Malcolm in the Middle was one of the first postmodern television shows of all time. As I said before in my last blog post,The Struggles of A Real American Family, the late 90’s was moving away from that idea of stay at home moms. Families of four with an average middle-class life were becoming less and less popular. Malcolm in the Middle was a precursor to the recession which sprung only a year after the show ended. The show gave a relation to the struggles of day to day life which gave the viewers something they could relate too. It was something a sitcom had never done before.
Several things set Malcolm in the Middle away from traditional sitcoms. Its filmed in single camera, making it easier to move through and with shots. It gives the show a much more realistic style shot. There’s also no live studio audience laughing in the background during the show. There is no laugh track at all. It’s filled in when the viewer feels the need to laugh at the hysterical humor that is laced through every off and on sentence in the dialogue. I feel laugh tracks in a way are insulting to the audience. They command you to laugh along at a certain point with an audience from most likely 30 years ago. Malcolm in the Middle also shattered the fourth wall. You may ask whats the fourth wall ..? It can be defined as
Speaking directly to, otherwise acknowledging or doing something to the audience through this imaginary wall – or, in film, television, and video games, through a camera – is known as “breaking the fourth wall”.
Malcolm was the pioneer of doing this in almost every episode, addressing the audience with his own opinion on topics that no-one around him can hear except the viewers.
This style is famous but only seen in a limited amount of shows; it creates a depth with the character deeper than normal. You see what they’re thinking and feeling without having to figure it out through the context yourself. You also have a personal identification with that character who is telling their true feelings on what may be happening during the plot of the show. This has also been done on How I Met Your Mother, 30 Rock and Scrubs which proves its popularity.
Malcolm’s not the only one character you will find a personal identification with in the show either. The Wilkerson’s family is one you can feel connected with from the first episode you watch. They don’t follow the regular cultural values you find in a normal families societies during the late 90’s & early 2000’s when the show was aired. They stray from the average hegemony of what an American family would look like. Children going missing, Hal treating the boys as buddies more than kids, and Lois being aggressive enough to get a whole army rallied up but that’s their key to success. People at this time needed a show like this to show them the realities of TV, that these people inside this imaginary box were people just like you and I.
In episode 9 of the first season, Lois Vs Evil, there are perfect examples of consubstantiality for the viewer. Mother’s who are working full time dealing with their children might share a substance with the show. When Dewey, Reese, and Malcolm enter the store in the beginning scene you can already tell they are about to cause chaos. Lois tells the boys they have to wait 5 minutes before her shift is over. She gives them one rule just don’t touch anything… The next scene shoots to the boys looking over at the new Steam Blaster (a rug cleaning soap machine tester). Before Lois can even think about it, she’s running back from stocking shelves to find Reese and Malcolm fighting and covered in soap ruining the store. After a mishap of a steam cleaner, Lois finds out that Dewey stole a $150 bottle of cognac from the store where she works. She makes him return it, but she’s fired by a tyrannic assistant manager, which leaves the family struggling. Anyone who has ever felt this struggle of being put into this place of poverty and not being able to provide for their family hails this show.
Malcolm in the Middle represents the morals of a regular family. Watching this as a college student I can still relate to being Malcolm’s age and being punished for petty crimes. The show relates to doing things like throwing water balloons at your teachers cars, cheating on your older brother with his girlfriend, and being a peeping tom. Lois being a stern and strict mother teaches her sons life lessons that every kid learns in their childhood during each episode. Lessons like growing up and understanding how the real world works.
Malcolm in the Middle makes it very noticeable that it uses different images and symbols to relate to it’s viewers. Symbols like the cheap clothes and toys they provide the kids gives the audience an idea of how much the family is in debt.
The Wilkerson’s also experience real world problems. In episode 14 of season 2, Hal Quits, Hal quits his job after a horrible career day at Dewey’s school, and spends his free time to a huge painting in a garage . He drives himself crazy adding more and more layers to the painting until he goes crazy about it. In episode 21 of season 2, Malcolm Vs Reese, Francis bribes Malcolm and Reese with just one extra ticket to a wrestling match, forcing them to humiliate themselves and do all his chores, trying to outdo each other for the one ticket. The boys turn on each other when they realize that the other one can’t go to the wrestling match if they are grounded. Real world problems that stem through every episode are things like Malcolm being labeled as “the other” while in school because he is a genius who hangs out with kids considered Kreylbones(nerds). Reese and Francis constantly being punished for the problems they cause and Dewey consistently being the one picked on.
Anyone who analyzes Malcolm in the Middle can see it was a beacon of light to all parents across the world. You just had to do better than Hal and Lois and you were considered a good parent. The morals and life lessons this relatable family taught are ones that will always be entertaining every time you watch. One family, Two Parents, Fours Boys from hell – What could go right?