use either their wits or brute force to get out of it. The great thing is that "authority" changes from episode to episode; one moment Lois can be completely in charge, but the next minute she'll be taken down by someone even more powerful (and even more of a dick).
In "Academic Octathlon", Hal has to break the news to Dewey that he can't give him bedtime rides anymore because Dewey is getting too big to carry to bed. Dewey retaliates by telling Hal he won't love him anymore. The show is filled with incredible power struggles that subvert family structure. A nine-year-old holding love hostage has all the cards, leaving the well-meaning adult powerless.
We like the show because we recognize these petty struggles and know in our hearts that they feel like the most important things in the world. We watch this show because it teaches us to laugh at crushing debt and soul-crushing jobs, and tolerate the people who stand for corruption and assholery.
And it's also a goddamn funny show. So no wonder it ran for eight seasons.
Where are We?
Nobody knows. If you google this question, your most popular results will be the internet collectively scratching its head. The show does a great job of making it seem like Malcolm in the Middle could take place anywhere. But there are some clues that it doesn't take place ANYWHERE.
We know it's within a two hour drive of Alabama, because that's where Francis went to military school.
We know that the climate is on the warmer side and that it rarely, if ever, snows.
We know that they are not even close to a major city; we never see any kind of activity that would plant them outside of, say, Chicago.
"They're in North Carolina," put in Champjagne.
In "Academic Octathlon", the banners strung around the competition clearly state that the competition takes place in North Carolina.
Hot and Not
"I always had a crush on Justin Berfield," said Velma.
Come on, guys, I hate to pick a petty battle here, but who's cuter than Christopher Masterson?
Except Frankie Muniz.
As we stated earlier, Hal is crazy. And every time he goes mad with power, there's a drink for you right there. But personality-wise, Hal is only a couple steps away from becoming another Heisenberg.
At one point the family lives in an RV (drink). Hal loves to cook breakfast (drink). Hal likes to run around in his underwear (drink). In the fourth episode, he goes crazy with a woodchipper and he and his sons just start chucking things in to see what happens (might as well drink).
The funniest parallel, though, was when we saw Hal exhibit, as Pooh Daddy called it, "the beginnings of a scientific mind". In episode 0215 "The Grandparents," the family gets a new refrigerator that dispenses two different types of ice cubes. Lois comes home one night after work to find Hal testing both ice cubes. He figured out that one set of cubes kept the drink colder, but the other set lasted longer.
Hell, maybe there's something to that fan theory after all.
Drink when someone abuses their power.
Not all ego-tripping comes with yelling and screaming. Sometimes it's quiet and sneaky. And it's a motific conflict in the show, so it should get a drink.
Drink when something breaks.
If you want to get things done, go simple. This rule will get you everywhere you need to go on its own.
Drink when a man dresses up like a woman, or talks about dressing up like a woman.
For Your Inebriation is written by Krissy Pappau (Hollis Beck). Video footage is taken by Pooh Daddy (Vincent Graham) and edited by Seb (Amy Yourd). All "Malcolm in the Middle" images are owned by 20th Century Fox.