In 2000, during the first season of Malcolm in the Middle it was considered the best situation comedy in years. It was a saving grace for the TV network FOX in its genre of shows from Married With Children and The Simpsons . Even Family Guy which debuted in 1999 was canceled by 2003 because of its low ratings. The difference was Malcolm in the Middle had a realistic portrayal on life that every family in America could relate too. It featured the first real lower middle-class family in an explicit way which gave a perfect demographic for viewers 18-49. Teens who watched the show could relate to the boys rebelling from society and the grips of their parents. While the Mothers & Fathers could relate to the situations of a lower class family trying to take care of five boys. When it first aired, FOX gave it the golden time slot of Sundays 8:30- 9:00pm over the Simpsons, trying to urge the path for something new.
Well it worked. The New York Times even posted on January 24th, 2000 that
“In its first week, ”Malcolm” was seen by 22.4 million viewers over all. In its second week, the show’s audience increased to 23.2 million viewers, making it the most-watched comedy on television.”
The Nielsen ratings for Malcolm in the Middle placed it #31 for the most watched shows in the year 1999-2000 with a rating of 8.9 and a share of 14% share. Meaning the percentage of television sets in use that are tuned to the program at that specific time slot was 14% ! Giving it the title of The #1 TV show for FOX network for that year and years to come. Yet where did all this success come from so fast..?
Malcolm and his family fit the context of the time. The late 90’s was moving away from the idea of stay at home moms and families of four with an average middle-class life. Lois was one of the first working moms taking care of a family of six boys including a crazy husband. Life was unfair but authentic for the family struggling with bills and saving money.
What makes Malcolm in the Middle seem so relatable to the viewers?
They understand every aspect about each other. The character connection and growth is unlike any show that came before this. I used to watch Boy Meets World which is a family comedy sort of like Malcolm in the Middle but it never gave me that connection to the characters like Malcolm and his family do.
Malcolm knows what its like to be disappointed, bullied, and desperate for a normal family. He is considered a genius yet still acts rebellious with his brothers. He gets picked on for hanging out with his friends, the “kreylbones”, but still sticks up for them.
Dealing with Reese who is the classic version of an older brother that is a little more dim-witted than the rest. He spends his time picking on his younger three brothers in the house like an other older brother should.
The eldest brother Francis, the most rebelling, is stuck in military school for his mistakes he made as a kid. Eventually escaping and traveling to Alaska where he marries a woman his mother of course doesn’t like.
Dewey is perfect example of what the fourth son in a family of all boys would look like. He is mostly taken care of by his older brothers who treat him like their slave. He’s very sneaky and sly, able to fly under the radar of his mother and get his older brothers in trouble. Dewey also finds that he is a gifted music prodigy as the seasons go on.
Jamie is a late addition to the show and also the youngest of the bunch. He makes his appearance in the 5th season. He is the only son able to catch Lois’s caring and mothering side while being also taken care of by his brothers more than anyone else. He is also shown to be intelligent as the show goes farther on.
Lois has two different jobs. One is taking care of this crazy bunch of boys and the other is spending her days at Lucky Aide trying to make money to help Hal support the family. A tough love type mother that is stubborn because she needs to be. One that any mother of boys would be able to relate to within a minute of watching.
Hal, the head honcho of the family is almost more childish than all the children. He is much more relaxed than Lois in parenting the boys. He lives in fear of Lois’s wrath of over controlling power but still loves her unconditionally. While Hal and Lois blame a lot of their misfortunes on their children, a lot of it stems from Hal’s own reckless behavior. A dad that almost every family can understand when they watch the show.
In episode 10 of season 1, Stock Car Races, it’s very easy to see the look of the program along with the connection to the audience and representation of codes. The Look can be defined as the believability of the show through the emotions that have to do with the characters, costumes, dialogue, sound effects etc. Malcolm in the Middle is very believable it is filmed single camera style which was uncommon for it’s type of genre. Single camera style gives the audience a more connected feeling with the shot. It was filmed on location on a set but used many different locations around Los Angeles for certain scenes in the show. A privately owned home, located at 12334 Cantura Street in Studio City, was rented for upwards of $3,000 a day to film as Malcolms house. In this episode though the boys and Hal are on a set in the CBS studio for the race track feeling.
Even in the beginning minute of the show you can see a connection between the brothers that reveals more than just what the dialogue is telling you. Dewey stands infront of the couch blocking Reese’s vision of the TV. A living room you’d see in any middle-class family with low grade furniture. Dewey proceeds to hit himself in front of the TV yelling “OW, Ow, OW, HELP ” which in turn makes Lois run out of the kitchen and pull Reese by the ear telling him “How can’t you treat your brother good for one minute !!” which only from viewing this scene could tell you how sly Dewey really is with getting his brothers in trouble.
The show hails Malcolm in this episode since he has to square dance in class that day which he is dreading. When getting in the car to go to school with his brothers and dad he finds out he’s in for a different type of day. Hal tells the boys their playing hooky and bringing them to the racetrack. When they arrive the scene shows them at an authentic set of bleachers perfectly consistent with what the stands for a race would be like. Placing NASCAR visors, big soda cups, belly shirts and sun burns all through the stands.
Malcolm and Reese can’t go an episode without getting in trouble. In the end of this episode Reese spots a door that says forbidden and gives a perfect example of dialogue between brothers that seems almost too real. A line I might say to my brother if I had one
” They wouldn’t bother making it forbidden if their wasn’t something totally bitchin’ on the other side”
They end up getting caught by the security and are allowed to go… right after Reese of course acts like himself and punches the security guard right in the nuts as they try to escape.
All of these situations and interactions between these characters makes Malcolm in the Middle easily relatable for anyone watching the show. The deviant acts of these boys creates humor for any audience along with a connection to the characters which grows every episode. I mean even finishing the eighth season seeing Francis starting his own family and Dewey starting to smoke cigs blows my mind. It makes you feel like these characters are more than just people you watch on Television. They’re a second family you can escape too