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Series / Malcolm in the Middle

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"Yes, no, maybe...
I don't know...
Can you repeat the question?
You're not the boss of me now! (x2)
You're not the boss of me now and you're not so big!
You're not the boss of me now! (x2)
You're not the boss of me now and you're not so big!
Life is unfair..."
— "Boss of Me" by They Might Be Giants, the opening theme

Malcolm in the Middle is an American sitcom created by Linwood Boomer for Fox, becoming the network's first live-action Dom Com of the 21st century. It seemingly set out to outdo all existing "dysfunctional family" sitcoms — and did a pretty good job of it, producing something that hadn't been done since the days of Married... with Children and Roseanne, as live-action sitcoms of its premise, specifically set in suburbianote  started to wane in popularity, with the likes of Seinfeld and Friends (which focus on wacky characters living in the big city) gaining popularity over them. The show originally ran from 2000 to 2006, with a total of 151 episodes in seven seasons.

The titular Malcolm (Frankie Muniz) is the frustrated and eternally perplexed "middle" child of a middle-class home (hence the title of the show), who is discovered to have a genius-level IQ. The show follows his attempts to keep his head down and get through life despite the social stigma of being "smart" and the rest of his family:

Most episodes involve the kids doing battle with their parents or the behavior of Malcolm's brothers rubbing off on him. Malcolm also frequently breaks the fourth wall by giving Aside Comments to the audience to explain various plot points or his thoughts on whatever is happening, though this became less frequent as time went on.

The show also had the advantage of being shot film-style instead of in front of a live studio audience, and the added freedom allowed it to have tighter pacing and a surreal tone more reminiscent of an animated cartoon (although, if mishandled, could also cause confusion). Also helping achieve this was that it was an early example of a live-action sitcom (especially on network television) that lacked a Laugh Track or Studio Audience — it, along with other sitcoms like The Bernie Mac Show, Scrubs, Everybody Hates Chris, and The Office led to the different, laughter-free, single-camera style becoming a unique sitcom style going forward, with Malcolm sometimes cited as the Trope Codifier of said style.

Malcolm in the Middle contains examples of:

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  • Absurdly Divided School: In "Cliques", the Krelboynes end up being split among the general student population after an unauthorized science experiment causes the Krelboyne facilities to be temporarily condemned for decontamination. Various Krelboynes end up joining other cliques, such as the goths, skaters, jocks, and so on, until the whole student body is divided against itself because it no longer has the unifying factor of their jealousy/hatred towards the Krelboynes to unite them.
  • Abusive Parents:
    • Lois's only methods of parenting involve punishment and belittlement, with a side of Financial Abuse. When Dewey was scared of letting go of the rope swing into the lake while the family was on vacation, Lois just threw rocks at him in order to get him to come down to dinner — and that's not even getting into some of the stories Francis tells. Of her bad relationship with Francis, she claims "he started it", because of a time he ignored her when he was a newborn. It should be no surprise that his first words to her were "You shut up!"
    • When left alone with the kids, Hal's constant attempts to make Lois' night a peaceful one get him in a state of paranoia in which he wavers all the way between being a good dad and a horrible troll.
    • Lois' mother Ida is a racist, small-minded, controlling lunatic who constantly belittles her daughters and holds lifelong grudges for petty offenses against nearly everyone in the family. She is obsessed with "the old country", which seems to be some lawless part of Eastern Europe, and once tries to make Reese marry a foreign girl after going through trials, one of which was beating up Malcolm, whom she has a low opinion of because she is anti-intellectual. Every Christmas, she buys the presents for the family that they all wanted just so she can not send them, making Francis consider her to be insane. The family hates her so much they generally stop their infighting whenever she comes around in order to focus on getting her to leave.
    • Hal's father was mostly unintentionally neglectful and not out of malice. He is an erratic millionaire and Manchild who didn't spend enough time being a father to Hal, instead engaging in a number of wacky schemes and shenanigans. Hal's fear of becoming this to his own kids becomes a major plot device in the episode where his father dies.
  • Acme Products: Episode 4 has the kids and Hal dump a box of confetti supplied by ACME Party Supplies into a woodchipper.
  • Accidental Hero: "Boys at Ranch" had the boy's fireworks show a drunk and lost Hal and Otto the way back home.
  • Acquainted with Emergency Services:
    • In one episode, Reese comes home pursued by the police. When his parents notice the sirens, Lois decides to start making coffee. Then Hal notes that the policeman is a guy called Hank, who only drinks decaffeinated coffee.
    • In one episode, Malcolm is taken to the hospital to treat a serious head injury; the hospital is already familiar with Malcolm and all his brothers, and are not pleased to see them, as they have a history with their idiotic injuries.
  • Adults Are Useless: Played with. On the one hand, rarely are the show's various authority figures (Lois, Commandant Spangler, Mr. Herkabe, the police...) able to keep the boys in check. Then again, occasionally the boys manage to manipulate an adult into being useful after all (one memorable example being when they guilted Caroline into paying for Malcolm's hospital visit).
  • The Alleged Computer: Exaggerated. One of the family's neighbors gives the boys his "old laptop" in exchange for Malcolm helping him set up his new computer. His old laptop turns out to be a luggable from the 80s.
  • Allegedly Dateless: While Malcolm constantly complains about how unpopular he is and many jokes are made about how unappealing he is to girls, he seems to have at least one short-term girlfriend per season, and many girls initially express attraction for him (Sarah, Nicki, Wendy, to name a few. Also, Reese is shown having a long-term relationship with Allison in the fourth season, among other love interests.
  • All Just a Dream: Dewey convinces Malcolm that his 'perfect bed' was this. Additionally, Hal once ate too many deep-fried Twinkies and had the weirdest dream...
  • Almighty Mom: Lois has her moments, the best example probably being her reaction to Reese joining the army and getting sent to Afghanistan. She manages to bully the details of the mission out of a general, and the next we see of her she's set herself up as the leader of a gang of Afghan militants, who seem to be terrified of her.
  • Always Someone Better: Child prodigy Barton appears in Malcolm's class for a while — his brain is "like a beehive, and every bee has a brain like yours". However, Herkabe's pressuring him causes him to quit at the end of the episode.
  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents:
    • Hal and Lois both have moments when they hold this title perfectly. For example, in the bowling episode, Lois insists on being the chaperone of the group of kids bowling with Malcolm and Reese and she even forces Malcolm to use a kids' ball.
    • Stevie's parents, especially his mother. X-Acto Knives are 'nuh-uhs' for her. The two of them never let him grow up or do anything fun and even conditioned him to go to bed at 6:30 when he's 12 (Malcolm notes not even 4-year-olds go to bed that early). However, Stevie's mother broke when her son showed he could be independent, and she left the family for selfish purposes.
    • Getting Malcolm nicknamed "Stain" for the rest of his high school career by noting loudly that there's a stain on Malcolm's pants, then loudly shouting details about it as she moves to wipe it off. In the school courtyard. While the whole school is gathered there for orientation and textbook distribution. Lois even stormily asks a nearby classmate "Would YOU be embarrassed by this?" who then simply wordlessly shakes his head and backs a little further away.
  • Ambiguously Gay:
    • Dabney and Lloyd - the two effeminate classmates.
    • In one episode, Jessica convinces both Malcolm and Reese that the other is gay. For Malcolm, she uses a detailed argument noting Reese's spotty interest in women, his collection of men's bodybuilding magazines, and his love of cooking. When the brothers confront each other about it, both deny it but Reese says he bought Malcolm some gay porn - making sure to go through several collections thoroughly for the best stuff. Seeing how he showed interest in girls, he might be more Ambiguously Bi than Ambiguously Gay.
    • In another episode, a group of neighboring siblings that have been bullying the boys edit a gay porn video placing Malcolm, Dewey and Reese's faces on the guys from the video. Reese is enraged about it - but only because the guy his face was placed on has less toned abs than his own.
  • Amusingly Awful Aim: The episode "Bowling" has the dual stories of the family at bowling night. In Lois's version, Malcolm fails to get a single strike, even with a lighter ball. Frustrated by Lois's vain attempts to motivate him, Malcolm walks down the lane, stops short of the pins, yells at Lois that "here's your stupid strike", and heaves the ball at the pins. He misses every single pin, despite being two feet away from them. The entire bowling alley laughs at Malcolm's terrible aim.
  • An Aesop: "If Boys Were Girls" teaches that, no matter the gender of your baby, it does not make them easier to deal with, nor does it really make a difference.
  • Aesop Amnesia: It seemed like Francis was finally going to become responsible when he started working on the New Mexico Dude Ranch, yet come Season 6 with his being fired, he returned to his old, psychotically irresponsible self. By the finale, though, he'd been holding a steady, well-paying job for several months, and was keeping up the delinquent charade just to piss off his mother.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Commandant Spangler, the head of the military academy that Francis was exiled to, lost a lot of his body parts. None of his body parts were lost in actual combat, since he never served in a war in the first place.
  • Angrish: Hal is reduced to furious incoherence on a few memorable occasions.
  • Apology Gift:
    • In "Forwards Backward," the main plot revolved around Malcolm and Reese fighting an ever increasing prank war, which culminates in them being brought home from the hospital and Malcolm getting grounded on his birthday, while Lois and Hal ignore Dewey reminding them that he will portray Abraham Lincoln in the school play, a role that earns him a standing ovation. The following day, Lois and Hal give Dewey a brand new video game, but when that's not enough for him to forgive them for missing the play, Hal gives him Malcolm's former birthday gift, a rare, and expensive, comic book. Dewey takes his new possessions to the room and considers forgiving them, and wishes Malcolm a happy birthday while he and Reese perform menial labor around the house.
    • In "Vegas," the main plot is kicked off because Malcolm refused to inform Lois and Hal about the big science award ceremony because he feared they would embarrass him. In Las Vegas, Malcolm decides that since Lois would flat out refuses to speak to him about his comment, he goes and gets tickets to see Boone Vincent (played by David Cassidy), her favorite singer, where Lois is invited to his dressing room after the show. After talking to Vincent, Lois understands that all teenagers, including his own daughter, think that their parents are embarrassing, and she should consider forgiving Malcolm, since he at least got her tickets to see his show as a way to show he does regret his actions and wants to make amends.
  • Apple of Discord:
    • Dewey: This sort of behavior is his modus operandi throughout the series with the younger brother being generally quiet but interjecting the right line at the right time so that everybody else will react according to his plan. Dewey is one hell of a Magnificent Bastard. He does it to Hal's barbershop quartet group, asking the members why each of them has his own specific role within the group. They do make up (in the middle of a performance, no less), but presumably have problems again at the end, when Dewey starts in on them again. He also works on a couple that performed. Five minutes after Dewey started in on them, they were in a gigantic fight.
    • Malcolm, Reese and Dewey once pose as political demonstrators to avoid being sent to their mother after an act of vandalism. When someone decides to send each of them a cupcake, Lois removes the cherries from two of the cupcakes so they'll fight over the remaining one. The boys eventually wise up to her plan and merely send the cherry back.
  • Armchair Military: Commandant Spangler, the head of the military academy, has never served in war even once. How he managed to get the military to allow him to run a military academy despite this is anyone's guess.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Francis was sent to military school for a series of wrongdoing events, including being busted by the police, sleeping with a girl in his parents bed, wrecking a car to the point where it burns, and... getting his nose pierced.
  • The Artifact: Malcolm talking to the audience felt more organic in the early seasons when he was the clear main character and the show was told from his perspective. In later years his role and importance was reduced so that he was often just part of the ensemble, making the (less frequent) instances of this seem a little random.
  • Artifact Title: Somehow both played straight, as said above, and inverted - Malcolm quit being 'in the middle' of the show around the time the family's fifth baby was born, thus making Malcolm the actual middle child. There's also an episode titled "Home Alone 4," which would become an real direct-to-DVD film.
  • Artistic License – Chess: An episode had a chess scene where Malcolm set up the white pieces on the board but put the king and queen on the wrong squares.
  • Artistic License – Law
    • In "Traffic Ticket" the Lucky Aid and another store willingly give Malcolm and Craig their security footage tapes. In reality the company would have to go through loss prevention and then the police (who are corrupt in this episode) before even considering giving them the tapes.
  • Aside Comment: Malcolm delivers a lot of these.
  • Asshole Victim: The four girls that pranked Reese qualified once Lois "struck back".
    • Lois herself becomes one in an episode where she gets a ticket for cutting someone off in traffic, including security footage. She insists that she didn't, but they have to convince her that it is possible she is wrong. They eventually find an alternate angle of the incident showing that the driver Lois "cut off" had actually done an illegal U-turn, and Lois was in the right. But seeing Lois humble herself even a little was too valuable for the family, and they keep it from her.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Hal's family is actually really cruel to Lois, and while at a party the boys are at first oblivious but once they find Lois crying in a corner, they take revenge and get everyone kicked out. In turn, while Lois was previously very harsh to Francis' wife Piama, she started showing more kindness.
  • Babies Ever After: Confirmed with Hal and Lois.
  • Babysitter's Nightmare: In the episode "Water Park," the family is getting ready to go to a water park, with the exception of Francis since he's at Military School, and Dewey who has an ear infection. In the latter's case, Hal is seen talking on the phone to a potential babysitter, and promising that they'll be taking of "just the little one," which is when Malcolm explains that they had issues with babysitters in the past: Baby Francis bit the finger of an elderly sitter; a babysitter ran after the boys showed her something horrifying/disgusting; and Malcolm and Reese locked a guy in closet and listened to him having a panic attack that was induced by his claustrophobia. Malcolm reflects on the last incident and tells the audience "I'm beginning to think it's us."
  • Bad "Bad Acting": In "Ida's Boyfriend," the Francis subplot has Otto hiring an acting troupe to perform a murder-mystery weekend drama at the ranch. Unfortunately, the acting troupe painfully stands out from the rest of the guests: they constantly yell their lines, act too over-the-top, and annoy all the other guests, to the point where Otto has to hire an audience to please the acting troupe leader (whom is oblivious to the audience's obvious reciting of their praise.)
  • Bad Boss: Lavernia essentially runs a particularly exploitative company town.
  • Bait-and-Switch Performance: Lois takes some dance lessons and believes she's very good at it, to the point she ends up doing an awesome choreography with her teacher. However, in the end she sees a video of what really happened and realizes her choreography was actually disastrous.
  • Bait-and-Switch Time Skip: In one episode, Hal takes the boys to a NASCAR race. At first they're excited, but after a series of slow dissolves showing the cars going around, the boys sweating and fidgeting and the fans cheering, they become miserable... only to show them checking off the second lap on their scorecard.
  • Balloonacy: Reese sends himself up in a lawn chair. He eventually crashes through a church window.
  • Batman Gambit: Malcolm did a minor one to Reese in one episode. The episode opens up with Malcolm making the most disgusting sandwich imaginable (containing jam, relish, mayonnaise, and bits of gum scraped from the bottom of his shoe, amongst other things). He sits on the couch and prepares to take a bite, when Reese swipes it out of his hand and starts eating it. Then he tastes it, and runs to the bathroom to throw up. Malcolm grins at the camera and says, "It never gets old!"
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Hal manages to trick an entire police and fire department that he's a bomb squad agent for several hours.
  • Because You Can Cope: Lois' justification for her neglect towards Malcolm compared to his other brothers. See Mama Bear below.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Francis' once fat, now gorgeous former classmate still loves him just because he once said to his bullying friends "she isn't that fat".
  • Bee-Bee Gun: "Picture this: A laser guided bee cannon!" Hal, after he obsessively takes over the Krelboynes' Battlebots project. It doesn't end well for him.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Lois's is motorcycles inside her house.
    • Lois's sister's is the apple turnover inci-"DON'T YOU DARE BRING UP THE APPLE TURNOVER!!!"
    • Don't bully Stevie. Reese will not like that.
  • Best Years of Your Life: Lois said this - most of the time.
  • Beware the Nice Ones:
    • The time Stevie got revenge on Reese using his secret weapon comes to mind.
    • This actually backfires in a later episode where he screws around with Malcolm during a street luge competition, trying to run him off the road. They wouldn't have a differently abled kid injure himself horribly during a sporting event, would they? Oh yes they would.
    • Both Dewey and Hal also pull this off.
  • Big Bad Wannabe: One bully who bothered Malcolm pushed him to the breaking point and got beat up... only to start crying for his Telletubby doll. He turned out to be an overgrown 7-year old, Malcolm got detention although his parents let him off the hook, and the bully would forever be referred to as "Mopy Dick".
  • Big Brother Bully:
    • Francis is away from the family nearly the entire series, and he's more of a Big Brother Mentor during the series, but still has moments that fall under this trope. It is also implied that he bullied Reese much worse than he or Malcolm ever did to Dewey, even once stabbing Reese with a bayonet.
    • Reese fills this role for Malcolm & Dewey for the majority of the series, although Malcolm gives as much as he receives and joins in (to a lesser extent) with bullying Dewey; and after the birth of Jamie, neither one bullies him & both assume similar roles to what they share with Francis.
    • Dewey, being the youngest for most the series, doesn't fall under this but gets a few The Dog Bites Back episodes; and after Jamie's born, complains that it's not fair that Reese & Malcolm got the Cool Big Bro Francis when they were kids, but Francis left for military school before Dewey formed any memories of having a cool big brother - Francis then reveals that he has no idea why Reese and Malcolm idolize him so much since he was way worse to them than they are to Dewey. He even admits he stabbed Reese once.
    • They actually don't do this to Jamie, since the boys want to be better big brothers. However, in the episode "Watching the Baby," Dewey is left alone with Jaimenote  and to keep him calm, Dewy tells him a yarn where the moral of the story is that if he ever does anything and has the chance to place the blame on someone else, then Dewey will happily frame Jaime if it means avoiding punishment. In the final epilogue, Dewy and Jaime are hiding from Lois who's yelling off screen, and when Dewy wonders out loud how they will get out of the situation, Dewy's reaction heavily implies that he will convince Lois that whatever they did was all Jaimie's fault.
  • Big Brother Instinct: At the same time, when push comes to shove, the brothers will not hesitate to defend one another.
  • Big Brother Worship: All of the other boys towards Francis early on. They do mellow out about it a bit as they grow up, though.
  • Big Damn Heroes: In "Malcolm's Car", Malcolm almost dies when he gets trapped inside of his car with the engine on while the garage fills up with smoke, but Stevie comes just in time to save him by forcing open the car's door and getting him out of there.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: Basically the level of dysfunctionality that exists in this show's family.
  • Birthday Party Goes Wrong: Played with in the B-plot of one episode where younger brother Dewey manages to make friends with a new boy in the neighborhood. The boy's parents pull Dewey aside to get his help in planning their son's birthday, wanting to make his first one in a new home special. Dewey instead shanghais the party by changing it to be more to his tastes, replacing the space theme with a cowboy one, getting a bounce house, and even making the cake different. During the party, the birthday boy angrily confronts Dewey about ruining his day, though Dewey is too enamored with his success to care. Unfortunately for him, Malcolm undergoes a minor freakout in the A-plot and attempts to escape back into childhood, accidentally causing the bounce house bust and setting off a domino effect which leads to the party collapsing into panic and chaos. The last scene of the birthday boy has him smiling in satisfaction as everything goes to hell.
    • Earlier in the episode mentioned above, a series of Flashbacks explains Dewey's motivation for hijacking the boy's birthday: Hal arriving late from golf a previous year and not knowing who's party it is. Malcolm and Reese giving Dewey a "birthday beating," hitting Dewey once for each year he is old. Lois and Francis, before he was shipped off to Military School, getting into (another) loud argument during Dewey's party.
    • In the episode where Piama is introduced, Francis and Lois get into a loud argument over the fact that he married her a few weeks after their first date, and Hal resigns himself to having yet another birthday ruined.
  • Bits of Me Keep Passing Out: When Hal has to choose whether or not to pull the plug on someone in a vegetative state, he shuts down under the pressure.
    Lois: […] apparently, he's paralyzed from the waist up.
    Malcolm: Waist up?
  • Black Comedy: Not as hilariously cruel as Married... with Children but the show makes it clear that, to quote the theme song, "Life is unfair."
  • Blackmail: In the episode where Ida and Victor are introduced, Victor gives gives Reese a hand grenade, and after Reese pulls the pin, Malcolm throws it in the new, expensive, refrigeratror Lois and Hal bought, and it gets destroyed when the grenade goes off. When Lois tries to chastise her parents for giving her son such a dangerous weapon, Ida guilts her into apologizing, and Hal tells Lois to take the boys to another room while he deals with the situation. He tells Victor and Ida that he doesn't want to get into the psychological issues Lois has from being raised by them but he decides to give it a shot anyway, and asks them for a sum of money higher than what he asked them a few days earlier to pay for a new refrigerator, fix the grenade blast damage, and pay for some additional expenditures. Victor reacts in shock that Hal wants to borrow such a large amount, but Hal states they clearly told him they don't lend money to family (earlier in the episode, they told him and Lois they would loan them money for a new refrigerator), however what he's asking for is not a loan, but a blackmail payment, threatening them that is they don't give him the money, he'll have them jailed for child endangerment.
  • Blackmail Backfire: In the episode where Malcolm buys a computer from a neighbor, Lois forced Reese to perform free labor for the neighbor after Reese vandalized his house. However, when they discover emails and pictures that graphically detail affairs between the neighbor and several women in the neighborhood, Reese blackmails him to do what he wants. When the neighbor picks up Reese from school, a teacher demands to speak with him thinking the neighbor is Reese's father. When the neighbor gets back to the car, Reese chastises him for being late and to drive him where he wants to go, but the neighbor says they're going to go shop for the items Reese needs to fix the damage he did. When Reese threatens to tells his wife about the affairs, the neighbor calls his bluff by saying he'll tell Lois about the trouble he's been causing at school. Reese then goes back to providing free labor for the neighbor.
  • "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word: Inverted. After Lois's parents give Reese a live grenade that subsequently destroyed their refrigerator, Hal sits his in-laws down and demands money to replace it and then some. The inversion comes after Victor questions the idea of loaning Hal money because of what happened, Hal freely admits it's blackmail after explaining that the alternative is he could have Victor and Ida hauled up on child endangerment charges for what happened.
  • Bland-Name Product:
    • Malcolm creates a simulated version of his own family with a computer game called The Virts.
    • Lois works at 'Lucky Aide.'
  • Blood Oath: Played for Laughs in No Motorcycles, when Hal remembers that he made a promise sealed in blood to nine year-old Francis that he will make up for missing his school play by taking him on a motorcycle trip for his twenty-first birthday. A promise Hal originally made just to get his son to stop crying.
  • Bluff Worked Too Well: Hal is under house arrest while he is on trial for embezzling from his company (he had been framed by a group of senior executives). One of the executives is willing to talk to Hal and provide exonerating evidence, but only if he does so at a location other than Hal's house. Malcolm builds a portable transceiver and houses it in a backpack (so that Hal's ankle monitor won't go off), but when Hal gets to the library he sees a sign that backpacks will be searched, so he leaves the backpack in a bush. When he comes out of the library, a police officer notices the backpack and starts to search it. Hal claims that he's a bomb technician; one Gilligan Cut later, Hal is shown "defusing" the backpack's contents while a semicircle of police officers and onlookers have gathered. Hal claims that the bomb's about to go off, and runs off with the backpack while everyone else is evacuating.
  • Bombproof Appliance: When Lois' father gives Reese a live grenade, the game of Grenade Hot Potato ends up in the fridge. It does not survive, but nobody dies (they ran outside the house before it went off).
  • Book Dumb: Reese.
  • Book Ends:
    • Both the first and last episodes end with the song "Better Days (And The Bottom Drops Out)" by Citizen King.
    • In the first episode Malcolm claims that being a Krelboyne casts a symbolic force field around him that prevents anyone from getting near him (He even moves in the bench he's sitting on, showing how the "forcefield" pushes people away from him). The very same thing happens to the whole family, Piama and Ida included, in the last episode when Reese's putrid bomb explodes in the family's car on the way to the Graduation, making them smell so bad that they repel people away.
  • Brainless Beauty: Reese's girlfriend Alison (her introductory episode is even titled 'Stupid Girl').
  • "Brave the Ride" Plot: In "Water Park", Malcolm tries to go on "The Liquidator" but is afraid and turns back. Eventually, he does end up going on it; he and Reese are confronted by Lois at the entrance of the ride. Malcolm ends up pushing Lois into the waterslide, and Lois drags Malcolm and Reese with her.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Done by Reese, "Happy thoughts, happy thoughts, puppies, ice cream, fat people falling down."
  • Break Them by Talking: Dewey shows a frightening skill for this, especially in later episodes. He breaks up Hal's a cappella band by asking a series of seemingly innocent questions and makes a Sunday School teacher question her faith by comparing God to a kid frying ants with a magnifying glass. He never seems to take any advantage of this other than his own amusement. It seemed Dewey is by far the smartest and most subtle of the brothers. He pretty much never loses a battle of wits with anyone.
  • Briar Patching: In the episode "Malcom's Car," Malcolm buys an old muscle car that's barely running, and he pleads his case to Lois and Hal that he'll pay for the restoration, insurance, and maintenance himself. Just as Lois is about to launch a tirade where her ultimate response to Malcolm's request is "no," Hal takes her aside and tells her that they should go ahead and let Malcolm keep the car. When Lois says that she will not allow Malcolm to drive such an unsafe vehicle, Hal says that he doesn't want him to drive that car either, but simply telling him "no," will result in him getting angry and either keeping the car or doing something worse. By keeping the car, he'll realize what a stupid idea it was to begin with, and he'll actually learn his lesson and think before doing something so impulsive next time. Lois takes Hal's advice and backs off and allows Malcolm to keep the car so long as he pays for everything, and as per Hal's prediction, Malcolm gets rid of the car after realizing what a waste of time and money it was.
  • Brick Joke: Repeatedly, the hamster Dewey sets free in a hamster-ball will appear in the background. It was last seen in Alaska.
    • Another episode has the boys preparing a series of gross pranks to pull on a babysitter, including placing a picnic blanket over the open hole to the septic tank in the style of a classic pit trap. At the very end of the episode, Reese steps on the blanket and falls into the cesspool.
  • Brother/Brother Incest: In the episode "Pearl Harbor", Jessica convinces Malcolm and Reese that the other is gay. When she reveals her lie, Reese's first idea to get back at her involves him kissing Malcolm's neck so hard that a huge hickey is left.
  • Buffy Speak: In "Grandma Sues", referring to matters they want to keep a secret as thing.
    Lois: Hal, I need to talk to you about, uh, the thing.
    Hal: Which thing? The first thing, or the other thing?
    Reese [to Dewey]: They know about the thing!
    Dewey: Shut up! It's probably a different thing.
  • The Bully: Reese, though he gets some character development later on.
  • Bumbling Dad: Made much more palatable by averting Women Are Wiser, as Lois is considerably flawed in her own right.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Reese eventually develops into this. He goes from being a brutal thug to a brutal thug who is very good at cooking.
  • Butt-Monkey:
    • Craig, hands down.
    • The entire family, though Lois and, in later seasons, Dewey and Jamie manage to avoid this for the most part.

  • Call-Back:
    • Rather subtle, to the point of likely being unintentional. At the beginning of Carnival, Hal mentions that Dewey had been keeping his goldfish in the toaster, which it likely did not survive. At the very end of the episode, Dewey shows the new goldfish he got from the man with gills.
    • In Stilts, when Hal and Lois begin revealing some of the nasty things they've been keeping from one another, Hal says he burned a hole in her favorite dress. This is a callback to Red Dress, where Lois discovered her favorite red dress burnt and hidden in the toilet and thought the boys were responsible.
    • The finale has two to the pilot. In the pilot, an aerial shot shows everyone standing several meters away from Malcolm due to his intelligence. In the finale, we see everyone sitting several seats away from the family due to a barrel full of horrible things exploding on them. Also, both end with "Better Days" playing over the footage.
      • In the same episode, Lois told Malcolm that Dewey is the only one allowed to have an easy life. This was discussed in an early episode (the one where Malcolm was trying to play the guitar) where Lois described both her and Malcolm as "burrowers" while Dewey is a "flier".
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Frequently. Hal against his dad. Francis against his mom. Malcolm against his mom. Dabney against his mom. Dewey against both his parents. It's even implied that all of the boys do this often against Hal, though they usually get along with him in the show itself. Most everyone gets called out on the things they do at one point or another.
  • Cassandra Truth: When Malcolm and Reese ask why Dewey hasn't been getting punished like they are, Dewey tells them that the reason Lois hasn't punished him like them is because he hasn't done anything wrong to upset her, and it's their own fault they are getting punished. They are unable to understand this concept and accuse him of lying.
  • Casually Powerful Gian: In the episode "Bilboard" Reese has a dream sequence where a scantily-clad Giant Woman knocks him over by kissing him.
  • Catfight: Lois gets into one with a woman who, along with her husband, keeps bothering her about her marriage. While Lois yells at the woman, completely fed up with trying to help them with their marital problems, the lady slaps her, leading to one.
  • Cathartic Chores: In episode "Boys At Ranch", Hal, Reese, and Dewey visit the ranch that Francis works at. When Dewey breaks a display doll, Gretchen tells him that he can "work off" his guilt by cleaning part of the hotel; for the rest of the episode, he keeps remembering other bad things he did and keeps cleaning.
    Gretchen: [happily] You know vhat your Tante Gretchen does vhen she feels bad? She vorks. She vorks herself to ze point where her body screams in pain and her soul begs for mercy!
    Dewey: Why?
    Gretchen: It's ze best form of penance. Vhen my fingers are raw and my back is racked vith crippling pain, I feel all better!
  • Cathartic Scream: Hal is so frustrated over an expensive dental bill that he asks Lois for his "scream box". He screams and thrashes about after putting it on.
  • Caustic Critic: In "Malcolm Films Reese", the dude ranch Francis works at is savaged by Charles Cutler, a critic who takes being caustic up to eleven. He comes back, supposedly to give them a second chance, but starts smugly dictating another mean-spirited review within seconds of being greeted. Upon being told that Francis and Piama are married, Cutler sneers about how his hosts aren't content on ruining the experiences of one generation of vacationers and insist on breeding. Francis and Otto give the guy a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown in response. As he's taken away on a stretcher, Cutler insults the color of the ceiling, as well as the sloppiness of the beating he just received. He also proceeds to write a nasty review of the hospital that treats his injuries. All of this backfires on Cutler, as his bad reviews have made him Hated by All. All of the other local hoteliers and merchants to whom Cutler has given bad reviews are delighted by his misfortune and either send Otto and Francis gift baskets or recommend the dude ranch to the guests they don't have room to accommodate.
  • "Cavemen vs. Astronauts" Debate:
    • In one episode, Francis accidentally starts one by proclaiming he could eat 100 marshmallow peeps in a single sitting, causing all the students in his military school to debate whether or not a human could. He ends the argument by Proving he can, albeit he vomited a few back up
    • Another episode starts with Malcolm repeatedly slamming a cabinet door against Reese's head while Dewey bites Malcolm's leg. They're fighting about which animal would win in a knife fight.
      Malcolm: I have no idea if a monkey could beat a squid or a kangaroo in a knife fight, but if I admitted that, we'd have nothing to do for the rest of the day.
  • Cerebus Retcon: Lois' offhand comment about how Hal's family has always hated her in "Home Alone 4" is at the time played off as a simple "You stole their little boy" joke. Come the family reunion episode, and we see just how cruel they actually are to her, emotionally abusing her at every turn and intentionally leaving her out of the group photo, the latter action causing her to lock herself in the bathroom and cry.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Hal discusses this trope with Dewey when Dewey asks about how to deal with his classmates hiding in a tree.
    Hal: That's the part of leadership no one talks about, son. You think it's gonna be all parades and strongmen carrying you around in one of those fancy sultan doodads. But what they don't tell you about it is the crushing responsibility; men who expect nothing in return but an able general who can lead them to victory.
  • Cheek Copy: Hal frets over meeting his new boss because he never makes a good first impression. The scene cuts to previous disastrous introductions including one in which Hal is caught by a new boss copying his backside while being cheered on by his co-workers.
  • Chalk Outline: In the episode Malcolm vs. Reese, Francis is bored and asks what there is to do. Reese says that he has some chalk and that they can draw "dead guy outlines" outside, but Francis says this is boring too.
  • Chekhov's Gun: How Hal avoids jail for defrauding the company. On the night before the final day of the trial, Hal tells Malcolm that he was a bad employee, stealing office supplies, barely putting any effort, and not going to work on Fridays. He gives Malcolm a piece of advice before going to have sex with Lois for the last time until he gets released from prison. As Francis and Malcolm are having a discussion of how Malcolm should know how to forge Lois' and Hal's signature so he can be emancipated, Malcolm figures out how to show Hal is innocent. At the trial, Hal says that Malcolm figured out that every day he was accused of performing some kind of shady deal to steal from the company was a Friday, and has the evidence that he wasn't present at those deals in his "memory box," and shows ticket stubs, receipts, programs and other evidence to show he was nowhere near where those deals had taken place during those specific Fridays.
  • The Chessmaster: Dewey shows shades of this in later seasons.
    • Several plots and gags run with a character (generally Malcolm, Lois or Dewey) performing otherwise questionable actions because they know how the people around them will react.
  • Chew-Out Fake-Out: When Hal goes to visit Francis's military school, he's at first appalled that all Francis is doing is goofing off, playing pranks, and getting into all manner of trouble while every other cadet gets awards passed out to them like candy. But when he learns that Francis' "insubordination" consists of things like standing up for a fellow cadet being unfairly bullied by the commandant for hugging his father, he's incredibly proud of him.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome:
    • Cynthia, then the rest of Malcolm's Krelboyne friends save for Stevie, and finally Mr. Herkabe (though his last appearance is in the final season, so this is downplayed).
    • Ditto for Malcolm's previous teacher, Caroline. She had a baby and got Put on a Bus in the form of extended maternity leave.
    • A girl who Reese likes in "Cheerleader" appears to never show up again. She even liked him too, which was pretty impressive.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Dewey. When his brothers are each imagining what they'd do with a motorbike they found, Dewey is meanwhile imagining having six arms to eat six cookies at once. Just to name one of many Imagine Spots he's had.
  • Clear My Name: Subverted in the episode Red Dress, Malcolm, Dewey, and Reese claimed they weren't responsible for burning Lois's red dress, but she doesn't believe them, so they instead, under Francis's advice, made themselves immune to every single punishment she could issue instead of attempting to clear their own names, thus forcing her to (ironically under Francis's advice) take them to the anniversary dinner with them. Turns out it was actually Hal who burned her dress, as revealed when he accidentally set the house on fire while plastered, and in a way was responsible for having to wait several hours for Lois.
  • Coffin Contraband: In a first season episode, Reese planned on disposing of Dewey's broken birthday present by hiding it in his great aunt's coffin.
  • Cold Opening: Each episode started off with a small story with a punchline that had nothing to do with the main plot.
  • Commissar Cap: Commandant Spangler wears one. In one episode Spangler takes away the cadets' TV, to which Francis encourages them to protest by having a hunger strike. After a few days without food, Francis is too weak to remember what they were protesting, negotiating a deal with Spangler to end the strike in exchange for his "magic hat".
  • Company Town: In season 3, Francis moves to Alaska to get a logging job on the recommendation of Eric. Turns out that the job is horrible and Eric tricked Francis into coming in a desperate attempt to help him get out of crushing debt to his boss, Lavernia. Lavernia rules over the isolated workers with an iron fist and price gouges them so they have to work for her to pay off their endless debts.
  • Control Freak: Lois.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment:
    • After Reese had sabotaged every other contender in a cooking contest that he could have easily won otherwise, Lois and Hal realize that he's going to keep creating trouble since their punishments never teach him a lesson because he doesn't care about anything they can take away from him (he will sit staring at a blank wall for hours). They then realize that his newfound passion is actually his Achilles heel, and decide that the best punishment in this case would be prohibiting him to cook anything for an extended period of time. Reese breaks down and they are overjoyed to finally find a way to modify his behavior even slightly.
    • Another episode has Lois try to get a confession out of the boys by torturing them with obnoxious children's music (actually provided by They Might Be Giants in Stylistic Suck mode). They try to feign enjoyment of the song and start dancing and singing along - which backfires when Lois breaks out a video camera.
  • Cool Loser: Malcolm, as a victim of Intelligence Equals Isolation. At the beginning of the series, he is an average kid who just wants to be normal but gets immediately rejected by all his friends when he is put in an advanced placement program against his will. Subverted later on when he embraces his intelligence and becomes an Insufferable Genius in response to the rejection he has faced.
  • Correlation/Causation Gag: One episode starts with a gag where Reese is poking a doll while Hal is screaming of pain for unrelated reasons. Reese assumes he's harming Hal through voodoo.
  • Cousin Oliver: Very cleverly inverted with Jamie. His purpose was to add more chaos to the show.
  • Crapsack World:
    • Let's see, the main premise of the show involves a severely dysfunctional family that is implied to be abusive in every way (except sexually), the school definitely doesn't help with that, and Francis was implied to have done horrible things to his neighborhood just to spite his own mother. One of their neighbors has a strained marriage, with the wife eventually abandoning her husband and handicapped son, causing the latter to fall into a deep depression that leaves him even more crippled to the point of needing a machine to speak. The military school that Francis was sent to for his behavior is run by a rather sadistic Drill Sergeant Nasty whom Francis eventually places in a retirement home as a caretaker so he can commit all the Elder Abuse that he wants, and apparently the higher board doesn't catch on until after Francis quits school. The list goes on and on.
    • Also, it turns out in one episode that nearly everybody in their neighborhood are a bunch of liars and Jerkasses (and in one case, criminals) who throw a party every year when the family is out of town because of all the trouble they cause....except in many cases the family was innocent, and everyone else was framing them for their own behavior and mistakes. The public revelation of this triggers a civil street war.
  • Creator Cameo: Linwood Boomer appears as a loan shark in the finale.
  • Creepy Cockroach: In "Malcolm Babysits," the family is forced to temporarily move into an RV while their house is being fumigated due to Dewey sneaking into the crawlspace to eat junk food.
  • Cucumber Facial: Dewey and Lois. The former tries to eat the cucumber, but Lois tells him not to.
  • Cutaway Gag: When Malcolm gets a head injury and Francis takes him to the hospital, the clerk say "Oh, for God's sake, you kids again?" and Malcolm turns to the camera and says "We kind of have a history here." Cut to each of the brothers getting injured in funny and idiotic ways—Reese pounding a nail into a spray-can, Francis flipping a large knife high into the air, Malcolm leaning over an open pair of scissors while Reese sneaks up behind him with a balloon and a needle, and Dewey getting ready to bite the spinning wheel of a bike.
  • Cycle of Revenge: When Francis reveals to Dewey that, despite the Big Brother Worship Malcolm and Reese have for him, Francis was a Big Brother Bully when they were kids. That explains why Malcolm and Reese are Big Brother Bully to Dewey. Then they converse about this trope:
    Francis: Yeah, you're right.
    • However, in later episodes Dewey actually does look out for Jamie, so he might have taken Francis's advice to heart.
  • Daddy DNA Test: In "Victor's Other Family," Ida threatens to sue Sylvia, Victor's other wife, over a tiny pension, her lawyers warns her that she'll be financially devastated even if she win the right to the pension. Lois, wanting to avoid any legal drama, tries to talk to Sylvia in the hopes her signing over the pension, but Sylvia says that she hates Ida too much to simply hand over something that belonged to Victor, so Lois decides to back Ida's lawsuit. As they are gathering evidence and documentation, Lois gets the result of DNA test the lawyer advised her to take, and she discovers that Victor is not her biological father, and Ida admits that likely candidate was a guy who could walk up flight of stairs on his hands, and even says that Susan may have been fathered by another man.
  • Darkest Hour: The two-part finale of Season 5, "Reese Joins the Army", is the point where the family was at its closest of being ruined forever, with Hal going to prison for a crime he didn't commit, Lois becoming mentally unstable due to stress and anguish and Reese fleeing from home after Malcolm steals his girlfriend. It really seemed that the series was coming to a very sudden Downer Ending.
  • D-Cup Distress: In "Cynthia's Back," Malcolm's friend returns from living in Europe for a while. She's mysteriously sullen, snappish, avoids people and she's taken to wearing big, baggy jumpers and hunching over. It's revealed the reason is that She Is All Grown Up and she doesn't like the way it's changed how people (especially adolescent boys) act around her.
  • Demoted to Extra: Francis in the last two seasons, very noticeable in that he goes from appearing every episode to only appearing every few episodes despite Christopher Kennedy Masterson still being in main credits. Notably Francis only appears in 4 episodes of the final season.
    • This also happened to Caroline Miller while the series was still in season 1, despite Catherine Lloyd Burns being in the main credits regardless of whether or not Caroline's in the episode.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Lois loves this trope.
    • "Fire? FIRE?"
    • "This is the property line, the property line!"
    • "Whose damn dog is this? I said whose damn dog is this?"
    • "Did you realize how close your father came to being a registered sex offender? A registered sex offender!"
    • "A lifetime ban from Gymboree! A lifetime ban!"
  • Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat: When Reese's cooking class holds a competition, he happily sabotages the other competitors' dishes, even though he was by far the best chef there and would've won regardless.
  • Didn't Think This Through: In the series finale when the family is trying to pay for Malcolm's tuition, Hal goes to a loan shark and says: if you give me the money I won't pay it back, but I promise I will scream as loudly and as horribly as possible when you break my limbs as a warning to others. The loan shark stares at him blankly for a few brief moments and then says: "I could still do that for free." Hal scurries out in terror.
  • Discriminate and Switch: Hal, in a poker game among a trio of new black friends, thinks he's being discriminated against because he's... not a professional like the others but instead is a blue collar worker.
  • Disobeyed Orders, Not Punished: the boys fix up an old mini-bike, but Lois at first prohibited them from using it she deemed it too dangerous. When Malcolm and Dewy manage to talk to her allowing them to do a couple of laps in the park, Reese tells them that he broke his leg when he secretly took it out for a ride. Also, Craig was allowed to live with the family until his was renovated, following Lois and Hal accidentally burning his house down, but his slovenly ways were driving the family crazy. The boys get rid of Craig by tricking him into thinking he ran over Reese, and at the very end, Lois tells the boys she found the destroyed mini-bike, and just as, Malcolm feared, she was going to ground them and prevent them from doing anything fun, she subtly tells them that their only punishment is not getting a reward for getting Craig out their house.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Lois is by far one of the greatest examples of this. She once grounded her kids for two months just for lying to her and saying that Francis's friends stole Dewey's bike. In a later episode, Lois grounds Malcolm for being late home from STUDYING, and when the neighborhood is forced to evacuate to the school gym, Lois insists on keeping the punishment going even there. Thankfully Laser-Guided Karma finally reaches Lois when everyone there is upset at how she treated him and she—along with the rest of the family besides Malcolm himself—gets kicked out. Lastly, let's not forget why Francis was sent to military school. Was it getting sent home by police offers? Apparently losing his virginity in his teens? Or perhaps the burning car? Nope, it was getting his nose pierced.
    • Technically it was 'all' of those things. The piercing was just the last straw.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: As a means of making up to him. Francis tells Dewey about a scented candle in the house that makes their parents too aroused to care about punishing anyone. Dewey uses it immediately and sure enough Lois and Hal are become so eager for each other that they gloss over punishing Dewey for whatever he did.
    • Their lives in general are like this. When the two are unable to have sex for a week they are able to vastly improve their quality of life by doing all the things they are usually too 'busy' to get done. Only for it all to fall back to normal by the weeks end.
  • Do Not Do This Cool Thing: An in-universe example combined with Accidental Public Confession. In "New Neighbors," when Malcolm is falsely accused of being a Peeping Tom, he asks why he'd want to look in his neighbor's windows given how they look. Hal's suspiciously specific response receives a questioning look from one of the cops in the room.
    Hal: Peeping isn't about looks, son. It's about the thrill and exhilaration of observing someone without their knowledge.
  • Do Well, But Not Perfect: Invoked in "Home Alone 4", when Reese and Malcolm reveal to Francis that their parents are considering letting him come home from military school if he does a good enough job watching over them that weekend... causing him to realize they need to clean up the house, as he has essentially trashed it by that point. After they're done, it's recognized they made the house too clean, and promptly make a minor amount of mess in order to balance things out. This winds up causing a shelf to hit Malcolm in the head and cause a gash.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • Malcolm's relationship with his car gets a twofer; it's treated like a drug addiction (complete with an intervention with the help of a man from AAA) and like an abusive relationship with Malcolm quickly saying 'It's my fault!' after the car gives him a black eye.
    • When Cynthia grows big breasts, she starts being anti-social, snapping out at people, and acting troubled in general. When it's revealed that the source of angst is her breasts, she says something along the lines of "EVERYONE looks at me […] like I'm some kind of freak." Combine the classic behavior with that one troubling word, and the whole thing was one line away from being a Very Special Episode about sexual abuse.
    • And in another episode Lois learns that Dewey has been spending time with another mother. It is played out like he's cheating on her.
      Lois: Do you love her?
      Dewey: Of course not. It's just snacks.
  • Don't Split Us Up: A mild example is the climax of the episode 'Clip Show'. The boys are sent to a psychiatrist who determines Malcolm masterminds all of their bad behavior because he's mentally unchallenged in school, and implies to the boys that he's going to tell Hal to send Malcolm to a special school. The boys freak out, but they have nothing to worry about; Hal brushes the psychiatrist off entirely.
    • In "Reese's Party," when Lois and Hal decide to go to a bed and breakfast for the weekend, Reese is put on a bus to go visit Grandma Ida in Canadanote , Malcolm will spend the weekend with Stevie, and Dewey will be babysat by Craig. As Lois and Hal pull out of the driveway, Reese asks why they can't spend the weekend together in the house, and Hal responds: "because that's the only way the judge would let us go out of town."
  • Dramatic Gun Cock: During "Forwards Backwards", when Francis is ready to take a stand against "La Vaca Diablo". Complete with One-Liner.
    Francis: From now on...I'm lactose intolerant.
  • Dramatic Wind: Used in the episode where Hal and the boys visit Francis at the ranch.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty:
    • Reese joins the Army and meets one of these, who quickly warms up to Reese when he discovers that he literally doesn't have to think anymore. He does absolutely nothing unless he's ordered to (including chewing his food) and follows all orders without question. The Sergeant is ecstatic that he's found the perfect soldier and swaps tips with Lois when she arrives to get him back. Also subverted; the CO shows himself to be a pretty good guy when he surreptitiously breaks protocol and allows Lois to read classified documents showing where Reese was deployed.
    • Played straight when Francis was at military school; the Drill Sergeant Nasty headmaster was a total Jerkass who served as his Sitcom Arch Enemy.
  • Dysfunctional Family: Slightly deconstructed compared to your standard dysfunctional family Dom Com, given that a lot of focus is devoted to just how miserable the family tend to make each other.
  • Dysfunction Junction:
    • Almost every character, no matter how big or small, will always have some sort of defect. Even if they have just one line, you can bet they'll mention their particular dysfunction in it.
    • Francis' mother-fixation/victim complex is arguably one of his biggest character traits in which he, no matter the situation or how much of a stretch it is, will find a way to blame it on Lois. In "Cheerleader", Commandant Spangler after Francis asked if he had problems with his own mother says to him "Name one thing wrong with your life that you don't blame on your mother." Francis, of course, is stumped.
      • In a later episode, Francis is forced to share a bed with his boss at the dude ranch, Otto. His thoughts state that it was a landmark night for him since he considers it the first psychological trauma not caused by his mother.
      • In one episode late in the series, Francis reveals he's joined Alcoholics Anonymous and is working through the 12 steps. The family is shocked but supportive, until he tries to convince Lois to admit she's an alcoholic too and she discovers he was never addicted (he states he rarely ever drank), but was so obsessed with blaming her for his problems that he'd essentially brainwashed himself into believing it was true so he could blame her.

  • Early-Installment Weirdness
    • Early episodes of the series tended to focus more on Malcolm's growth as a person and as such used to have An Aesop, that was all but directly stated to him by either Lois or Hal. It was Played With, however, since it often lead to other jokes.
    • A Running Gag that started in the pilot, of Hal's body hair growing so profusely it had to be shaved once a month. It continued to be referenced mostly in Lois commenting on having to shave him, but seemed to be quietly forgotten about in later seasons, with Hal having a normal amount of body hair when he appeared shirtless.
    • Hal and Lois appeared to be more lax with nudity, like having Hal being shaved next to the breakfast table and lifting the newspaper above his crotch, with the boys looking away or Lois walking around topless and even opening the door to Malcolm's teacher. Later episodes drop this, with nudity being mostly restricted to being in the shower or similar.
    • In the pilot, Malcolm had a friend named Richard who walked with him to school; he was never seen or mentioned in any other episode (though it's likely he stopped talking to Malcolm after he became a Krelboyne.)
      • Also in the pilot, it seemed it was planned for Malcolm to wrap up the episode in the credits roll with a summary of what happened afterwards. This was not used in the series aside from the pilot, which just plays the theme song instead.
  • Easily Forgiven: Lois calls out Kitty for abandoning her family, leaving them destroyed, and then returning after she'd done everything she wanted and expected a simple apology would do. After Hal tells her that it's expected to forgive the love of your life for absolutely anything, Lois, who rarely apologizes for anything, apologizes to Kitty, with Kitty never having to do any real atonement.
  • Elderly Future Fantasy: Reese is close to flunking out of high school, and unemployed, Lois has a nightmare where she and Hal, who are senior citizens, are being terrorized by a middle aged Reese who demands they cook his meals and do his chores, which leads to Lois demanding that he get a job and graduate high school. When he ignores her demands, she kicks him out, and he lives in the backyard with a hobo, but when she gets hurt trying to evict him, Reese tends to her, and Lois says he can stay, but pleads with him to at least look for work and help with expenses if he's not taking his education seriously, and Reese considers it. Reese then has nightmare, where he's a middle aged man, being terrorized by an elderly, morbidly obese Lois who demands he do everything around the house. Reese then tells Lois that as soon she recovers she will have to fend for herself, because as soon as he starts earning enough money, he'll move out of the house and live his own life.
  • Embarrassing Cover Up: Malcolm has to bring some comfort item to Craig, who is secretly living in Lois's workplace. When she questions him about having a pineapple, spare pants and a book with him, he explains that he is going through a very bad belly problem, justifying the need of fresh fruit, a book to read in the bathroom and well, spare pants. Self-inflicted trope.
  • Embarrassing Slide: Francis put some embarrassing photographs of Spangler into a slide show about STDs. However, Spangler actually bothers to check the slides before the show, and changes the ones that Francis put in with embarrassing pictures of Francis.
  • Epic Fail:
    • The dual stories episode of the family at bowling night. In Lois's version, Malcolm fails to get a single strike, even with a lighter ball (labeled Connie). In frustration at Lois's attempts to motivate him, Malcolm walks down the lane, right towards the pins, and tosses the ball at them. Knocking over none.
    • In Hal Sleepwalks we're treated to a montage of all the crappy anniversaries Hal has screwed up. In the first, he hired a marching band to play inside their bedroom first thing in the morning, seriously freaking Lois out. The second, he knocked her unconscious when he emerged from the closet naked with champagne (the door whacked her in the head). And in the third and final scene, he's showing Lois two biplanes creating a heart in the sky, which then crash into each other and spiral to the ground. When we cut back to present day Hal, he mentions that wasn't even the low point of that day.
    • This actually happens a lot to the kids, but specially to Reese later in the series. These fails include being trapped in the roof while receiving a rain of putrid projectiles from the Krelboynes, ending up sleeping in a friend's dilapidated basement and almost losing an eye, being trapped under debris with fireworks exploding in their face, burning horribly in the sun, being attacked by wild animals, entering a military field during bombing tests and the list goes on and on.
    • In one episode's shot Malcolm is playing an expy of The Sims. He instantly goes about trying to make his character successful and make the rest of his family failures. The result? We watch a screenshot of his dad shaking hands with an alien while Malcolm says his family became crazy successful while his own character is a trailer trash loser that weighs four hundred pounds. He then tries to get his character to kill the others only for his character to ignore him and make a sandwich instead which kills it. Note that Malcolm's character was the only one who died.
  • Escalating War: An entire episode starts in the middle of one. Every time one brother does something to the other, a flashback is shown to an earlier prank in the war. Ultimately, the two boys are in full body casts, and then the viewer is shown what started it all. Malcolm ate Reese's blueberry after Reese told him not to. "What's the worst that could happen?"
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Lois has a very rough relationship with their kids, but they understand deep down that it's Tough Love to teach them responsibility and her wrath as a Mama Bear is legendary. That makes the few times Lois is treated cruelly notable for the kids deciding to plot their revenge in turn.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Reese may be a violent psychotic bully but he makes it clear that the wheelchair bound Stevie is off limits to anyone. When he was going to fight Stevie, he put his legs in ice water until they were numb so it would be a fair fight.
      • In general, Stevie is almost never shown as being bullied - even in the first episode when he is hit by accident, the bully is mortified that he did it. Everyone subconsciously admits that bullying Stevie is wrong.
      • Francis himself enjoys undermining Lois's authority, but the episode "Carnival" has him comply with the two's request for where the boys would be the second he finds out Stevie is with them.
    • Lois may be abusive to her sons and be the reason why their lives are hell, but she doesn't take kindly to anyone who bullies Reese ("Lois Strikes Back"), called out her new neighbor for berating the lawn-care man while he was doing his job, called Kitty (Stevie's mom) out for abandoning her husband and son, ripped her boss's hair off for insulting Dewey, and freaks out whenever someone crosses the property line.
      • Or the episode "Tutoring Reese" where she sticks up to another bully of his: His teacher.
    • When the boys build a catapult ("Halloween Approximately") they throw a very full diaper... we only see their reactions, but it seems to be so ugly they agree to not throw one of those again.
  • Everyone Knows Morse: In a season 2 episode the family are playing March and Conquer without Malcolm (as Malcolm is in the hospital with appendicitis). Lois finds out Hal and the boys where ganging up on her when Hal accidentally taps Morse Code into her foot.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good:
    • In "Buseys Run Away", Malcolm and Reese confront Dewey when he's spent several days not being yelled at by Lois, suspecting some kind of conspiracy. Dewey tells them flat out that he hadn't been getting into trouble because he hasn't done anything wrong. To Malcolm and Reese, it's like Dewey is speaking a foreign language and they can't even comprehend the link between getting in trouble and getting punished. Malcolm sort of seems to get the idea, but then goes into immediate denial and looks for another answer. However, Lois has also mentioned that she regularly treats one of her sons better then the other so that the other two don’t know what’s going on, and given her track record for punishing her kids even when they really haven't done anything wrong...
    • In "Mono", Reese observes that Jamie acts as Dewey's "slave" and claims Jamie for himself (Dewey was his slave before he started showing spite). He can't understand why Jamie retreats from him barking orders, complete with insults and threats, nor can he understand how Dewey can respectfully ask requests. After Dewey slowly guides him through asking for a soda, Reese finds it disgusting because he had to ask nicely for it, and comes to the realization that he only likes having a slave who suffers under his demands. He pounds Dewey in the stomach to get the taste out of his mouth.
  • Evil Matriarch: Ida and Lavernia both. The boys see Lois this way.
  • Evil Power Vacuum: When Reese temporarily stops being the top-predator school bully, anarchy breaks out as several lesser bullies run rampant. Leads to We Want Our Jerk Back!.
  • Evil Twin: Reese claims Dewey is one after meeting a kid that looks exactly like him, who goes around doing good deeds for strangers.
  • Expository Theme Tune: Though not as blatant as others, it's there, especially in the full version.
    You're not the boss of me now, You're not the boss of me now, You're not the boss of me now and you're not so big/ Life Is Unfair...
  • False Dichotomy: In one episode Malcolm struggles to choose whether to partner up for a dance competition with a hot-but-clumsy girl, or a good dancer he's not attracted to. Despite the fact that twirling away in the background of the class are several very attractive women who can clearly dance.
  • Family Portrait of Characterization: At a family reunion Hal's relatives mislead The Unfavorite Lois when she asks where to find a pair of dress shoes; this lets the family get their group picture taken without her.
  • Farmer's Daughter: The group of "Local Girls" who hang out outside Marlin Academy's front gates are all overly sexed-up country girls who are apparently so wild that whenever they're let in they always cause a massive amount of property damage and sexual assault.
  • Feeling the Baby Kick: In the episode where Lois has a Pregnancy Scare, a Flash Back shows her when she was nine months pregnant with Reese, and throughout the memory, Lois complains about how the fetus keeps kicking her repeatedly. At the OBG/YN room, Lois decides to induce labor to get the baby out so he'll stop kicking her. Once baby Reese is born, the first thing he does is punch the doctor in the nose.
  • Fictional Holiday: The "Ida's Dance" episode had Saint Grotus's Day from The Old Country. Parts of the celebrations include making a giant and terrible tasting tart with layers corresponding to the groups of people that Grotus slaughtered and a particularly dangerous version of Tinikling that involves sharp blades.
  • Fight for the Last Bite: Defied; On an unusually happy day, Hal repeatedly and intentionally takes the last chip because mutually understood rules dictate that he is therefore the one who has to go get more.
  • Financial Abuse: Malcolm's parents repeatedly and deliberately deny him financial opportunities he's earned, use credit cards he's offered because their own credit is terrible, and take most of the money from his paychecks for themselves. While they have their reasons for this, making Malcolm a president who understands being poor, they're also truly terrible with their own money and waste an extraordinary amount, particularly on Hal's frequent and short-lived obsessions, making it a bit of a Broken Aesop.
  • Fixing the Game: Hal uses Malcolm's ability to count cards to win a large amount at an Indian casino before eventually being caught. His attempt to bribe the owner into letting him back in by returning his winnings only results in him losing the money while remaining banned.
  • Flanderization:
    • Malcolm became more of a whiny jerk as he got older. Justified as he is going through puberty.
    • Somewhat reversed with Reese in that he got a bit nicer when he got older. Also Truth in Television as Reese is most likely exiting the pubescent phase. In addition, there actually was an episode that dealt with the tiny voice in his head that usually tells him to do all kinds of stupid things fading away, replaced by the voice of reason. Not that he stopped doing stupid things after that episode, but still.
    • Lois goes from a hair triggered tempered parent who uses Tough Love to keep her boys in line to a borderline-psychopath living vicariously through the only son who's smart enough to succeed in the world (Malcolm) as shown in some later episodes (i.e. Lois Strikes Back and the series finale).
  • Flashback Cut: Happens a few times in the early episodes, such as a montage of the crazy things Francis did before he was sent to military school, or another montage of various ways the boys have been hospitalized. "We kind of have a history here."
  • Food as Bribe: Reese's own subconscious did this to him in "Reese Comes Home." When he collapses from exhaustion in the Afghani wilderness, a hallucination of Mr. Waffles, a mascot for his favorite waffle mix, encourages him to get up and find a way back to America. None of the more inspiring words work, so Mr. Waffles says that his brand's mix will have more blueberries. At this, Reese forces himself to drudge forward, still chatting with Mr. Waffles.
  • The Food Poisoning Incident: Francis eats some bad sushi while on the way to Mardi Gras with his military school buddies. By the time they reach the hotel he's so sick he can't get out of bed and has to miss all the fun. He eventually tries to rally and join the party but makes it as far as the hallway before throwing up. His friends dutifully carry him back to bed.
  • Formerly Fat: One episode featured the boys getting a beautiful girl becoming their baby-sitter and she was a classmate of Francis and had a crush on him. Back then, she was overweight and Francis wanted nothing to do with her. When she phoned him trying to score a date, he rejected her, thinking she was still fat.
  • For Want of a Nail:
    • The premise of "Bowling" is that we get two versions of Reese and Malcolm's night of bowling with some kids from school: one where Lois drove them, and one where Hal drove them. This also applies to the subplot with Dewey as whoever didn't take them had to stay home with him (he was being punished).
      • Dewey is the true nail here: the only reason he was being punished was because he killed the neighbor's bird.
      • The most noticeable effect of this can be seen in Malcolm: in the "Lois" version, he keeps getting gutter balls. In the "Hal" version, although he isn't being forced to bowl, he gets a strike the one time we see him actually bowl.
    • The reason why Malcolm and Reese's Escalating War in "Forwards Backwards" happened at all, revealed in a flashback at the end, was because Malcolm ate the blueberry Reese was saving.
    • A flashback in "Lois Battles Jamie" reveals why Lois became so controlling and strict: as a kid, Francis got out of his high chair, and got ahold of lighter fluid and some matches. It was only because of Lois (who was on the phone with a pediatrician) turning around when she did that Francis did not die.
      • There's also the punchline to the episode: it turns out the reason why Jamie was antagonizing Lois so much this episode... was because Reese had been giving him soda, 3 to 4 cans per day.
    • What ultimately becomes a key moment in Francis' life, the thing that leads him to get himself emancipated and leave military school, is him knocking a payphone off the wall and onto his foot.
    • Towards the end of "Stupid Girl", Malcolm decides to sneak away from the dance with Allison to go make out, armed with a six-pack... when he runs into Lois and Stevienote  in the parking lot. In an instant, Malcolm promptly acts like he was consoling Allison about how "that guy's a complete jerk", and how they should just get rid of the beer she was given and get her a ride home. And then...
      Malcolm: [turns to the camera] That's what I would've done if I hadn't shut my brain off all week. [restages the scene] Here's what I really did.
      [Malcolm and Allison run into Lois and Stevie]
      Malcolm: [quietly sings the gum commercial jingle to himself]
    • The plot of "Block Party" only happens because the annual family vacation to the lake was forced to end abruptly, causing them to come home three days early, after Malcolm, Reese and Dewey were attacked by leeches after attempting to swim in the lake.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: The four original sons fit into this with Dewey (sanguine), Malcolm (melancholic), Reese (choleric), and Francis (phlegmatic).
  • The Freelance Shame Squad: All the kids sitting on the benches at the water park start giggling derisively at Reese after Malcolm yanks down Reese's trunks in front of them.
  • Free the Frogs: One of Francis' many escapades at the military academy.
  • Freshman Fears: In the first high school episode for Malcolm, he is incredibly concerned with becoming popular. However, an embarrassing encounter with his mother earns him the nickname "Stain," which shows no signs of dying down. This escalates to Malcolm attempting to crash his mother's car in a desperate attempt to change face.
  • Freudian Excuse: Hal is given some for his terrible indecisiveness, hatred of kites, and fear of snakes and clowns.
  • Frivolous Lawsuit: Grandma Ida against her own daughter's family. Over Ida slipping on a leaf in their yard, at that.
  • Funny Background Event: After Malcolm excuses himself from the lunch table, the Krelboynes debate amongst themselves whether to exclude him because of his new girlfriend. Behind them, Malcolm full-body tackles an exchange student who was talking to his girlfriend and wails on the poor kid until the faculty manages to pull him off.

  • Gay Moment: Hal with a new neighbor.
  • Gender Bender: In one episode during Lois' pregnancy, she has an extended Imagine Spot where instead of three boys, she had three girls. It's initially blissful, but soon she starts realizing that raising three teenage girls would have horrors all of its own. Eventually, it's revealed that the episode would have had the same end result, no matter what the gender of the children.
  • Generation Xerox:
    • Francis' choice of spouse, and the kind of relationship he has with her, closely resembles his dad's.
    • Lois' relationship with her own mother is shown to be just as dysfunctional as the boys' relationship with her.
    • On several occasions, we see that whenever Lois isn't around to curb Hal's wild streak, he basically devolves into Francis. Similarly, after getting married to a wife than can rein him in, Francis slowly begins to morph into Hal.
  • Genius Ditz:
    • Reese is a moron, but has an incredible talent for cooking. He's also got a gift for exploiting people: during an emergency (a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed) the town was stuck in the school's gym. Reese immediately began a black market and by the end had all of the toilet paper, blankets, and a number of assorted goods (he started an auction for the insulin between two diabetics). So it appears that when properly incentivized, Reese can be quite the evil genius.
    • Dewey turns out to be an impressively skilled musician and performer, who also has much more advanced social skills than the rest of the family. In the finale, Hal mentions offhand that he's going to just drift through life being happy and successful.
  • Global Ignorance: Francis was once conned into exchanging his US currency for 'Alaska dollars'.
  • Godzilla Threshold: "Graduation" reveals that Malcolm, Reese, and Dewey have a system set up note  in place to keep them in mutual check and discourage them from screwing each other over too severely, lest the victim, having nothing to lose, decide to take all three of them down.
  • Gone Horribly Right:
    • In an early episode, the boys including Francis are left by themselves for a weekend, and friends of Francis manage to trash the house, so the boys clean it up. After they're done, they realize the house is TOO clean, as the house had always had a recognizable mess. How do they fix this? Intentionally make messes in the house, just not to the extent that they were before.
    • In "Smunday", Malcolm's solution to making Lois forget that Francis drove a backhoe into a college's swimming pool is to launch all of her and Hal's most prized possessions off the roof, with Reese adding several cans of red paint to ensure collateral damage. However, just as they launch the cart of mementos, a sick Hal pulls into the driveway in a brand new Porsche driven by the dealer he was speaking with, resulting in the $90,000 car being totaled along with any injuries suffered by Hal and the dealer.
  • Good Feels Good: Reese, nearly word for word while wing-manning for "pimping a fatal disease to take advantage of a girl."
  • Good with Numbers: Malcolm, incredibly so. His act at a talent fair demonstrates just how good he is: two audience members show Credit Card numbers to Malcolm who then memorizes them within seconds and does math with them. He takes crowd suggestions and churns out the answer within a second flat, and everybody looks at him like he's on fire.
  • Got Volunteered: In "Grandma Sues," Lois and Hal are out of the house in a doctor's office to confirm if Lois is pregnant again, which she is, while all the boys, Pyama, and Grandma Ida are at the house. As the boys and Pyama are watching TV, Ida announces from the bathroom that she's done with her "business" and needs someone to go and clean her. After Pyama says, "she's not my grandma'" Francis says he'll write a number and whoever guesses it will go clean Ida. When Malcolm says he'll just write the first number someone says, Francis announces the number he wrote is "one," and when Malcolm tries to contest it, everybody else tells him he lost fair and square so he has to help Ida. As Malcolm stomps towards the bathroom, he briefly stops to proclaim: "I hate you all!"
  • Graduate from the Story
  • Grail in the Garbage: In one of the show's cold opens, Reese accidentally breaks a cheap painting's frame. Before he glues the painting back down, he gets the chance to laugh at the name of the artist who painted the one framed beneath it: "Pic-ass-o".
  • Granola Girl: Polly, the nanny Lois hired for Jamie.
  • Gratuitous German: Otto and Gretchen Mannkusser, who occasionally lapse into Poirot Speak. Subverted from usual Teutonic stereotypes in as much as they're both quite kind and air-headed.
  • Grenade Hot Potato: It ends up in the fridge.
  • Groin Attack:
    • Ida pulls a particularly painful one on Francis when he attempts to remove her from the house after she forcibly moves in.
    • "The Play", the Dangerous Forbidden Technique the boys break out to beat Hal in their Down to the Last Play backyard basketball game.
    • Hal once declares, "What have I always told you boys? 'The nards are fair game,'" implying he pulled one of these on Francis.
    • One of the soldiers at the start of "Reese Comes Home" claimed that Lois "Attacked [his] groinage region...and captured same".
    • "Stilts", Malcolm, trying to use some shopping carts as roller skates to escape from an enraged stiltman named Sam, whose job he took, fails to account for the possibility that the carts will slide in opposite directions, and ends up performing an incredibly painful looking split. And before that, Sam falls down and smacks him in the nuts with one of his stilts.
    Malcolm: (whimpering with a slightly higher-pitched voice than normal) This hurts so much worse than it looks.
  • Gross-Up Close-Up: "Aww, Malcolm doesn't like me eating close to his face, with pizza I have and he doesn't. Pizza, pizza, pizza. Piiiiiiizzaaaaaa... Piiiiiiiizzaaaaaaa..."
  • Happily Married: Despite the fact that he tends to be a Henpecked Husband and she a control freak, Hal and Lois are this, genuinely supporting, loving, and respecting each other. Notably, in a media world that often sends up parents living in dead bedrooms, they're shown to openly have an (extremely) active sex life.
    • The series finale shows that Francis remains this way with Piama.
  • Hard Truth Aesop: "Shame" shows that if you try to bully someone older than you, expect to get your ass kicked. Malcolm is willing to let go of his hatred of a kid named Kevin, except that Kevin taunts him about not getting pizza and won't leave him alone. Cue one No-Holds-Barred Beatdown; while Malcolm feels guilty about learning the kid was only seven, his parents let him off the hook when they hear the full story with Hal admitting Kevin deserved it to who he thinks is the boy's father. Malcolm and Dewey get into physical altercations all the time with Reese, but they acknowledge he'll fight back and seem to enjoy the roughhousing.
  • Heads, Tails, Edge: Malcolm's final attempt to deal with the Slappy cutout in "Standee" (via a coin flip) nets this result. Tellingly, this is how the episode ends.
  • Heel Realization: Lois isn't technically a heel. However, she does have a few of these, like when she realizes that she is indeed a control freak when she tries to hijack a crane to lift cars right off the road during a traffic jam, or when she realizes she always has to be right even after seeing video evidence of her making an error while driving and saying the tape must be wrong and in fact, it was note  . Realizing she's wasting her chance to have a romantic anniversary dinner with her husband to punish her children. She also once has a breakdown after deciding to steal Christmas.
  • Heroic BSoD: After hearing Lois sincerely apologize for being a horrible mom in "Ida Loses a Leg", Francis is literally unable to process this (he's had fantasies of this moment, and Lois "said everything", but when it happens, he still filled with resentment). He winds up having a freakout, causing Lois to give him some money and Tic Tacs in order to help calm him down.
    • Hal is so conflicted on whether or not to pull the plug in "Living Will" that he winds up making himself paralyzed from the waist up.
  • Hilariously Abusive Childhood: Interestingly, it borders on this for the younger boys, who simply gripe about their mom lightly, but with Francis it's almost always averted and he has deep-seated hatred for her, acknowledging that psychological abuse is serious and long-term. Lampshaded in the episode "Reese's Apartment", when Lois and Hal kick Reese out. Francis finds out and is trying to convince his brothers and his parents that this is abuse, but they don't believe him.
    • What makes it worse is that during the time they kicked him out, Reese was a model citizen and was getting perfect scores in all his classes. Unfortunately, Reese also had no concept of financial responsibility, carelessly racking up 10 grand in credit card debt.
  • Holding the Floor: A variation is seen in the episode "Butterflies," where Lois tricked Malcolm into working the graveyard shift during spring break at Lucky-Aide, so that she could keep an eye on him during the day and night. After Malcolm has been consulting the squatter who's been covertly living in the store for a year, to score some points with a girl he has a crush on that also works at Lucky-Aide, Lois manages to deduce the secret Malcolm has been keeping and forces the squatter to come out on his own accord, or she would actively hunt him down. They bring the squatter to the manager's office, and after a lengthy conversation Craig, the acting manager, and Malcolm try to convince Lois to let him go since the guy didn't actually steal anything, as he paid for everything he took. Lois however insists that whether he stole anything or not is irrelevant, as a dutiful employee it was her responsibility to notify the authorities that the squatter had been trespassing for such a long time with impunity and had to face the consequences of his actions, she then notices that her shift has just ended and her duties as an employee have come to an end. The guy takes this as his opportunity to walk out and never return to that store before Lois changes her mind.
  • Home Nudist: Hal and Lois were portrayed as this in the first episode; refusing to wear clothes in the house. This is a case of Early-Installment Weirdness as this was the only time they were shown doing this (presumably the writers realized there was almost nowhere they could go with the joke) and later portrayals would have them far too uptight to ever indulge in this sort of activity.
  • Honor Before Reason: Susan would rather die than allow Lois to donate one of her kidneys to save her, because it would mean giving Lois "the power to give her life". Subverted in that Susan, begrudgingly, accepts said kidney in the end.
  • Hook Hand: The Commandant. Later becomes a double Hook Hand. Who thought it was a good idea to put a sword in Francis' hands?
  • How the Character Stole Christmas: Lois, of course. Only to discipline the kids (and it was revealed she was feeling like a monster for it).
  • Human Mail: Reese wants Dewey to mail him somewhere. Dewey packages him up and pretends to mail Reese by simulating movement and sounds. Reese falls for it.
  • Humans Are Bastards: Basically the level of cynicism of the series.
  • Hunger Causes Lethargy: Francis' classmates join him on a hunger strike to get back their TV; by a certain point, everybody is too tired to stand up (and they also start hallucinating).
  • Hypocrite: Lois adopts a very "people will think what they want to and you can't change that" attitude in regards to others' attitudes towards her, but if someone does something she doesn't like she will not hesitate to yell at, berate and/or demean them and then tell them why and how everything they do or say is wrong.
    • In "Grandma Sues" Lois chides her kids for being upset about having another baby. Though she and Hal were less than enthused about the news themselves
  • Hypocritical Heartwarming: Every member of the family seems to pull this at least once (see Mama Bear for Lois' examples). Most triumphantly, when Lois is systematically humiliated by her Obnoxious In-Laws to the point that she locks herself in the bathroom to cry, all four boys wordlessly agree to wreak revenge, trailing a bemused Hal and Piama in their wake. And it is epic.

  • I Can't Believe It's Not Heroin!: In one episode, Hal wins 1000 bucks in a scratch off lottery. He then proceeds to buy a steam roller. Cue a hilarious montage, where he steamrolls anything he can find, and getting progressively more unhinged with each use to the point he was considering smashing cars in a car lot. Dewey eventually has an "intervention" when he stands in front of the steam roller, and Hal is forced to choose between the steam roller and Dewey. He chooses Dewey.
  • Identical Grandson: A Christmas Episode has a photo of Francis' grandfather as a young man, and he looks exactly like Francis. Except that he has humongous eyebrows, which Francis hopes isn't genetic.
  • Ignored Epiphany: In "Chad's Sleepover," Reese and Malcolm talk to try and figure out why they are so disliked by their schoolmates, and realize that they push people away because they are both scared of being rejected. Then Reese decides to believe that their peers are jealous of them, which Malcolm agrees with.
  • I Got a Rock: The Cold Open of "Hal Quits".
    Dewey: Mom! Dad! Guess what! The tooth fairy came!
    Lois: He did?
    Hal: So what did he give you? A couple dollars?
    Dewey: I got a rock and half a stick of gum.
  • I Made Copies: In the episode where Lois takes dancing lessons, Reese goes with her and begins making money dancing with old ladies. With the money he's been making, he buys Dewey an awesome toy, and smashes it in front of him just for the hell of it. At Lois' next dance lesson, Dewey films Reese dancing. Back home, Reese mocks Dewey over the smashed toy, and then notices the TV playing the footage of him being fondled by one of his dance partners. As Reese tries to eject the tape from the VCR:
    Dewey: You think that's the only copy? What do you take me for? Enjoy your assembly tomorrow.
  • Imagine Spot: Pops up from time to time.
  • Incest Subtext:
    • Reese unknowingly falls for Lois' high school self, reading her former diary.
    • In one episode, Malcolm contracts mono (a.k.a. "the kissing disease") from Lois, albeit from Lois licking her finger to innocently clean something off of Malcolm's face (unfortunately, not to the knowledge of anyone outside the family.)
      Reese: [at the computer] I can't wait until everyone at school finds out you got the kissing disease from Mom, which will happen right about [clicks a button on the computer's mouse] now.
    • Dabney and his mother in Hal's Friend. It's apparently a normal and accepted tradition for him to brush her hair every night before bed and for him to hand her a Modesty Towel the moment she steps out of the shower. She's also shown to be possessive and controlling and hates having his friend over, makes his birthday all about her, and is generally a My Beloved Smother. During the episode's paintball game, he has an awakening and Took a Level in Badass... and she's downright titillated like a flustered schoolgirl when he demonstrates his new, bolder personality.
  • Incompetence, Inc.: Lucky Aide. First and foremost Craig is the assistant manager, they get robbed on a near regular basis, Craig once got tied up and sprayed with a fire extinguisher for something he didn't do, the practices are at best confusing (like having the box crushing area nowhere near the box storage area), it took them 20 years to fire a guy who was coming drunk to work every day, and the interior looks run-down at best.
  • In Spite of a Nail: The punchline to "Bowling": no matter who winds up being the bowling chaperone, Lois or Hal, the following conversation happens at the end when they get home:
    Hal / Lois: So, how'd it go?
    Lois / Hal: [fed up] Next time, you take 'em.
  • Insufferable Genius:
    • Malcolm, of course.
    • And Mr. Herkabe, who makes Malcolm look downright humble in comparison.
    • Jason Alexander guest stars as one of these in Season 4.
  • Inter-Class Romance: Hal comes from a very rich family that openly hates Lois.
  • Ironic Echo: In the episode "Evactuation," after Malcolm comes home late from doing a school project with Stevie, Lois grounds him for not keeping his word that he would get home in time to help Hal load the couch onto the car. When the neighborhood is evacuated to the school, Lois tells Malcolm he's still grounded and to not leave the cot he was assigned by the National Guard. After Hal, Dewey, and Reese get kicked out of the School gymnasium, Hal and Dewey for running charity scams (Hal unknowingly) and for derailing the train, and Reese for running a Black Market, they are soon joined by Lois for publicly humiliating Malcolm. When they get cold from being outside at night, they peer through a window and ask Malcolm to give them some blankets, and Malcolm responds "I'm sorry, I'm not allowed to leave this cot!" As they frantically plead for help, Malcolm goes to sleep.
  • Ironic Echo Cut: A good portion of the show's humor is derived from this trope, for instance suggesting that Malcolm has just come up with a brilliant idea only to reveal a cut later that it was actually a disastrously bad idea.
  • It's All About Me: Lois is a particularly disturbing example of this. To specify after giving birth to Francis due to post-pregnancy complications she was forced to stay at the hospital while Hal took him home. When she returned the next day and found that Francis wasn’t miserable without her, she preceded to spend the next year torturing him as revenge to the point where his first words were "you shut up!"
    • The entire family is this in respect to Malcolm as their relationship is incredibly hypocritical. For example they have no problem excluding Malcolm from family activities yet Reese actually got into a fight with Steve because he felt that he was prioritizing him over his family. It is perfectly all right for Reese to steal Malcolm's girlfriend but when Malcolm does it to Reese he is constantly reminded of what a horrible person he is and he pretty much killed his brother.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: In the episode "Grandma Sues," Lois and Hal are having a meeting with Ida and her lawyer, and when Malcolm, who missed out on the family meeting to divvy out sleeping quarters and was forced to camp out in the backyard, tries to get in the house, he gets kicked out. When Malcolm forces his way through a window he demands to know why he can't go into the house, and Hal is forced to admit that Ida is suing them. Malcolm calmly explains that they didn't have to hide something so horrible since Ida is a horrible person. When Hal off-handedly says that Lois is also pregnant, Malcolm gets indignant and starts yelling at them. When Francis comes back with Reese and Dewey from minigolf (Malcolm wasn't invited because they forgot he was in the backyard) he asks why he didn't say anything if hew knew about Lois being pregnant, and Francis, who only knew about Ida suing, also starts yelling at Lois and Hal, demanding how they could do something so stupid.
  • I Was Born Ready: The group attends Hal's family reunion and Hal's family is mean to Lois the whole time. After they trick her into missing the group picture, the boys run over the dinner table with a golf cart and drive it into the swimming pool. Before they start, Reese asks Dewey if he's ready and Dewey responds with "I was born ready."
  • Jerkass: Pretty much every character in this show is a Jerkass. Some get better, others get worse. And they all complain about not having any friends/nobody liking them.
    • Lois. Some of her worst moments are:
      • In "Red Dress", she tortured the boys just to find out who burnt her red dress for her wedding anniversary.note  By the time she forces them to hear the song "Nice is Good, Mean is Bad", you can tell that she's gone too far.
      • In "Lois Strikes Back", when she tied Malcolm to her car, just for trying to talk her out of pulling cruel pranks on the girls that psychologically ruined Reese.
      • In the series finale, Lois, along with Hal, force Malcolm to work extremely hard in college to help him understand about financial struggles. To elaborate: As soon as Malcolm finishes high school, he is offered a six figure job working for a computer company. However, Hal and Lois refuse to let him take it, saying they have other plans for him. When he calls them out later on this, they reveal that they intend for him to work as a janitor while going through law school, to work his way up to become district attorney, win a place on the Senate, and then become President of the United States, while at the same time knowing that despite all of this, he will never be respected for any of it. While they're doing it because they believe Malcolm will be able to use his experience of being poor to help those like them when he becomes president, it says something about his family that they find manipulating Malcolm for decades and screwing him over every chance they get to be easier, than displaying any sort of personal fiscal responsibility.
    • When in a position of power, Craig can be a gigantic dick. See his actions in "Watching The Baby", where he's forced people who couldn't afford purchases into slave labor.
    • Francis was also quite a bit of a Jerkass early on. As a young child he took a street cleaner for a joyride and even once tried to light a teddy bear on fire with matches. In one episode he buys an extra ticket to a wrestling show and pits Malcolm and Reese against each other to try and earn it, but ultimately winds up taking a girl he'd just met instead.
    • Heck, Reese (who actually becomes less of a jerk in time), Malcolm (who becomes almost as much of a jerk as Reese) and Dewey too. One of their worst Jerkass moments has to be when they trick Lois into believing she had cancer, just so they wouldn't be in trouble for getting bad grades.
    • The above all fit the bill, but at least most of them have plenty of Pet the Dog moments. Mr. Herkabe, on the other hand, is an unrepentant asshole who likes nothing better than making his students miserable. Special example goes to his role in Malcolm films Reese, where he tricks and manipulates Malcolm into getting Reese to trust him enough to make himself vulnerable, leading Reese to confide on camera that he hopes he and Malcolm can be best friends forever. He then shows the film (without Malcolm's knowledge or consent) to his students, humiliating Reese for one of his few genuinely sweet moments.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Ida correctly pointed out to Lois that a lot of their money problems come from Lois and Hal's inability to stay off each other.
    • The episode "Therapy" has this as a joke:
      Hal: Reese, leave your brother alone. [sees Malcolm in his cheesy-looking court jester hat] Although you are asking for it.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Francis is a borderline example.
    • All the boys are this to a degree. They can be bad. Beyond bad. They're downright sociopathic at times. But when Hal's family makes Lois cry, they respond by marching off to destroy the family reunion as only they can.
  • Joker Jury: One episode had meat-loving Reese try to date a vegetarian girl, and later has a nightmare where he put on trial for "murder" by a court full of animals. Their "graphic evidence" is just pictures of Reese eating breakfast.
  • Jumping on a Grenade: The 'grenade in the refrigerator' variant.
  • Jury Duty: One episode had Lois being stuck in this for a case involving a teenager stealing a motorcycle. When everyone but her doesn't care about if the kid took it or not, and just wants to leave, she keeps changing her decision (all members have to agree on a decision) until they GIVE A DAMN, but she winds up excusing herself because issues with Francis are clouding her judgment.

  • Karma Houdini: The entire family with respect to Malcolm:
    • Reese can steal Malcolm’s girlfriend ("Stupid Girl") and nobody cares but when Malcolm steals Reese’s ("Reese Joins the Army") he’s a horrible person.
    • The family can get tired of Malcolm and exclude him from their activities but it’s not fair that Malcolm spends more time with his friends and takes their side over his own brother.
    • Lois forces Malcolm to do multiple extra curricular activities and extra work as well as help his brothers do their work but when all that work takes up his time he gets punished for it.
    • Lois and Hal agreed to stop smoking together. When she found out that he hid a bunch of cigarettes throughout the house she threatened that if she found any she would force him to eat them. Yet she smokes everyday during her lunch break.
    • In "Stock Car Races", Francis acquires a snake which eats the commandant's dog. The commandant declares that for two months, the entire academy would have no hot water, no television, and an 8 pm curfew, and says that they can "thank" Francis when he leaves. This tactic got Francis beaten up earlier in the episode, but all the cadets hated the dog, which the commandant used to find evidence of their misdeeds, and they applaud him. They also each give him a punch on the arm, but it's better than he might have gotten.
  • Karmic Trickster:
    • Malcolm in the early seasons, but less so as the series went on, Dewey in the later seasons,
    • In "Lois Strikes Back", after Reese gets pranked by a band of Alpha Bitches, Lois briefly turns into a Vigilante Woman and torments the girls to the point that they lose the things they cherished the most, e.g. a girl named Kristin having her hair shaved off due to getting gum on her head. Malcolm wasn't pleased.
  • Kick The Son Of A Bitch: The four girls that tortured Reese. And Reese himself.
  • Know Your Vines: After a huge fight and emotional breakdown with an unrequited love interest in a forest, Malcolm dries his tears with some leaves he found. The girl he is with tells him he's using poison oak. We see a rather disturbing shot of his face a little later, which resembles the character No-Face in Twisted Metal Black.
  • Landline Eavesdropping: In one episode, Lois wants to know who burned her new dress and subjects Malcolm, Reese, and Dewey to a series of interrogation techniques. Malcolm calls Francis for support in how to resist her techniques, until he hears Lois' breathing over the phone...
  • Large Ham: Spangler had his fair share of hammy moments, as did Hal.
  • Last-Second Word Swap: When the boys are vandalizing the billboard image of a stripper, Reese begins to write a speech bubble saying "I WANT REESE", but must halt before can write anything more than "I WANT RE". Malcolm takes advantage of this to cover their tracks, finishing the graffiti as "I WANT RESPECT" and claiming that they were trying to make a statement for women's rights.
  • Less Embarrassing Term: Dewey carries a handbag that he insists is a bookbag. When a group of kids make fun of him for it, he hits them with it. This is quite effective as he had filled it with bricks.
  • Let's Split Up, Gang!: When the group gets left at the county fair after it closes, Malcolm points out it looks like the beginning of every horror movie he's ever seen. Reese suggests they split up.
  • Lipstick Mark: A variant; in "Malcolm Babysits," Malcolm reveals on a recorded video to his employers that one of them kept a lipstick mark as a trophy in a coffee tin, signed by someone named Melissa. This was also his resignation video because he caught them creepily videotaping him while he was in their house, with labeled cassettes. The wife goes Oh, Crap! as her husband asks, "Who's Melissa?"
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: The bed that Dewey and Malcolm find in one episode. Dewey even claims that it is eating Malcolm's soul.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: Played with, and ultimately Inverted. Hal has The Talk with the boys and explains that the men in the family can become completely crazy when trying to deal with girls they like. But Hal tells them that finding the right girl, like how he found Lois, is actually the antidote to their craziness. Francis later found himself in a similar relationship with Piama.

  • Making Room for Baby: When Lois gets pregnant with Jamie, Hal rips the wall off of their bedroom to add a nursery. Not surprisingly, it isn't the most well thought out plan, but it does get finished eventually.
  • Mama Bear: Lois' overpowering personality is usually targeted at her kids, but that is her way of controlling them. If someone else slights them, they earn wrath even the kids don't see often. Among several examples:
    • She has openly stated she would sell Malcolm (her genius son) down the river to save Reese (her idiot son) because Malcolm could find his way out of it while Reese needed protecting.
      Mr. Woodward: I just don't think you'd throw away the son who achieves for, well, Reese.
      Lois: You don't think I'd sacrifice this one? Let me explain something to you. I would sell Malcolm down the river in a heartbeat to save Reese. Malcolm's gonna be fine no matter what happens. Maybe he'll have to go to junior college or start off blue collar, but he'll work his way up to management eventually. Reese is the one who needs saving.
      Woodward: I don't believe you. No mother could ever be that callous to her own son.
      [Francis appears in the window, pressed against the glass, while rain pours down and lightning flashes.]
      Francis: Mom, please let me come home! I'm cold and I'm hungry! Please, I'll fix the roof, I'll paint the house! I'll do anything, Mom, please! Just let me live indoors, Mom! Please, I wanna be warm again! MOM, PLEASE! [sobbing]
      Woodward: Maybe we can work something out.
    • Reese gets separated from his Army unit and captured by Afghani militants. They then drag him to a tent and prepare him to meet their leader, of whom they are visibly terrified. It's Lois.
    • Don't forget the infamous episode "Lois Strikes Back" where she does a revenge spree against four cheerleaders involving very cruel pranks due to mocking Reese, and the Principal did not do a thing about it.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: In "Victor's Other Family" when Lois gets the results of the DNA test Ida's lawyer advised her to take for the lawsuit against Sylvia, Victor's secret wife, Lois discovers that she is not Victor's biological daughter and that the likely candidate was a guy from the Old Country that could walk up some stairs on his hands. When Lois asks Ida about Susan being Victor's biological daughter Ida, casually replies "maybe, it's possible."
  • Manipulative Bastard:
    • Dewey is regularly shown (in later episodes) as capable of easily manipulating not only every member of his family but pretty much everyone he encounters.
    • The point is really hammered when he tricks his parents into holding a birthday party for Jamie so he wont feel neglected like Dewey.
    • Jessica, the babysitter from Malcolm's class.
  • Manipulative Editing: When Stevie wins a Teen Courtesy award, Malcolm edits a recording of his acceptance speech to mask his speech impediment. Then when Malcolm and Stevie wouldn't help Reese rip off his skin, Reese retaliates by doing this to the speech. Then, on award night...
    "Ladies and gentlemen, friends and family, esteemed colleagues of courtesy, you honor me. But I can't let this occasion pass without remarking that you all | blow. | Blow. | Blow. | Blow. | It means so much and requires so little to take a moment to | kiss | my | butt.| In conclusion, I feel that the evening would be incomplete without | telling the world that | I am actually | a | lady. | Thank you. | Go | to | Hell."
  • Mediation Backfire: In the episode "Ida Loses a Leg," after Ida loses a leg saving Dewey from getting hit by a truck, Lois drives Francis up to Ida's house so he can look after her for a few weeks, since he's unemployed at the time, while she's just staying the night since it's a long drive and has to return to work as soon as possible. Francis tells her that's a terrible idea because he and Ida hate each other so much, but Lois tells him she doesn't care, and advises that that they better find something they have in common if they don't want to be miserable with one another until Ida fully recovers. Right in front of Lois' face, Francis tells Ida about how Lois is such demanding and controlling mother, while Ida complains of how Lois was such a needy, self absorbed child while growing up.
  • Mexicans Love Speedy Gonzales: An In-Universe example occurs in "Standee". Lois finds a standee in the store a racist caricature of black people and demands it be taken down. Not only does no one agree with her, but Hal's black poker buddies love the standee and it triples the stores black customers. Lois only leaves it up when she learns a racist coworker wants it taken down because she's sick of recent influx of black customers.
  • Middle Child Syndrome: Malcolm (and later Dewey) get some form of this. They are frequently ignored/abused in favor of the older and younger siblings. However, considering the trouble Reese and Francis got into and the age of Dewey in the first half of the show/Jamie in the second, they're also the two who 'need' the least help, and all of the boys get neglected in one way or another so it might even out. Plus, both are child prodigies (in different ways), and they eventually end up the two their parents are most proud of.
  • Mighty Lumberjack: Played with for a while, with Francis and his friend from military school believing they would be able to run off to Alaska and become manly lumberjacks relatively easily.
  • Misery Builds Character
    • In the last episode, Lois sabotages Malcolm's chance at getting a high paying position at a major corporation because she thinks he needs to lead a miserable existence in order to become the best President of the United States like she wants him to be.
    • After making Dewey miss his flight for a piano contest, crushing his fingers, and squirting something in his eye (all accidentally), Dewey accuses Lois of not wanting him to succeed in life. Lois asks Dewey whether having to overcome obstacles or have an easy victory would make for a better story to tell others.
  • Missing Mom: Stevie's mom abandons her son and husband a few seasons in.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Francis gets assigned to be the honor guard for a beauty pageant (and takes great delight in being surrounded by beautiful women). The contestants reasons he must be gay because he loves the theatre, is good at decorating and is obsessed with his mother.
  • Mistaken for Pedophile: In the episode Malcolm Defends Reese, Hal discovers that Dewey has a crush on Gina, and attempts to do everything he can to have Gina and Dewey meet, even trying to offer her candy to get her into the car. Unfortunately, one of their neighbors saw this and thought Hal was a child molester trying to lure his latest victim.
  • Mistaken for Prostitute: Lois's boss pressures her into wearing more make-up at work. Her resulting makeover ends up being so gaudy that a man approaches her in the parking lot and tries to solicit her. She drags the guy into her boss's office and uses the mistake to prove that she shouldn't have to continue wearing the make-up.
  • Mob Debt: Parodied in the series finale; the family is a few thousand dollars short of Malcolm's Harvard tuition, so Hal goes to a Loan Shark to close the gap. He is upfront with the thug that he will never be able to pay the money back, but the investment will be well worth it since he will scream so loud while his legs are being broken that no one will ever cross the mob again. The thug points out that he could just as easily break Hal's legs for free.
  • Moment Killer: Cynthia and Malcolm are plagued by this when she's first introduced, whether it's her off-putting habits or his Digging Yourself Deeper.
  • Money Fetish: Spoofed when Malcolm realized he was rubbing money against his face.
  • Moral Myopia: The family’s usage of this with respect to Malcolm is probably the biggest foreshadow to the final. Season 5 ended when Malcolm steals Reese’s girlfriend. Everyone repeatedly mentions how Malcolm betrayed Reese and likely killed him yet when Reese stole Malcolm’s girlfriend a season earlier, no one batted an eye. Also ‘Grandma Sues’ shows that the family can get tired of Malcolm and exclude him from their activities yet in Reese vs Stevie it’s not fair that Malcolm spends more time with his friends and takes their side over his own brother.
    • To be fair Reese didn't so much steal Malcolm's girlfriend as simply dated her after she had already dumped him for using an overly complicated word, Malcolm actually initiated a relationship with Reese's girlfriend while they were still dating and Reese found out about it as he was trying to declare his love to her with a very expensive serenade and horse carriage ride.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: All of Hal's short-lived hobbies and obsessions. Every episode that features one plays it for laughs for eighteen minutes, then the audience sees, that, yes, it's ridiculous, but Hal actually kicks ass at Dance Dance revolution/painting/RC Boats/Race-Walking/rollerskating...
  • Musical Episode: Opera Episode, more specifically.
  • My Beloved Smother:
    • In the case of Malcolm and Francis in particular, by the end of the series the psychoses their mother has caused them to develop inflects almost every action they take.
    • Stevie has an even worse case, to the extent that she has a breakdown and runs away when she realizes he's not completely dependent on her.
    • Dabney is smothered to an extent that would creep out Norman Bates.
  • Naked People Are Funny:
    • Prior to the airing of the pilot, the show's working title was Fighting in Underpants.
    • Hal appeared naked but for a newspaper on the first episode while Lois was shaving him at the breakfast table.
    • There is something inherently hilarious about Bryan Cranston in briefs. The promoters of Breaking Bad are aware of this (and, yes, he did appear in his underwear — and lampshaded the previous appearances — on the episode of Saturday Night Live he hosted).
  • Native American Casino:
    • Francis makes a casino out of half of his and his wife's house when he finds out that the one half is on reservation territory.
    • In another episode, the family goes to an Indian casino, and Hal and Malcolm are caught counting cards.
  • The Needs of the Many: According to Francis, in military school, he and his comrades learned that, "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the guy who can't run fast".
  • The Neidermeyer: Commandant Spangler.
  • Never My Fault: Francis blames everything bad in his life on Lois, to the point where he convinced himself he was an alcoholic despite barely drinking.
    • It must be a genetic as Lois & Hail both insist the entire country is out to get their even though they are shown to be the cause of their financial woes by being both incredibly frivolous and irresponsible. Whether it'd be spending hundreds of dollars on one of Hal's obsessions, being too damn horny to take care of their other responsibilities, or having more children than they can afford.
    • In "Future Malcolm," Malcolm and Stevie run into Leonard (played by Jason Alexander) at the park, mocking the latest person he beat at chess, and after he and Malcolm tie several chess games, a loan shark comes and demands Leonard pay back the money he owes. When he leaves, Leonard refers to him as a "jackass," meaning that he believes he's got nothing to do with his financial problems being made worse by asking money from a loan shark. Later, when Malcom takes Stevie to the park, following a failed job interview for Leonard with Craig who they bad mouthed right outside his office, one chess player gives Malcolm a letter from Leonard, saying he moved away, blaming his miserable life on the "jackasses" around him (instead of his Jerkass, Insufferable Genius attitude).
  • New Baby Episode: The episode has two instances of this happening:
    • In the episode "Flashback", Lois has a Pregnancy Scare and there are a series of flashbacks that details how the boys were born:
      • Francis: Lois goes into labor during the wedding, and refuses to go to the hospital because she doesn't want the baby to be born out of wedlock, and after Hal misplaces him for a few seconds, Lois promises to never leave baby Francis' side, and in the present Lois tells a teen-aged Francis (who's visiting from Military School) to go away.
      • Reese: When Hal asks his boss for a reduction of hours to help Lois at home, he gets a demotion and a pay cut (this likely is what kicked started their current financial problems), and his desk is moved right next to men's room. Lois induces labor because the fetus won't stop kicking her, and the first thing baby Reese does when he's born is punch the doctor on the nose.
      • Malcolm: Hal and Lois move their growing family from their condominium to their current house, and they get into an argument because Hal's technique of trying to imprint knowledge on baby Reese was going nowhere, though it's implied this is how Malcolm became smart. When Hal storms out of the house, Lois goes into labor and she tries to drive herself to the hospital, but Francis, now around four/five years old, playfully locks her out of the car, and Malcolm is born on the front lawn.
      • Dewey: A chaotic night that includes six year old Reese running around and screaming, Francis, around 9/10 years old, being brought home by a cop who caught him taking a street-sweeper on a joy ride, and Lois blaming Hal for telling the boys stories of similar escapades when he was younger. When four year old Malcolm unleashes a cloud of chlorine gas, they evacuate to the backyard where the boys wrestle in the mud while it rains, and Lois goes into labor. She and Hal then remind themselves of how much they love each other and that everything will be alright. Cut to the present where Lois finds out she isn't pregnant and she and Hal break up the boys who are wrestling in the living room.
    • Jamie: In "Baby: Part One" when Ida suddenly announces she's moving in, Lois, Piama, and Francis come up with a scheme to get her to leave, by tricking Ida into thinking all their next door neighbors are black. Just as Lois goes into Labor, Ida decides to stay, while Hal, Reese, Malcolm, and Dewey are detained at the convention center. In "Part Two," while Lois forces Francis to help her give birth, because the paramedics got lost on the way, Hal is taken to the hospital, and while there the rest of the boys take parenting lesson so they will be good older brothers.
  • Nightmare Fetishist:
    • Reese likes his summer job at the slaughterhouse. Especially the "people swearing in Spanish". And then he tells his baby brother where veal comes from.
    • When Ida was about to get married to a Chinese man in another episode and live with him in Hong Kong, she describes it as having "chickens in the streets, children in sweatshops, and everyone smoking", and calling it a dream come true.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Boone Vincent is for all intents and purposes Wayne Newton.
  • No Dress Code: A surprisingly high amount of female students at Malcolm and Reese's school wear outfits that exposes their midsections.
  • No Full Name Given: The family's last name is never given at any point throughout the series. The rumor among fans was that it would finally be spoken in the final episode. In the finale, Malcolm's principal introduces him as valedictorian and says his last name... but a microphone whine makes it impossible to hear (in said scene, the principal mouths "No Last Name"). Early in the series, we once see Francis wearing a 'Wilkerson' name tag (and it was originally Wilkerson in the pilot script), but they decided afterward to keep it secret. Francis' ID badge in the finale shows the surname "Nolastname" as a deliberate joke for sharp-eyed viewers, as the producers didn't want to put an ethnic label on the family. However, during its original run on Fox, commercials for it would occasionally use phrases like "Keep up with the Wilkersons," though whether this remained canon to the show itself is unknown.
  • No Matter How Much I Beg: When Reese is trying his darnedest to stay out of trouble so he cannot be punished and miss taking his driver's ed test, he has Malcolm tie him to his bed the night before as a precaution.
    Reese: "Don't untie me for any reason...I need to pee."
  • Nominated as a Prank: Reese and Malcolm enter Lois in the Mrs. Tri-County Pageant, a beauty pageant for middle aged women, as joke. When Hal finds out that the boys did it because they thought it would be funny to see Lois make a fool of herself in public, he forces them into seeing this through if they don't want to suffer another punishment should Lois find out why they signed her up.
  • Non-Residential Residence: In the episode "Butterflies", Malcolm finds a man is living in the Lucky Aide. Malcolm lets him stay in return for information on an employee he has a crush on.
  • Noodle Implements:
    • Lois's plotline in "Ida's Dance" focuses on "St. Grotus's Day," a bizarre holiday venerating a bloodthirsty saint and revered by Ida's home country. Lois apparently suffered through celebrating the day as a kid and gets roped into helping Ida prepare a festival for it. The tidbits we see of St. Grotus's Day includes:
      • A gigantic and overly complicated tart with multiple levels of fillings to represent each day of the saint's misadventures. According to Ida it's purpose is to be difficult to make and thus tastes horrible on purpose. When Lois mistakenly adds apricots too early, Ida chides her stating "The saint didn't slaughter the peacemakers on the 15th day! He waited until the 16th when they trusted him!"
      • Some sort of dangerous dance involving wooden slats you have to move around. Then the slats get replaced with giant knives.
        Lois: Aww crap, I hate the knives.
  • Noodle Incident: The show prides itself on these. Some of the more notable ones include:
    • According to Spangler, the last time Local Girls made it inside Merlin they caused so much chaos that the academy was forced to bulldoze the amphitheater.
    • Reese pulled off a prank so heinous in one episode that all we know is that it involved cats, required mass evacuation, and is done frequently in third-world countries.
    • Hal's third solution to the man in the coma in "Living Will", which involved a bunch of birds, a hat and stuff from Radio Shack and somehow found the middle ground between life and death.
    • The "apple turnover incident" that is Lois' sister Susan's Berserk Button.
    • Mom's "best friend Jenny" in the finale; Francis finds the x-ray his brothers used to fake Lois's cancer scare, and not having been in on the plan, he realizes he can blackmail them with it. Dewey responds with little more than Jenny's name, and Francis relents without hesitation.
    • The burning car behind Francis literally the first episode. According to Malcolm, it neither belonged to anyone in the family nor has it been known how or why the car was in flames.
    • Whatever destructive scheme Reese did to earn a police officer's hate in "Christmas Trees," involving him going to a dog show with a (likely stolen) spear gun.
    • Stilts had Hal and Lois revealing secrets they've been keeping from one another in order to anger the other, such as Hal having dropped a bowling ball on Lois's foot on purpose so she couldn't go to her high school reunion, to Lois admitting that Hal's aunt died years ago and she forgot to tell him.
    • When Francis warns Dewey and Reese not to pull off a really stupid and dangerous stunt at a junkyard, he drops his pants and bares his ass in front of them and the other kids watching as he shows them his injury from a really stupid stunt he himself did years ago. All we see is the kids' reactions with Francis adding "...only the middle one still works".
    • While setting off fireworks, Malcolm and Reese ponder if the display is better than homecoming only to remember "That float smoldered for a week".
    • Hal mentions a time he left Dewey in Mexico in "Health Insurance."
    • One cold opening has a desperate Hal rushing into the boys' room asking who wants to take the fall for him for five bucks. Malcolm asks what he did, but Hal refuses to say, although whatever it was, Lois had apparently just discovered it as we hear her shouting "Oh my God!" several times in the background, each time more intense than the last. Malcolm agrees to do it for ten.
    • In the episode where Hal sleep walks due to the stress of not knowing what to give Lois as an anniversary present, a Montage shows Hal screwing up the previous anniversaries, with the final memory being of two skywriting planes he hired crashing in midair. Hal then says to Malcolm that wasn't the worst part of that day.
    • When Spangler tracks Francis down to Alaska, the man's a broken wreck who drunkenly implies things went From Bad to Worse at the military academy after Francis left. He rants about a lawsuit, charges filed, and says "I can't even remember the fire!" We're given absolutely no context behind any of these things, we just know Spangler was fired and he blames Francis for it.
  • No Sex Allowed: In the episode 'Forbidden Girlfriend' Lois goes on medication that prevents her from having sex for a week. This wouldn't be so bad... if she and Hal didn't have sex twice a day, EVERY DAY. However this turns out to be a good thing since while trying to distract themselves from their urges they end up doing a lot of good for the family. Hal's doing better at work, the yard is well taken care of. Lois finds out they are owed money in tax refunds. The house is spotless and its value more than doubles. However, once the pills are done and they can have sex again everything goes back to the way it was.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Conversed when Hal and Reese are watching a horror movie. Hal says that nothing that shows up onscreen is scarier than one's own imagination, only to be frightened seconds later by whatever is onscreen (the audience can't see the movie).
  • Nuclear Option: What Malcolm, Reese, and Dewey refer to as the ultimate weapon they have against each other. Years previously, they faked Lois' x-rays to make her believe she had cancer, as they needed to distract their parents while they signed off on their failing report cards. They kept the original scans in a lock-box with the threat that if any of the brothers tried pushing the others too far, they would reveal the x-rays to their mother and destroy them all. They then reveal they have another one when Francis decides to use this as blackmail material, at which point his brothers mention "Mom's friend Jenny" and Francis quickly shuts up.

  • Obfuscating Stupidity:
    • Dewey. While he has the potential to be the smartest and most cunning of the boys, this tends to be overlooked in favor of his Cloud Cuckoolander tendencies. He later purposely tests out of the gifted class to avoid Malcolm's fate... and ends up in a different kind of "special" class. Dewey is shown to be more smart around music and liberal arts, and certainly isn't afraid to show how musically inclined he is.
    • Vicky, Malcolm's secret girlfriend.
  • Oblivious to Love: Hal's neighbor begins to fall in love with him while they spend time together at various gatherings, but tearfully "breaks up" with him in the end before their relationship can go any further. Hal, meanwhile, was just having fun with friends the entire time, and he doesn't pick up on her feelings because the thought of fooling around on Lois never once crossed his mind.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws:
  • Obvious Rule Patch: When Malcolm gets a job at the Lucky Aid, he is directed to move a pile of empty boxes downstairs to a box flattening area, flatten them, bring them back upstairs, and deposit them in a dumpster outside. Malcolm flattens the boxes and throws them in the dumpster without carrying them downstairs, and is disciplined for flattening boxes outside of the box flattening area. Later, a sign is seen next to the pile of boxes reading "Absolutely No Box Flattening In This Area."
  • Oh, Crap!: The FBI Prosecutors when Hal begins his testimony and pulling mementos from his "Memory Box". It's the look of someone who just realized the hours they spent building their entire case against Hal was built on false testimony and is about to spectacularly implode. By the end the lead prosecutor can only facepalm.
  • Only Sane Man: Malcolm played this role in the first few seasons, but then he became a Jerkass and as sociopathic as his brothers. Stevie, almost coincidentally, takes up the reins around the same time.
    • Dewey also seemed to change from socially awkward little kid to a very bemused onlooker who simply observes the insanity go by.
  • Overcomplicated Menu Order: Craig orders one of these at the restaurant where Reese works and tells him to listen carefully as he doesn't want to waste calories by repeating it.
  • Paintball Episode: In "Hal's Friend", Dabney's grandfather sends him a paintball gun for his birthday. Malcolm convinces him to rebel against his mother and sneak away to go paintballing.
  • Pair the Dumb Ones: In the episode "Stupid Girl", Malcolm has a crush on Brainless Beauty Alison. Following the advice of his dumb brother Reese, he tries to turn off his brain when he's around her. They tried to date but it didn't work out and, by the end of the episode, Alison starts dating Reese himself and they get along perfectly.
  • Parental Favoritism:
  • Pet the Dog: This often happens. Even Ida gets one! See the heartwarming page.
    • In season 1, Malcolm expects his parents will punish him for beating up a seven-year-old at school. Lois instead treats his cuts after he falls at a charity race, and tells Malcolm he's not a bad person because his conscience is always watching him.
  • Parents as People: Both Lois and Hal.
    • Lois has a parenting style that is, if not abusive, incredibly harsh and controlling. But her kids are certainly not easy to deal with, she works a really crappy job, and she herself had a mother who was downright hateful.
    • Hal is a more easygoing guy but is often immature and childish.
  • Parking Payback: One episode saw Hal trying to get himself attacked so he can be a hero. He tries picking a fight by stealing a parking space...only to realize he stole a handicapped spot from a wheelchair user, who keys his car as he embarrassedly drives away.
  • Parking Problems: Francis gets 16 parking tickets in Lois' van, causing Lois to be arrested after she is pulled over for a traffic violation.
    • In the episode where Stevie's parents arrange to meet Malcolm's parents at a restaurant, Stevie's dad apologizes for being late after someone without a permit parked in the handicapped stall. Hal's reaction indicates it was him.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: In the episode "Casino," after Francis spends the weekend with Craig, the former laments that he has to spend more money buying a plane ticket back to Alabama, and the latter says thet he knows of a way to travel for free. Francis thinks it's hacking into the airline's system, but Craig sugest going into a chatroom and possing as some teenage girl with daddy issues named Debbie and talking some random creep him into buying "her" a plane ticket so they can meet in real life. Several scenes later, Francis is seen walking into an airport terminal, and when he sees a sketchy looking guy holding a rose and a sign that says "Debbie," Francis goes up to him and says "thank you" before making his way back to Marlin Academy.
  • Phone-Trace Race: Discussed — In one episode Hal is arrested for selling the donated goods that the boys stole while volunteering at a church. He calls Lois after being released and tells her that he and the boys are running away. When Lois attempts to dissuade him, Reese tells Hal to hang up, believing Lois is only stalling so she can trace the call.
  • Picture Day: "Malcolm's Money" has Malcolm go from not caring about Picture Day at all to obsessing about getting the perfect photo. Even when he does get a decent photo from the yearbook photographer, he still thinks it looks awful. The episode ends with Malcolm spending (what's left of) his titular money for a professional photoshoot with sets, costumes, and models.
  • Pitbull Dates Puppy: The relationship between Lois and Hal, though since both of them are terrible, awkward people individually and the two are more abusive to their kids than to each other, the relationship in a sick way works.
  • Popular Is Dumb: Malcolm gets paired up with a popular girl on chemistry class he already awaits with annoyance, thinking her silliness will burden him. However, she turns out to be smart, only Obfuscating Stupidity for the popular company. They even start a secret relationship which ends because of Jessica's scheming.
  • P.O.V. Cam: In "Cheerleader" we get to see what the world looks like through Dewey's eyes. Apparently, when Lois says, "No, they're too expensive," he hears, "ask me again in four seconds."
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Ida's Amoral Attorney drops the lawsuit against her daughter's family when he finds out how poor they are. Not because Even Evil Has Standards, but because if they don't have anything to take, then there's no way for him to get paid.
  • Prank Date: In "Lois Strikes Back", Reese believes he's been on the phone with beautiful girl named Cindy, only to find out it was a prank by four girls from his school, who leave a pig wearing a "Cindy" nametag at his doorstep. Reese is genuinely crushed to the point of becoming totally unresponsive.
  • Properly Paranoid: When Reese claimed that one of his teachers was out to get him and was deliberately failing his tests Lois told him to stop making excuses and work harder. She has Malcolm tutor Reese and eventually Reese composes a passable paper that is at least 'C' level, only for that to get an 'F' as well. Ultimately, since it seems that there is no way Reese can get a passing grade, they decide to simply cheat and have Malcolm take one of his tests for him. That test gets an 'F," and this clues everybody in to the fact Reese's teacher really is out to get him (See also Because You Can Cope above).
  • Psychic Dreams for Everyone: In "Vegas", Hal's dream about winning the jackpot in a slot machine in Vegas turns out to be true. Unfortunately, the "jackpot" turns out to be part of a timeshare scam, and to make matters worse, he got the money for the Vegas trip by cashing in on his life insurance.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: The lawyer that Ida enlists to sue Lois' and Hal's insurance company. When it is revealed that the company has already canceled the family's policy, Ida elects to sue Lois and Hal directly. However, the lawyer - who now stands to gain only a share of the family's miserable house - immediately bails on Ida, explaining that while he doesn't mind throwing poor people out on the street, he won't do it for free.

  • Radish Cure: In "Rollerskates" Malcolm swears at his father, who is deeply hurt and considers that it's hard to punish a child for swearing - "it's not as if I caught him with a cigarette and can make him smoke a whole carton". This gives him an idea. Later, he hands Malcolm a long list of terms of abuse, and asks Malcolm to read everything on the list to 'the man who held you in his arms the moment you were born'. Malcolm gives up somewhere in the middle, but when Hal attempts to let him off, he quickly exclaims that he can finish the whole list. He does.
  • Raw Eggs Make You Stronger: Hal trains for a race-walking competition by drinking a shake mixed with raw eggs, plus raw ground beef and some supplement powder. He prepares and consumes the concoction on-camera, in a single take.
  • Really 17 Years Old: Malcolm beats up a bully, then gets in trouble when the bully turns out to be much younger than he looked. Hal then gets a visit from what appears to be the boy's father, and after he starts behaving abusively, Hal beats him up too. Turns out the "father" was actually a minor and probably Kevin's older brother.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    • In the first episode of Season 2, the family is stuck in massive traffic jam following a car smashing into a big rig while they were driving away from the waterpark. After nagging the roadside workers didn't get them to work faster, Lois high jacks a crane and tries to move the wrecks herself. A highway patrol officer tries to calmly talk her down, but she angrily yells at him to not patronize her. Having had other confrontations with her, he decides to let her know what he really thinks, and bluntly tells her that she's just another Control Freak who simply cannot accept that there are things that she can't manipulate into doing what she wants when she wants, and no matter how hard or loud she screams she's going to face the fact that the traffic jam will be eventually ended without her help. Lois climbs down from the crane and furiously storms off back to the car.
    • An old friend from Malcolm's past whom he's had a crush on giving a pretty brutal one to him after he kept pushing her on why she didn't like him in return. To the point where she made him cry.
    • An RA tells Lois that she's a desperate control freak trying to live vicariously through her son to live her unfulfilled dreams, and if she isn't sure, she can ask the other (nonexistent) parents sleeping in their children's college dorm rooms.
    • After failing to break into a party they weren't invited to, Malcolm and Reese demand "Why don't you like us?" One scene transition later, they walk out calmly, stating "They had some strong points."
  • Recap by Audit: One episode used the parents going over their finances and strange expenditures to frame a clip show. For instance, "When did we spend so much on sequins?" transitioned to Bryan Cranston's roller dancing scene.
  • Reckless Gun Usage:
    • Played for Laughs in "Goodbye Kitty". Otto and Francis wield shotguns with no regard for safety, closing their eyes while aiming the weapons, with their fingers resting on the triggers. The guns end up accidentally pointed at each other, with both men counting down to shoot with their fingers on still on the triggers, all without opening their eyes.
    • Played straighter in "Poker 2" when Malcolm discovers a gun in one girl's purse. He takes it upon himself to destroy it instead of going straight to an adult, and in spite of having an incredible wealth of knowledge about how stuff works, he doesn't think to unload the thing first. After he discharges it and the authorities are called, one cop hangs a lampshade on the situation:
      Cop: ...What'd you say your IQ was?
    • "Boys at the Ranch" falls somewhere in between when Otto takes Hal out for a horse ride and they end up drunk in the middle of nowhere talking about constellations, Otto fires his gun to the sky which spooks the horses leaving them stranded in the desert, then one of the falling bullets hits Otto in the butt; the whole situation plays out humorously but there is the implication that Hal and Otto could have gotten lost and eventually died if the boys hadn't set off a huge fireworks display in the vicinity of the ranch that allowed them to realize they were walking in the opposite direction.
  • Retail Riot: Lois takes the boys to a basement sale at Hannings in the "If Boys Were Girls" episode to buy their clothes for the next year. When they arrive, it is a screaming melee of people fighting over the clothes on sale.
    Lois: All right, we’re going in. You see anything your size, grab it and hold onto it, no matter what anyone tries to do to you. Protect your heads. Don’t trust anyone.
    Malcolm: What are you trying to do? Scare us?
    Lois: Yes, fear is good. It's an 80% off sale. Fear will keep you alive.
  • Retool: The sixth season drops the "Francis B-plot" that was dominant in nearly every episode, and instead has Francis show up with the actual family a lot more, appearing in 7 episodes of the sixth season, and 4 episodes of the final season, always involving at least one other family member. While they tended to be perfectly fine stories in their own right, it made the entire show feel like it was about two unconnected groups of people (the main family and Francis with whatever group he was involved with that season) rather than one unified whole. The series tested the waters with this in the fifth season by having Francis only appear in the plot-irrelevant Cold Open sequences toward the end of the season.
  • Revenge: In Malcolm vs. Reese, when Francis decides to take a girl to the wrestling match over his own two siblings who so badly wanted to go with him and needless to say, neither Malcolm nor Reese are pleased with that at all given that they've spent all of the episode busting their asses for Francis to win the chance to go with him. How do they take vengeance on him for this? It starts by having Francis reading a note warning him that he will pay for what he did while driving him and his date to the event. Francis blows it off, and then a cop pulls Francis over because the car had been reported stolen. When asked for ID and registration, Francis cannot provide because it was replaced with another Post-It note saying it gets worse. Banging is then heard from Francis's trunk, and the cop finds Malcolm and Reese hog-tied and gagged in there. This causes the cop to apprehend Francis and put a stop to his date.
  • Revenge Before Reason: In "Forwards Backwards," after Malcom and Reese are brought back from the hospital after they tied in a Game of Chicken at the go-cart track, Hal tells Malcolm he's grounded and to cancel his birthday plans. When Malcolm blames Reese for ruining his birthday, Reese shows no sympathy because he was also grounded on his birthday. Before they start fighting again, Lois asks Malcolm and Reese what they remember doing on their previous birthdays, only for them to respond that they don't remember doing anything on their birthdays because they got grounded for fighting with one another. Lois then berates them, saying that their obsession with avenging whatever slight was done to them, no matter how small and insignificant, has led to them not having any happy memories to look back on because they were either too busy planning payback or dealing with the consequences of their actions. At the end, after Lois and Hal missed Dewey's play the night before, where he got a standing ovation for singing the Emancipation proclamation, they are trying to get his forgiveness by giving him a brand new video game, but when that's not enough, Hal gives him Malcolm's, former, birthday gift, a rare and expensive comic book. Dewey considers forging them, and as he takes his new positions to the bedroom, he wishes a happy birthday to Malcolm, who's busy doing menial labor around the house with Reese.
  • Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies: Malcolm takes a Sims-esque game's refusal to play out like he had predicted very, very badly.
  • Running Gag: In one episode, Dewey has to take care of a hamster for a weekend, and instead of letting a thug in his class take care of it he puts the hamster in his ball and fills it completely with food. Over the course of the season we see the hamster ball rolling along, either in the background or as the focus of the camera, eventually ending up in Alaska shortly after Francis leaves.
  • Ruritania: Malcolm's grandparents came from a vaguely East European country. From everything we hear about the history and customs, it seems to be a fairly horrifying place.
    Ida: After all the Saint did for us, all the enemy churches he burned, why would you destroy his holy cookie?
  • Sadist Show:
    • The series is wall-to-wall power struggles and emotional warfare. The rule on that show is that whatever makes the characters (especially Malcolm) the most miserable is what will happen. The episode "Company Picnic: Part 2" which has Francis's subplot that ends with Francis dragged naked behind a Zamboni on a skating rink (after trying to stop getting deeper in debt to his evil employer), while Malcolm's subplot ends with him being insulted, a lot, by a girl, having a crying jag and drying his tears with poison oak.
    • An In-Universe example from "Malcolm vs. Reese": Francis has one spare wrestling ticket and offers to give it to whichever brother can prove they love him the most by doing him favors. This quickly devolves into Malcolm and Reese each trying to get the other grounded to take them out of the running. Francis briefly cuts in, saying "Whoa, guys, this was supposed to be a contest about love and you've twisted it into something ugly! Carry on." He then sits back as his brothers start brawling, saying "This, too, pleases me."
  • Sadist Teacher: Herkabe. He seemed to want to be a (very) Stern Teacher in the beginning, but pretty quickly devolved. It culminated with him torturing Reese to the point of catatonic depression, saying he'd let up only if Malcolm let his grades slip so that Herkabe could keep the honor of having the school's highest GPA.
    • Also Commandant Spangler, where it is heavily implied, and confirmed in his final appearance, that the reason he is so strict with his unit is because bullying those weaker than himself is the only real joy that he could ever hope for. Francis allows him to keep this joy by placing him as a nurse in a retirement home where he can terrorize the old folks all he wants.
    • Reese's teacher Mr. Woodward in "Tutoring Reese" also counts, as he was intentionally failing Reese. It takes Malcolm cheating for Reese on a test and that getting a failing grade to clue everyone in that this was the case, and Lois goes full Mama Bear on him.
  • Scale Model Destruction: In one episode, Hal and Dewey buy an inordinate amount of legos and other building blocks and create a huge model city inside their living room, complete with lights strung about. The mom comes in and accidentally destroys everything, stumbling about in slow-motion and howling like Godzilla.
  • The Scapegoat: The whole neighborhood hates Malcolm's family, but only because if they didn't have someone to communally hate they'd turn on each other. The second they realize they don't hate Lois and Hal any more, they start at each other throats.
    • Hal often blames the kids to avoid getting in trouble with Lois for his mistakes. In one cold open he rushes into their room begging for one of them to volunteer to take the blame for a Noodle Incident. In another he knocks down an exterior wall when drunk and his first thought is how he can blame it on the kids.
      • Not that he has to try very hard. In "Red Dress," when Lois finds that somebody has burned the dress, she immediately assumes that it was one of her sons, without any conscious effort on Hal's part to pass the buck.
    • In the two-part episode "Reese Joins The Army", Hal's company tries to pin all of its' illegal activities on him. He almost goes to jail until Malcolm manages to prove that he skipped work on all the days they claim he was committing crimes.
  • School Forced Us Together:
    • In one episode, Malcolm is literally forced to join the Booster club by Mr. Herkabe (he oversees the booster club and gets a bonus if another student joins) who threatens to withhold Malcolm's letter of recommendation. Malcolm doesn't get along with the other members of the booster club, finding them too cheery and thinking their ideas to raise money are stupid. When he tries to leave, Mr. Herkabe uses Reverse Psychology to get Malcolm to not only stay, but to put more effort into raising money.
    • Another episode had the Krelboynes (gifted class) split up after an unauthorized experiment resulted in the Krelboyne room needing to be decontaminated. All of the Krelboynes end up joining separate cliques and bonding with different students when they're dispersed among the general student body; one falls in with the Goths after he quotes from Dante's Inferno, another one joins the jocks after removing a splinter from a jock's finger during a woodshop class, Stevie (who's in a wheelchair) joins the skater/BMX clique, and so on.
  • The Scream: Reese's reaction to learning that the diary he found and started reading, falling for the author in the process, is Lois'.
  • Screams Like a Little Girl: Both Hal (frequently) and Francis (rather justifiably, when he's trapped under the floorboards as a swarm of rats engulfs him).
  • Secret Pet Plot: Dewey secretly adopts a big mean dog. Reese and Malcolm keep it a secret from their parents, mainly because they enjoy watching Dewey try to hide it. When Lois and Hal go out for the night, Dewey uses the dog to take control of the house and turn the tables on his older brothers.
  • She Is All Grown Up:
    • Subverted. A one-episode babysitter, Patty, had the younger three kids tripping over themselves trying to impress her because she was so attractive. Turns out that she had a crush on Francis since they went to school together, because she was much heavier then, and he was the only one who was remotely civil to her. She calls him at school and drops hints about hooking up when he visits home, but he quickly turns her down without seeing what she looks like now.
    • Also done with Cynthia, but with a focus on her boobs.
  • Shipper on Deck: When Eric and Francis have a heart-to-heart about their crappy job in Alaska, they're interrupted by Eric's bunkmate playing "Strangers in the Night" on the harmonica. When they give him a confused look he replies:
    Sorry. Thought I was picking up a mood.
  • Shoddy Shindig: Hal and the boys (predictably) make a mess of Lois's birthday plans, to the point of driving her out of the house in frustration. They try their best to salvage the situation and (predictably) end up with one of these.
  • Shout-Out:
    Kid 1: Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?
    Kid 2: I do, I do!

  • Shower of Angst: Lois, when Hal gets sued, followed by a scary Sanity Slippage.
  • Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!: Malcolm asserts this attitude on Dewey during the peak of his Emo Teen phase in "Zoo". In "Hal Sleepwalks", when Malcolm is given the opportunity for an all-expenses-paid study in Europe, he feels that he needs to balance out his karma before something bad happens.
    Lois: Listen to you. Something wonderful happens, and all you can think about is how the world's gonna take it away...[smiles proudly] you're growing up.
  • Skeleton Key Card: Mentioned — When Reese and Malcolm get locked out of their house, Malcolm picks up a fake rock with a key hidden inside. Reese uses the rock to break a window, saying "that credit card thing takes hours."
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Extremely cynical to the point of misanthropy and nihilism, which a lot of people don't mind.
  • Smart People Know Latin: In "Shame," Malcolm is heckled by a classmate named Kevin, who keeps repeating every sentence Malcolm says. Malcolm gets him to stop by speaking Latin. (Specifically, "De gustibus non est disputandum.")
  • Smug Snake: Mr. Herkabe and Malcolm in later seasons.
  • Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome: Averted with Jamie who was born at the end of season four. He aged like a normal kid would through the rest of the series.
  • Soap Punishment: Lois goes the extra mile by putting dish soap on a toothbrush and reaming out her sons' mouths with it.
  • Sound-Effect Bleep: When Malcolm cusses out Hal in "Rollerskates," his saying "Fuck" is replaced with several cutaways to a truck breaking, birds swarming, and Lois' reaction.
  • The Sociopath: Francis and Reese, the latter with his inherent love of violence and destruction (once buying Dewey a toy plane and breaking it just to see the latter's reaction), and the former for various depraved actions he commenced, the earliest of which he tried to douse a teddy bear with lighter fluid and burn it in a manner similar to certain kidnapping organizations... while he was a toddler, as well as his hatred of his mother, and frequently commencing destructive revolts, rarely ever taking responsibility, and often hurting his brothers. Had this been real life, the first place Francis would have been placed in would probably have been a therapist's office or a psych ward.
  • Split Screen: Used on a season two episode in which viewers get to see what happens when Hal takes the kids bowling and what happens when Lois takes the kids bowling.
  • Split Timelines Plot: "Bowling" bifurcates depending on whether Hal or Lois takes the kids out bowling. When Hal takes them, Malcolm has a good time and attracts the attention of a pretty girl, Reese fares poorly at flirting and attracts the ire of another patron, and Dewey (staying home) is unable to get around Lois's strictness. Meanwhile, Lois is overbearing and strict, making for a miserable experience for both brothers; Dewey, by contrast, tuckers out Hal, gets pizza, and watches R-rated movies on TV. The twist is that the mood suddenly flips near the end of both timelines - Malcolm ends up ruining Hal's perfect game (and Reese gets beaten up by the patron he angered), while the former at least gets a kiss from the girl in Lois's timeline.
  • Spot the Thread: Done twice over towards the end of "Tutoring Reese". Mr. Woodward shows up to talk with Hal and Lois about putting Reese in the remedial class, as he failed his recent test. Malcolm immediately calls this into question (as, unbeknownst to the adults, Malcolm took the test for Reese), pointing he hadn't read the full answer to one of the questions... unintentionally revealing he was the one to write the answer. As soon as Lois picks up on thisnote :
    Lois: [to Malcolm] took that test, didn't you? cheated- [to Reese] You let him cheat for you?! [dawning realization; to Mr. Woodward] You gave something [Malcolm] wrote an "F"?! [Dramatic Thunder] are out to get [Reese].
  • Springtime for Hitler:
    • Francis' pool game with Commandant Spangler. "They're going to kick my ass if I win!" Downplayed when everyone is so impressed with Francis' and Spangler's efforts to lose that nobody cares who wins.
    • When the presidential election between two of Dewey's Busey classmates starts destroying their friendship, one of them tries to trigger his Hollywood Tourette's so he'll lose. The resulting Cluster F-Bomb wins him the election.
  • Stand-In Parents: Reese finds some incriminating letters on his neighbor's old laptop. He uses this to blackmail the neighbor into doing his bidding. His last act is to get the neighbor to pose as Hal at a meeting with the principal. After this, the neighbor now has material to use against Reese, and he is certain that Reese is more scared of Lois than he is of his wife.
  • Stereotype: In-universe, Reese claims that all women are jealous of their current positions, and that they all want to be like the stripper on the billboard, while Malcolm and Dewey attempt to preach feminism (namely to get themselves out of trouble from their mom), causing them to call Reese out on it.
  • Straw Vegetarian: We find out that Malcolm's class is full of these at the Krelboyne picnic, since the kids all voted "not to serve anything that ever had a mother." Hal becomes a hero to the beleaguered non-vegetarian dads in attendance by sneaking in a cooler full of real meat, but chaos ensue when the Krelboynes discover that their "tofu burgers" are bleeding.
  • Stop Copying Me: The bully in the season 1 episode "Shame" tries doing this to wind Malcolm up. Malcolm retorts by speaking in Latin, which the bully is unable to remember and repeat.
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: An easy source of humor is Reese saying something stupid, and then, as a Brick Joke, Hal coming up with it independently.
    • In "Stock Car Races", they both independently decide to kick the security guard in the shin and then call the kids "Clyde" and "Kevin".
    • In "Traffic Ticket", upon hearing the phrase "Someone has to—" they each interrupt and yell "Not it!"
  • Stuff Blowing Up: Happens when Hal, Malcolm and Reese accidentally climb over an artillery range fence.
  • Suntan Stencil: In "Stock Car races", Hal sneaks the boys out of school to take them to the stock car races. However, he gets busted by Lois because the lettering on the visor he has been wearing all day has caused the word 'NASCAR' to be etched over his face.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • When Dewey is watching Craig's cat, Jellybean, while he is away in "Malcolm vs. Reese", Jellybean ends up running away. Hal tries to help Dewey get Jellybean to come back by leaving the window to Craig's house open with a bowl of cat food for Jellybean in it. The next day they find that Craig's house has been robbed and vandalized.
    • When Ida decides to sue Lois and Hal's insurance company, it's discovered that their insurance company had already canceled their policy, so she decides to sue them. However, her personal injury lawyer then quits. While he is more than willing to sue and financially ruin a poor family, he won't do it for what he considers a paltry sum.
    • Lois tries to discipline Malcolm in a shelter after the whole neighborhood has been evacuated, in full view of other families and the cops. Apathetic Citizens is not in place during an emergency; the other families report her for being abusive and she gets kicked out, along with the rest of the family (sans Malcolm) for their antics. It goes into Not Helping Your Case when she's arguing she has the "right" to discipline her child as Malcolm watches with satisfaction.
  • Soul-Sucking Retail Job: The Lucky Aide drugstore where Lois works. Eventually Malcolm joins her.

  • Take a Third Option:
    • Combined with Noodle Incident, Hal is given power of attorney over a guy in a coma and is forced to choose between letting him live and pulling the plug. All we know about his choice is that it became clear to him (Hal) when he found out the guy in the coma was a bird lover and that everything he needed was at Radio Shack except the hat.
  • Take Our Word for It: Hal completes his masterpiece, a massive painting that stuns everyone with its beauty. Unfortunately the weight of 2-inch thick half-dry paint causes it to slump off and smother Hal before the audience can see it.
    • Francis' aforementioned injury; see Noodle Incident.
    • In the Cold Opening of "Water Park", Hal asks and offers money for one of the boys to take the fall for him, while you hear Lois in the background repeatedly and angrily shouting "Oh my God!". What exactly Hal did is left up to the viewer's imagination.
    • At the end of "Hal's Birthday", Lois has agreed to stop yelling at the boys, and comes up with a new punishment system. When she finds Reese picking on Dewey, she silently writes something down on a paper, which she gives to Reese. We don't see what she wrote down, but it immediately causes Reese to apologize in a panicked tone, while Malcolm comments that they may want to return to the old system.
  • Take That!: While discussing ways to stop a new teacher's ranking system from turning the Krelboynes against each other.
    Stevie: What choice do we have?
    Malcolm: We have the choice people have had for centuries. We can choose to fail.
    Dabney: Like the French?
  • Taking the Bullet: Eric takes a hockey puck to the nuts for Francis during a hockey game, inspiring Francis (who'd spent the episode sabotaging his team) to win the game for them.
  • The Talk
    • Subverted in "Cheerleader", where Hal sits the three boys down and uses dolls to explain people falling in love, kissing, and then that leading to sex. Turns out he already explained that to his sons, but this particular Talk was about how his family gene involves being crazy and always messing relationships up. Only women like Lois seem to be immune to this gene's effects.
    • Played straight in "Long Drive", when Lois takes Malcolm on a six-hour drive to give him details on sex and contraceptives. The two end up talking even longer while parked at the end of the episode.
  • Teacher's Unfavorite Student: One episode had Reese thinking he was being persecuted by his teacher because he was getting bad grades. His mother Lois assumes that it is Reese trying to dodge blame and orders Malcolm to help Reese study and, when he still got an "F", to pretend to be Reese and take the next test in his stead. That test got an "F" as well, showing that Reese was being Properly Paranoid.
  • Teen Genius: Malcolm is a somewhat realistic one, in that he is not very stereotypically nerdy. He only hangs out with the nerds because other kids find him abrasive and condescending. This doesn't stop the show from playing it for laughs.
  • Theme Tune: "Boss of Me" by They Might Be Giants
  • Third Line, Some Waiting: Most of the subplots involving the oldest son Francis, since he was never living with the family during the series. Played with in one episode; about halfway through the family has dinner together, and all the characters spend the entire dinner commenting on the separate subplots.
  • Those Two Guys: Lloyd and Dabney.
  • Token White: Played with. While Stevie is the token black of the main kids, Hal winds up becoming the Token White of his friends, who are all black. Hal's also a Twofer Token Minority since he's the only poor member of the group.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • All four of the brothers sustain injuries this way at some point. It's gotten to the point where the hospital receptionist knows them, isn't happy to see them, and is genuinely surprised when any of them get injured in new and inventive ways.
    • The Cold Open for "Block Party" sees Dewey and Reese each trying to be the one to change Jamie's diaper, which Malcolm explains to the audience is because Lois informed them Jamie swallowed one of her diamond earrings, and was offering $20 for the first one to get it back.
      Malcolm: Somehow they never noticed Mom doesn't own any diamond earrings.
  • The Tooth Hurts: Hal cracks his tooth while eating caramel corn during a poker game. After Hal states he has no dental insurance and can't afford a real dentist, the dentist at the table tells Hal "come by my office on Monday and I'll take care of it." Hal assumes this means it'll be free, but he only gets a 10% discount on a huge bill. After this blows up into a heated argument, Hal eventually rips out his dental crown as protest. He spends the rest of the episode swallowing his food whole.
  • Tough Love: Lois's approach to parenting (which, like Christopher Titus' father's approach, borders on soul-crushing, self-esteem-obliterating sadism).
  • Tranquillizer Dart: Subverted in one episode, where trapped with a pair of tigers, Malcolm shoots down the zoo personnel's idea of tranquilizing them on the grounds that the beasts would have just enough time to get angry and tear them apart (the show puts it at three minutes, which is almost certainly selling the tigers short, but it's the thought that counts).
  • Trash the Set: Reese makes the world's greatest mess in the finale so he can get work as a janitor.
  • Traumatic Haircut: In "Lois Strikes Back", Kristin—one of the girls that picked on Reese—lost most of her hair after Lois put gum in her motorcycle helmet.
  • Tricked into Signing: In the "Boys at Ranch" episode, the kids trick Hal into signing a permission slip to allow them to ride ATVs by passing it off as a permission slip for playing ping-pong.
  • TV Genius: Malcolm's classmates.
  • Two-Timer Date: Which is Lampshaded by Malcolm. "This is like that episode of... well, everything."
  • Un-Duet: Hal ends up performing his Barbershop Quartet routine on his own, despite the fact that he mostly only dances in the background and makes the occasional backing vocal.
  • The Unreveal: This was done with Jamie's gender initially, with "It's a beautiful baby..." (ambulance siren). A later cold opening looks like it's going to continue keeping it a secret, until Hal starts to change a dirty diaper and narrowly dodges a stream of pee.
    Hal: Nice try, mister.
  • Unspoken Retort: In "Malcolm Holds His Tongue", Malcolm decides to keep his opinions to himself, with his true thoughts being heard via inner monologue. As his stress at being Surrounded by Idiots increases throughout the episode, his thoughts become angrier until they sound borderline demonic.

  • Vandalism Backfire: Malcolm and Reese get into Escalating Wars of breaking each other's things on an almost daily basis, and Reese has been known to break his own things by accident. And Dewey's, of course, but who cares about that?
  • Vengeance Feels Empty: In "Forwards Backwards," Lois and Hal bring Reese and Malcolm home from the hospital after they tied in a Game of Chicken at the go kart track, and Hal tells Malcolm to cancel his birthday plans because he's grounded. As Malcolm blames Reese for ruining his birthday, Reeses says that he was grounded on his birthday too, and Lois asks them what they remember doing on their previous birthdays, only for them to remeber not doing anything because they did something to the other that got them grounded. Lois than calls them out on their obssesion to get payback for wathever slight against them has resulted in them not having a happy memory to look back on because they have had to deal with the consequences of their actions. Later, Lois and Hal try to smooth things over with Dewey, because they missed his leading role in the school play, by giving him a new video game, but when that isn't enough, they give him Malcolm's (former) birthday present, a rare, and expensive, comic book. Dewey takes his new gifts and wishes Malcolm, who is doing manual labor around the house with Reese, a happy birthday.
  • Vicariously Ambitious: At the end of the series Malcolm learns that his mother has been manipulating his entire life in an effort to get him to become president.
  • Viva Las Vegas!: With all the associated tropes: Malcolm the card-counter, Hal's gambling problem, Lois the housewife falls for David Cassidy, etc.
  • "Walk on the Wild Side" Episode: Malcolm turns his brain off for one episode in an attempt to get with a ditzy girl. It works fine until he gets into a situation where his brain would have come in handy.
  • Water Hose Rodeo: Reese, when left unsupervised, attaches a fire hose to his back expecting it to propel him on his bike over a series of parked cars. He ends up crying and clinging to a tree after having been blasted around the front yard.
  • Wedgie: In the episode Krelboyne Picnic, a Krelboyne’s brother gives Reese a wedgie for bullying his brother. The Krelboynes also claim to receive wedgies from Reese quite often and Dewey claims to be “one wedgie away from an eating disorder”. Reese and Malcolm also give Dewey a wedgie in a later episode.
  • We Want Our Jerk Back!:
    • Reese when he turned nice, as it turns out the only reason Malcolm's smart mouth hasn't gotten him beaten up yet was because Reese was the school bully. Better still, the power vacuum created when he left resulted in dozens of wannabe bullies jockeying for his position and some of them crossing lines Reese wouldn't.
    • Also when Reese finds religion. Dewey goes to confront the Sunday School teacher, saying "I want you to release my brother", and that since he (Reese) joined the class, he'd been all nice to him, and that it was creepy.
    • Inverted in another episode, when Malcolm decides to just hold everything in and become completely agreeable, which everyone actually likes. Malcolm, during a big game (he had joined a sports team) is being talked to by the coach, and the screaming in his head eventually becomes demonic. When the coach finally finishes, and asks him if he understands everything he just said, Malcolm says yes... and spits up a huge amount of blood. Turns out he's developed a really bad ulcer ("the doctor said you have the stomach lining of a sixty year-old air traffic control officer.").
  • Wham Line:
    • In part 2 of "Reese Joins the Army", after Hal admits to the court that Malcolm worked out that every date that he was supposedly doing illegal activities for his company was on a Friday, his lawyer asks him (as part of the cross-examination) why this is relevant.
      Hal: ... [leans into microphone] I haven't shown up for work on a Friday in fifteen years. [courtroom erupts into gasps]
    • This then leads into an In-Universe one once he's asked if he can back this up:
      Hal: Well, yeah, once I knew what to look for, [reaches down to grab a box] I realized I had almost everything I need right here in my memory box! [pats box]
  • What Could Possibly Go Wrong?: The very end of "Forwards Backwards" shows Reese telling Malcolm not to eat the last blueberry from his pancakes, and Malcolm looking at the camera and saying: "eh, what's the worst that could happen," and eats the blueberry. That action led to a series of pranks that culminated in Reese and Malcolm being brought home from the hospital after tying in a Game of Chicken, Malcom getting grounded on his birthday, Lois chewing out both boys over their obsession with revenge. At the very end, in an attempt to win Dewey's forgiveness for missing his school play, Lois and Hal give him a new video game and Malcom's former birthday present, a rare, and expensive, comic book. As Dewey goes to the room to enjoy his new possessions, he wishes Malcolm, who's doing manual labor around the house a "happy birthday".
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: In one early episode, Lois and Hal clean out a closet, only to find that it has a fully-functioning toilet inside. Naturally, they're ecstatic at the prospect of having a bathroom they can keep secret from the kids, but it's literally never mentioned again for the rest of the show, not even when they're desperate to find a place where Lois can test for pregnancy later that same season.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: The city and state in which the show takes place is never revealed; the only clues we ever get are that it isn't in Alabama (the location of Francis's military school) or Alaska (where Francis goes after dropping out of military school). In the season finale, we learn that Harvard is "2000 miles away from mom", suggesting it's in the center west United States.
    • "Stock Car Races" took place at the Irwindale Speedway, putting them somewhere in California, but that may just be a case of Early-Installment Weirdness or simply forgetting not to film the entry banner in a classic case of California Doubling.
  • Whip Pan: The standard way to change scenes in the show, accompanied by a "whoosh!"
  • Wicked Cultured: Dewey is clearly the second most intelligent member of his family, the most cultured and sophisticated, and arguably the most devious.
  • Wild Teen Party:
    • Subverted in "Home Alone 4" — Francis tells his hoodlum friends, Richie, Donnie, and Circus that they can come over, but they can't invite others over and have a party. The next shot, the house is trashed and the police are outside, but there was no party. Turns out that Francis' hoodlum friends are so destructive, it only takes three of them to do the work of what a group of wild partiers would do to a normal suburban house. Francis even says so ("Huh, you wouldn't think only three guys could do that much damage.")
    • Malcolm and Reese have a discussion about having one:
      Malcolm: Reese, you've seen enough teenage movies to know how badly this is going to turn out.
      Reese: I haven't just seen them, I've studied them, and I've found the fatal flaw. In every one of those movies, the party was on a Saturday night. Mine: Friday. This gives me an extra day to refill the pool, replace the crystal thing, turn back the odometer, and get the dead bodies back in the ground.
  • Worth It: Francis' reaction to learning that their vision will return in two days after witnessing the Komodo 3000 firework.
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: Francis refuses to throw a punch at Lavernia, until she taunts him to go back home and let his mama take care of him. Then he knocks her out.
  • You Are Grounded!: Very regularly. Every single season has at least two references towards getting grounded. It is not uncommon for most episodes of this series to refer to the grounding four-to-six times in a single episode.
  • You Do NOT Want To Know: At the very end of "Reese's Party," after the meth dealers pack up and leave the house after Dewey told on their mothers after Francis couldn't get to leave because of all the dirt they had on on him, Hal and Lois return from the bed and breakfast, where they had gotten into an argument about Hal not getting a vasectomy. Malcolm tells them that the weekend was fun, but in a boring way, and Dewey backs him up, right after Craig brings Reese back from the bus depot, saying that he enjoyed his trip to see Grandma' Ida. Once the boys and Craig are out of earshot:
    Hal: Do you really want to know?
    Lois: Not really.
    Hal: No...
  • Younger Than They Look: Malcolm beats up an obnoxious bully who looks his age or older... and soon finds out he's seven. Hal later understands his son's predicament when a large guy in who looks to be in his 20's, who he assumes is the boy's father, threatens him. It turns out he's the boy's 15 year old brother.
    • Also a Real Life example with Frankie Muniz as he was 14 at the time the series started. He looked and sounded considerably younger then his actual age, so he was able to convincingly play 11-year old Malcolm.
  • You Wouldn't Hit a Guy with Glasses:
    • Reese removes a kid's glasses and punches him when he tries this excuse.
    • In the first episode, a bully who tried to hit Malcolm ends up accidentally hitting Stevie instead. The fact Stevie wears glasses was one of the reasons the bully was berated for doing that.
    • When Reese reestablishes his status as school bully, one of his first acts is to grab a bully who had stolen and was wearing another boy's glasses, grab the glasses with one hand, and then punch him so hard that he falls back, with the glasses still in place where his head had been.


Video Example(s):


Malcolm Misses Point Blank

Malcolm gets so frustrated at being terrible at bowling (and pressure from his Mother) that he decides to just walk up the lane and throw the ball... and he still doesn't knock down any pins, much to his humiliation.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / EpicFail

Media sources: