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YMMV / Malcolm in the Middle

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  • Alternate Aesop Interpretation: Many episodes have Lois being the Kryptonite Factor for Malcolm. Bowling for example literally showed how drastically his abilities drop when she's around. Even that’s not the case, as he often does stupid things because of her presence. So was the final actually meant to be a happy ending? Or Laser-Guided Karma for Lois whose plan guarantee that Malcolm fails in this endeavor?
  • Alternative Character Interpretation
    • Does Lois treat her children bad because of the way they act or is she just trying to control their every action, because her mom did the same thing to her? In "Busey’s Run Away," Dewey explains to Malcolm and Reese that Lois hasn’t punished him because he hasn't done anything wrong. However, in another episode Lois mentioned that she regularly treats one of her sons better than the other so that the other two don’t know what’s going on.
    • Was Malcolm an Only Sane Man who eventually Took a Level in Jerkass and became smug because of his intellect or has living with a family of lunatics who were all emotionally abusive to him finally break him?
      • Ask anyone and they'd say Francis is the real main character of the show, not Malcolm, since he got the majority of the character development and became better off in the end.
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    • Was Hal really in on Lois' plan for Malcolm to become president, or did he only agree to it because he was too henpecked to stand up to her?
    • Was Francis really an Enfant Terrible or was it the result of Must Have Caffeine due to the fact that Lois kept feeding him chocolate every five seconds. Just like Reese gave Jamie 3-4 cans of Kapow soda every day, causing him to go berserk.
    • When Herkabe instituted his ranking system in his first appearance and Malcolm proposed to his friends they should deliberately tank their exams to try and fight back, were Stevie and the others truly incapable of failing on purpose because of how neurotic they are when it comes to good grades or did they betray Malcolm because they saw this as an opportunity to finally get ahead of him?
    • In the Finale. Does the family truly belive that society is to blame for their lot in life and only somebody like Malcolm who knows what its like to live like they do can fix it? Or are they clinging to a delusion because the alternative of admitting their life is terrible because they are deeply flawed and irresponsible people, is simply too depressing for them to accept?
      • Better yet Lois has repeatedly shown herself to be a Straw Hypocrite from signing the kids up for charity note  in order to trick the church into painting Jamie’s room, or pretending to fall for Jessica’s manipulation in order to spend the families hard earned money on herself. She could be fully aware of the latter and just using the former to manipulate Malcolm.
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  • Ass Pull: A few episodes into season 6, Francis abruptly mentions that he was fired offscreen from his job at the ranch due to his stupidly losing Otto's deposits to something he thought was an ATM, but wasn't. It's bizarre that the usually discerning and savvy Francis would do something so idiotic, and it's equally strange for the seasons-long ranch job was suddenly aborted offscreen, making it seem that the writers just didn't know where to go with it anymore and ended it as awkwardly as possible. It's also not consistent with the character of Otto to suddenly terminate and sue Francis for an honest (if horrific) mistake when he's always forgiven worse and fallen for much worse scams himself. Not to mention a rather poor move logically as it was made evident several times Francis was the only one who did any work there and even bailed Otto out of several scams he fell for. It's suspected that Francis's actor having other commitments that took a lot of time away from this show (Francis has drastically less appearances in the final seasons) led to the writers scrapping the ranch plot.
  • Awesome Music: You're not the boss of me now...
  • Broken Base: The Series Finale. Malcolm gets offered a lucrative job that would allow him to skip college and become rich. Lois and his family force him to pass up the job because in Lois' words "Malcolm needs to actually crawl and scrape" to actually be a good person. The big divide is whether people feel that Lois was actually right or if she was once more being a Control Freak who refuses to accept responsibility for her lot in life.
    • In general, who is more sympathetic: Lois or the kids? For those who say Lois, her attitude is so authoritarian because all of her children (barring Jamie, probably) are absolute monsters who have no respect for authority and will shrug off any punishment they receive as if it were a slap on the wrist, and thus Lois needs to be harsh on them to turn them into law-abiding citizens (and as shown in one episode, she can be a kind and caring mother if her kids actually were well behaved). For those who say the children, it's shown that Lois was an absolutely domineering mother since Francis was a baby (though she wasn't always like that), and that their troublemaking ways can easily be explained as a coping mechanism for dealing with the trauma of having a borderline Abusive Mother.
  • Creator's Pet: Dewey counts as this.
  • Crosses the Line Twice:
    • Domestic abuse, stalking, bullying, religion, death, infidelity, animal cruelty, incest, drug abuse, misogyny, racism; nothing is sacred, and it's all played for laughs.
    • Francis gets kidnapped by a cult that starts at military school. They get frustrated on learning he's Too Kinky to Torture, and he calls their attempts to scare him amateurish. He reveals that Lois hardened him because she crossed the line from Amazingly Embarrassing Parents to Abusive Parents, from arguing with a basketball coach over a fun game to showing pictures of her giving birth to Francis. The cult leaders are so horrified that they make Lois their new idol and adopt her methods to shame victims.
  • Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy: Let's face it, this show is ridiculously grim. It's often lampshaded and Played for Laughs.
  • "Funny Aneurysm" Moment: Commandant Spengler's multiple amputations are continually played for laughs. His actor Daniel von Bargen would later lose a leg to diabetes, and attempted suicide when it looked like he might lose the other one.
  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: The show was a huge hit in the UK and in Mexico for years after it ended.
  • Harsher in Hindsight:
    • The man who tried to frame Hal for corporate espionage feared he was dying of cancer and wanted to clear his conscience, only to find out that he wasn't later. Paul Gleeson, who played him, died of cancer a year and a half later.
    • In the finale, Malcolm's parents strong-arm him into turning down a six-figure job right out of high school, forcing him to work through college (since they blew a $10,000 college grant that was meant for him), so he'll appreciate the value of hard work. A couple of years after the finale, the economy tanked and not only did college become more expensive that's only affordable with loans that take years to pay off and good paying jobs hard to get, but many recent grads often find themselves working in low-paying jobs despite having a degree, so Hal and Lois' actions look incredibly stupid and selfish. Parents today would be overjoyed not having to worry about putting their kid through college.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • One has to wonder if Breaking Bad show creator Vince Gilligan looked to this show for inspiration, as this show has a lot of scenes and episode premises that become hilarious and/or eerie once you learn that the Bryan Cranston who plays Bumbling Dad Hal is the same one who plays morally gray, cancer-stricken chemistry teacher-turned-meth dealer, Walter White:
      • In "Malcolm Visits College," Reese pretends to be a drug dealer in order to get the attention of a well-known (and cute) narc at school, culminating in Hal getting busted for possession of drugs, complete with a baby at the table, and Reese berating him for not telling him.
      • The episode "Reese's Party" centers on one of Francis' hoodlum friends breaking in and making crystal meth in the family's backyard (sadly, Hal is away with Lois at a bed and breakfast).
      • In another episode, Hal worries that he may have cancer and tries to hide it from his sons note , which is slightly better morally than making meth with a high school drop-out to pay for the hospital bills and make sure his family has something to live on when he dies.
      • In "Jessica Stays Over," Hal obsesses over killing a bee. The Breaking Bad episode "Fly" was also about a Bryan Cranston character obsessing over killing a bug (in this case, it's a fly).
      • Similar to the above, is an episode where Hal is obsessed with gassing a colony of ants that have moved into the house. That episode, and the Breaking Bad episode both show a POV shot from the insect in question.
      • Another episode had him ask Malcolm (in a dark, serious tone) if he had what it took to do an upcoming task. When Malcolm responded yes, Hal, now cheerful, remarks "Great! We'll start tomorrow!" The conversation vaguely resembles the interactions between Walt and Jesse in Breaking Bad's first season, particularly the "Buy the RV, we start tomorrow" scene.
      • In "Reese vs. Stevie," a flashback of how he let his sons off the hook for one bad thing they did shows a bald Hal next to a burnt and smoking chemistry set. That moment doesn't get any more obvious in hindsight than this.
      • And then there's the time Hal paid two planes to skywrite a heart in the air for Lois' anniversary, only to have them crash mid-air. Flash-forward to Breaking Bad's second season finale...
      • On the episode "Malcolm Babysits," there's a scene where Hal is outside of a trailer in his underwear, which is how we first meet Walter White in the very first episode of Breaking Bad.
      • (mixed with What Could Have Been): Aaron Paul (who played Jesse Pinkman on Breaking Bad) auditioned to play Francis, but lost out to Christopher Masterson. If Aaron Paul did get the role of Francis, Breaking Bad could have been mistaken for a Darker and Edgier Malcolm in the Middle spin-off.
      • Hal's father is named Walter.
    • In the episode "Secret Boyfriend," Vicki (Malcolm's secret girlfriend) is dubbed "cheerleader scum" by Jessica. Pretty funny, considering that Jessica is played by Hayden Panettiere, who the following year would become the cheerleader, on Heroes''.
    • One episode made a Godzilla parody by having Lois trash a city made of Legos. Come 2014, there would be a remake of Godzilla with Bryan Cranston in it.
    • One episode has a Jerkass comic book shop owner torment Hal by making up a superhero called "Mister Incredible".
    • For the score, They Might Be Giants wrote a willfully godawful pastiche of children's music. It's used as an interrogation device in "Red Dress." All the while, the band was recording an album of actual children's music, which was so well-recieved that they managed a career in it.
  • Ho Yay: Hal and the father of a neighbor family, which is a Worthy Opponent for Hal's family at being a bunch of dysfunctional sociopaths.
    • Francis and Eric, especially during the Alaska arc. lampshaded by a bunkmate at one point, who tries to help set the mood with a harmonica.
    • Reese, during the three-legged scavenger hunt, complete with a Meadow Run...while hunting down other children.
    • Francis and Otto have a lot of moments. It's not too much of a stretch to assume Otto has feelings him.
  • Jerkass Woobie: This applies to everyone the rest of the time. Bad things never really stop happening to the family, so whether they're this or a regular Woobie comes down to whether or not they deserve what's happening to them in a given episode. Reese in particular is the most physically violent member of the cast, but he's not able to do anything right, even on the rare instances he tries to be nice, it ends up with him being insulted or embarrassed.
    • Occasionally, a character would purposefully play themselves up as this to get something.
    • Craig. He may be a dick a lot of the time, he still doesn't deserve all of the nightmarish things he endures that would make Franz Kafka proud.
    Craig: (as his helper monkey raises a knife to kill him) I always dreamed it would end like this!
  • Love to Hate: Grandma Ida's one of the worst characters on the show being a racist, abusive, Manipulative Bitch who makes the lives of everyone around her (except for Lois' sister Susan) pure hell, but Cloris Leachman does such an amazing job at making Ida a spiteful asshole it means most of her appearances are incredibly hilarious.
  • Moral Event Horizon: Ida did many cruel things, but she definitely crosses the line when she drugs a man and forces him to marry her (then drugs her family after they find out what she's done).
    • When Stevie's mother left after he became independent. Even Lois, who has committed many heinous acts, called everyone out on the sheer wrongness of accepting a woman who abandoned her disabled child back into their lives due to how bad the sheer act was.
    • Lois and Hal's entire plan of making Malcolm's life completely miserable so he'll be "motivated" to become president.
      • In the same season, there was Lois, Hal, and Dewey planning on spending a check made out for Malcolm (that Malcolm didn't know about) worth $10,000 with the intention of eventually paying the money back to him. Hal wants to buy a boat, Dewey wants a Rolex, and Lois wants the pipes fixed, but after initially planning on giving the money back to Malcolm, she caves and blows all of it on an antique dollhouse (that promptly bursts into flames when she demonstrates it to the others). They only recover a third of the amount to give back to an unaware Malcolm with no word on if they will ever fully repay him. This becomes even Harsher in Hindsight when financial problems come up in the finale as Malcolm needs more money to afford college.
    • Reese, Dewey, and Malcolm in "Hal Grieves." Hal's father dies and Hal, instead of grieving, fears that his sons won't remember him fondly just as he didn't remember his father fondly and throws himself into bonding with his sons. Reese, Dewey, and eventually Malcolm all decide to manipulate him into spending a lot of money on whatever they want, essentially buying their love; Malcolm even tries to get Hal to buy him a sports car. Fortunately Lois, the only one concerned about Hal's well-being and grieving process, intercepts and promises to make the boys suffer.
    • In the finale, it is revealed that the boys crossed this way before the series even began when they tricked Lois into thinking that she was dying of cancer so she would be too grief-stricken to notice that their report cards that they asked her to sign were terrible. They themselves acknowledge it as the worst thing that they ever did.
    • Herkabe crosses this in Malcolm Films Reese. he manipulates Malcolm into filming Reese's inner thoughts simply to humiliate them both.
  • Retroactive Recognition:
    • Emma Stone appears in one episode.
    • Jennette McCurdy appears in two episodes as different characters.
    • Hayden Panettiere is in four episodes.
    • Eric Stonestreet made a brief appearance in the season one episode "Malcolm Babysits".
    • Yvette Nicole Brown appears as an airport security agent in the seventh season.
    • Octavia Spencer appears in Season 2.
    • A young Kate Micucci makes an appearance in "M.O.R.P".
    • Cameron Monaghan, well-known for playing Ian Gallagher on Shameless, appears here in an early role as one of Dewey's "disturbed" classmates. Coincidentally, Emy Coligado would go on to appear in Shameless for an episode as a social worker.
    • Alanna Masterson, sister of Christopher Masterson (Francis), appears in Malcolm's Money; she'd go on to achieve wide recognition as Tara in The Walking Dead.
    • Remember Dewey's friend Egg from Funeral? He went on to become Nemo.
  • Rewatch Bonus: In Lois Battles Jamie Lois begins to think she is losing her touch when Jamie seems too much for her to handle. After Jaime pushes over the cupboard and almost kills her, she and Hal remember that Francis acted the same way at his age. When Lois regained her confidence, they find that Reese had been giving Jaime 3-4 cans of Kapow soda every day, causing him to go berserk. Lois would feed Francis chocolate every 5 seconds.
  • Rooting for the Empire: Malcolm spends the night in a college, Lois goes along for her own creepy reasons. Cut to a confrontation with the RA, who calls Lois out on the exact reason why she's obviously come with Malcolm and you realize that while he's a git, he's awesome at the same time. Even Malcolm doesn't know who to root for.
  • The Scrappy: Jessica is one of the worst characters due to her constant Jerkass behavior and absurdly easy manipulation of the brothers, outwitting Malcolm multiple times even when it doesn't make sense for him to fall for it, and overall being a Karma Houdini with a only a Freudian Excuse Running Gag as an excuse.
  • Seasonal Rot: Season 6 saw a decrease in quality compared to its predecessors. Several arcs were brought to very unsatisfying endings (such as Francis being fired from The Grotto and Kitty being Easily Forgiven for abandoning her handicapped son) and the plots got rather over-the-top even by the shows nature ("Stilts" being the most obvious example). While there were several great episodes like "Chad's Sleepover" and "Malcolm Defends Reese", the shift in quality overall was sadly noticeable
  • Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped: "If Boys Were Girls" teaches that the gender of your baby does not make them easier to deal with or that they'll behave better than if they were the other gender. Even today, many people still don't recognize this.
  • Squick: Reese's broken leg in "Mini-Bike".
  • Unnecessary Makeover: Lois gets tastelessly made up in her workplace for being deemed untidy in her work report. With that, she can flirt her way to advantages, but she gets tired of it soon enough.
  • Unintentionally Sympathetic: Hal at the end of "Evacuation", while the other three deserved to be sent outside for their actions in the episode, what Hal did was just a freak accident. He was just driving a couch to the dump and it fell onto the tracks which he didn't know till he got there. While he probably should've looked for it, nobody knew about the couch till the train hit so he probably wouldn't have found it in time anyways.
  • Unintentionally Unsympathetic: The reveal of how Lois and Francis' antagonist relationship makes this as it basically stated that she is such a Control Freak that she tortured her child for the first two years of his life because he wasn’t miserable outside of her prescience.
    Lois: I was stuck in the hospital. Without my baby. Completely isolated. For six weeks. All I could do was lie there, and worry about him, and think about how much he needed me, to nurse him, and to hold him. And when they finally let me out, I run home as fast as I can to take care of poor little Francis, and when I get there, I discover he's happy! He couldn't care less I was gone all that time. You were taking care of him, and he was happy as a clam! I was just an intrusion
  • Values Dissonance:
    • In an early Season 1 episode, Malcolm is thrilled when his newest babysitting job is more like house-sitting since the kids go to bed the minute he arrives and he has permission to use the pool, watch television, and even stay for dinner. He quits, however, on learning that the parents have been creepily filming him and watching him use their house as part of home video entertainment. The director's commentary lampshades that in the later 2000s and 2010s, it's more likely that parents have cameras in the house to avoid babysitters abusing their children and to prevent theft. Of course, the really creepy part is that each video is labelled with what Malcolm is doing and it's more obvious the parents are interested in seeing a lower-middle-class kid run wild in their home.
    • A Season 1 episode has Lois being told by another student's parent that Malcolm has been throwing around "the R-word," which is meant to be a joke about Political Correctness Gone Mad as there was no offensive "R-word" in the early 2000s. Now that the word "retarded" has crossed the line to being considered offensive, it comes off rather differently, especially with Malcolm being the Insufferable Genius that he is.
      • Also in the same episode, Lois gets offended when the same parent vigorously tosses the brownies she made because they have walnuts and the parent isn't sure if any of the kids have allergies. Lois gets so angry by her attitude that she encourages the other mothers to stand up to this busybody. However, with increased instances of severe food allergies in the 2010s it's very likely that a teacher would at least warn Lois beforehand that she can't serve the kids those brownies unless they made absolutely sure nobody has severe nut allergies.
    • In a real way, the entire show and its concept. When it launched, it still got some flack for "not being very funny" due to the legitimate sociopathy and abusive behavior of much of the cast, but many people rolled with it as absurdist humor. Come The New '10s, with a much greater general understanding of the kind of psychological damage emotional abuse inflicts on children, a lot of the relationships of the show seem a lot darker and unfunnier, though it still tends to come off as an absurdist, extremist portrayal of sibling and family relationships.
  • Values Resonance: On the other hand, with some distance away from the show, it's can also be viewed as one of the more realistic takes on a lower-middle class family, especially during The New '10s as America was undergoing serious economic uncertainty. Lois and Hal seem less strict and controlling if you consider the mindless jobs they worked just so they could keep up with their kids' schedules and food on the table and their sons' admittedly destructive behavior.
  • Wangst: Malcolm has some genuine reasons to be complaining or feeling annoyed/angered at his family - but at the same time, he sometimes feels unsympathetic because of how much he whines, complains... he even gets called out on this in one episode.
    • This became a deliberate part of his character after a few seasons, with him becoming an Emo Teen.
    • Francis. Sometimes it seems he complains about everything. Even things that have nothing to do with his mother.
  • The Woobie: You could call every character on the show this trope, after all "life is unfair".


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