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YMMV: Malcolm in the Middle
  • Alternative Character Interpretation: Does Lois treat her children bad because of the way they act or is she just trying to control their every action, because her mom did the same thing to her? In "Buseyís Run Away," Dewey explains to Malcolm and Reese that Lois hasnít punished him because he hasn't done anything wrong. However, in another episode Lois mentioned that she regularly treats one of her sons better then the other so that the other two donít know whatís going on.
  • Base Breaker: Every main character, especially Lois. Each character drifts from likable to completely insane. For the viewer, their mileage may vary on just how they're supposed to feel about anyone at any given time.
  • Broken Base: The Series Finale. Malcolm gets offered a lucrative job that would allow him to skip college and become rich. Lois and his family force him to pass up the job because in Lois' words "Malcolm needs to actually crawl and scrape" to actually be a good person. The big divide is whether people feel that Lois was actually right or if she was once more being a Control Freak.
  • Crosses the Line Twice: Domestic abuse, stalking, bullying, religion, death, infidelity, animal cruelty, incest, drug abuse, misogyny, racism; nothing is sacred, and it's all played for laughs. And, unlike shows like The Simpsons that try to temper some of the subject matter with heartwarming moments, this show hardly does it.
  • Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy: Let's face it, this show is ridiculously grim. It's often lampshaded and Played for Laughs.
  • Ear Worm: The theme song.
  • Ensemble Darkhorse: Hal's probably the most popular main character, in no small part to Bryan Cranston's marvelous Large Ham performance. It helps that there's a lot of Retroactive Recognition thanks to Breaking Bad.
  • "Funny Aneurysm" Moment: Commandant Spengler's multiple amputations are continually played for laughs. His actor Daniel von Bargen would later lose a leg to diabetes, and attempted suicide when it looked like he might lose the other one.
  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: The show remains a huge hit in the UK and in Mexico.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: The man who tried to frame Hal for corporate espionage feared he was dying of cancer and wanted to clear his conscience, only to find out that he wasn't later. Paul Gleeson, who played him, died of cancer a year and a half later.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • One has to wonder if Breaking Bad show creator Vince Gilligan looked to this show for inspiration, as this show has a lot of scenes and episode premises that become hilarious and/or eerie once you learn that the Bryan Cranston who plays Bumbling Dad Hal is the same one who plays morally gray, cancer-stricken chemistry teacher-turned-meth dealer, Walter White:
      • In "Malcolm Goes to College," Reese pretends to be a drug dealer in order to get the attention of a well-known (and cute) narc at school, culminating in Hal getting busted for possession of drugs, complete with a baby at the table, and Reese berating him for not telling him.
      • The episode "Reese's Party" centers on one of Francis's hoodlum friends breaking in and making crystal meth in the family's backyard (sadly, Hal is away with Lois at a bed and breakfast).
      • In another episode, Hal worries that he may have cancer and tries to hide it from his sons note , which is slightly better morally (but not as exciting entertainment-wise) than making meth with a high school drop-out to pay for the hospital bills and make sure his family has something to live on when he dies.
      • In "Jessica Stays Over," Hal obsesses over killing a bee. The Breaking Bad episode "Fly" was also about a Bryan Cranston character obsessing over killing a bug (in this case, it's a fly, and the reason is because the fly would cause adverse effects to the chemicals in the meth lab).
      • Similar to the above, is an episode where Hal is obsessed with gassing a colony of ants that have moved into the house. That episode, and the Breaking Bad episode both show a POV shot from the insect in question.
      • Another episode had him ask Malcolm (in a dark, serious tone) if he had what it took to do an upcoming task. When Malcolm responded yes, Hal, now cheerful, remarks "Great! We'll start tomorrow!" The conversation vaguely resembles the interactions between Hal and Jesse in Breaking Bad's first season, particularly the "Buy the RV, we start tomorrow" scene.
      • In "Reese vs. Stevie," a flashback of how he let his sons off the hook for one bad thing they did shows a bald Hal next to a burnt and smoking chemistry set. That moment doesn't get any more obvious in hindsight than this.
      • And then there's the time Hal paid two planes to skywrite a heart in the air for Lois's anniversary, only to have them crash mid-air. Flash-forward to Breaking Bad's second season finale...
      • On the episode "Malcolm Babysits," there's a scene where Hal is outside of a trailer in his underwear, which is how we first meet Walter White in the very first episode of Breaking Bad (only on the former, Lois was throwing him out; the latter was Walter trying to escape other drug dealers and the cops and recording a video will in case he gets shot or crashes his trailer).
      • (mixed with What Could Have Been): Aaron Paul (the actor best known on Breaking Bad as Jesse Pinkman) auditioned to play Francis (the older brother who was sent to military school), but lost out to Christopher Masterson (brother of Danny Masterson, who played Hyde on That 70s Show). If Aaron Paul did get the role of Francis, Breaking Bad would have been mistaken for a Darker and Edgier Malcolm in the Middle spin-off.
    • In the episode "Secret Boyfriend," Vicki (Malcolm's secret girlfriend) is dubbed "cheerleader scum" by Jessica. Pretty funny, considering that Jessica is played by Hayden Panettiere, who the following year would become the cheerleader, on Heroes.
    • One episode made a Godzilla parody by having Lois trash a city made of Legos. Come 2014, there would be a remake of Godzilla with Bryan Cranston in it.
  • Ho Yay: Hal and the father of a neighbor family, which is a Worthy Opponent for Hal's family at being a bunch of dysfunctional sociopaths.
    • Francis and Eric, especially during the Alaska arc. lampshaded by a bunkmate at one point, who tries to help set the mood with a harmonica.
    • Reese, during the three-legged scavenger hunt, complete with a Meadow Run...while hunting down other children.
  • Moral Event Horizon: Ida did many cruel things, but she definitely crosses the line when she drugs a man and forces him to marry her (then drugs her family after they find out what she's done).
    • When Stevie's mother left after he became independent. And she becomes a Karma Houdini whose completely forgiven by her Henpecked Husband and Steview when she rejoins the show. Even Lois, who has committed many heinous acts, called everyone out on the sheer wrongness of accepting a woman who abandoned her disabled child back into their lives due to how bad and selfish the sheer act was.
    • Lois and Hal's entire plan of making Malcolm's life completely miserable so he'll be "motivated" to become president.
  • Retroactive Recognition: Emma Stone appears in one episode, Jennette McCurdy (Sam on iCarly and Sam and Cat) in two, and Hayden Panettiere in four (though unlike Jennette, she plays the same character in all her appearances). And of course, pre-Breaking Bad Bryan Cranston.
  • Rooting for the Empire: Malcolm spends the night in a college, Lois goes along for her own creepy reasons. Cut to confrontation with the RA, who calls Lois out on the exact reason why she's obviously come with Malcolm and you realize that while he's a git, he's awesome at the same time. Even Malcolm doesn't know who to root for.
  • Squick: Reese's broken leg in "Mini-Bike".
    • Hal's tarantula bite in "Zoo".
    • Malcolm's poison ivy reaction in "Company Picnic, Part 2".
    • Hal's fungal infection in "Hot Tub".
  • Unnecessary Makeover: Lois gets tastelessly made up in her workplace for being deemed untidy in her work report. With that, she can flirt her way to advantages, but she gets tired of it soon enough.
  • Wangst: Malcolm has some genuine reasons to be complaining or feeling annoyed/angered at his family - but at the same time, he sometimes feels unsympathetic because of how much he whines, complains... he even gets called out on this in one episode.
    • This became a deliberate part of his character after a few seasons, with him becoming an Emo Teen.
    • Francis. Sometimes it seems he complains about everything. Even things that have nothing to do with his mother.
  • The Woobie: You could call every character on the show this trope, after all "life is unfair".
    • Jerkass Woobie: This applies to everyone the rest of the time. Bad things never really stop happening to the family, so whether they're this or a regular Woobie comes down to whether or not they deserve what's happening to them in a given episode.
    • Occasionally, a character would purposefully play themselves up as this to get something.
  • What an Idiot: In the second to last episode, a girl pays him to take her to the prom. He turns out to be quite charming and she starts to develop feelings for him, wanting to spend the night with him. If it were any other guy, they would have gone to the middle of the football field and had sex, but instead Reese realizes it's midnight, and she only paid to be with him until midnight, so Reese admits he faked his charm to keep his "customer" happy, and leaves her behind.
  • You Look Familiar: Alessandra Torresani twice plays Malcolm's Girlfriend. First as Sara in Malcolm's Girlfriend and Kirsten in Thanksgiving. However, her face was never shown in her first appearance.

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