The series follows a family of six (later seven), and stars Frankie Muniz in the lead role of Malcolm, a more-or-less normal boy who tests at genius level. He enjoys being smart, but he despises having to take classes for gifted children, who are mocked by the other students who call them "Krelboynes", a reference to the nerdy Seymour Krelboyne from The Little Shop of Horrors. Jane Kaczmarek is Malcolm's overbearing, authoritarian mother, Lois, and Bryan Cranston plays his immature but loving father, Hal. Christopher Masterson plays eldest brother Francis, a former rebel who, in earlier episodes, was in military school, but eventually marries and settles into a steady job. Justin Berfield is Malcolm's dimwitted older brother Reese, a schoolyard bully who tortures Malcolm at home even while he defends him at school. Younger brother Dewey, a genius musician, is portrayed by Erik Per Sullivan. For the first few seasons, the show's focus was on Malcolm. As the series progressed, however, it began to explore all six members of the family equally. A fifth son—Jamie—was introduced as a baby towards the middle of the series.
Set in a suburban neighborhood in the fictional Tri-County Area, Malcolm in the Middle is about a boy named Malcolm and his dysfunctional family. The show stars Frankie Muniz as Malcolm, the third of four (later five) boys, his brothers, and their parents, Lois (Jane Kaczmarek) and Hal (Bryan Cranston). The oldest, Francis (Christopher Masterson), was sent away to military school, leaving at home his three younger brothers, Reese (Justin Berfield), Malcolm, and Dewey (Erik Per Sullivan), Malcolm being the middle child still at home. In season four, the character Jamie (James and Lukas Rodriguez) was added to the show as the fifth son. The show's early seasons centered on Malcolm dealing with the rigors of being an adolescent and enduring the eccentricities of his life. Later seasons gradually explored the other members of the family and their friends in more depth, including others such as Craig Feldspar, Stevie Kenarban, and Stevie's dad Abe.
The series was different from many others in that Malcolm broke the fourth wall by talking directly to the viewer, all scenes were shot using a single camera, and the show employed neither a laugh track nor a live studio audience. Emulating the style of hour-long dramas, this half-hour show was shot on film instead of video. Another distinctive aspect of the show is that the cold open of every episode is unrelated to the main story. Exceptions were episodes which were the conclusions of "two-parters"; each part two episode opened with a recap of its part one episode.
Francis (Masterson), Lois (Kaczmarek), Hal (Cranston), Malcolm (Muniz), Dewey (Sullivan), and Reese (Berfield), pictured in early season one
Malcolm (Frankie Muniz): the title character of the series. Malcolm is a genius with an IQ of 165 and a photographic memory. Because of this, he is placed in a class for gifted students (or 'Krelboynes" as they are known at the school). His intelligence, as well as feelings of not fitting in, and large ego cause numerous problems for him over the course of the series. As the title suggests, Malcolm is initially the middle child of the three living at home; chronologically, he is Hal and Lois' third son. His best friend is Stevie Kenarban.
Lois (Jane Kaczmarek): The family's hot-headed and stubborn mother. She struggles throughout the series to keep her badly behaved boys in check while maintaining a job at a Lucky Aide drugstore.
Hal (Bryan Cranston): Hal is Lois's husband and Francis, Reese, Malcolm, Dewey, and Jamie's father. Hal is an inept but caring father, and completely dependent on Lois.
Reese (Justin Berfield): Hal and Lois' second son. He is the older brother of Malcolm, Dewey, and Jamie, and younger brother to Francis. Reese is the most impulsive of the siblings. He lacks common sense and is frequently outwitted by other family members. Despite being unwilling to think and having little intelligence, he excels at cooking and baking.
Dewey (Erik Per Sullivan): Hal and Lois' fourth son. He is the youngest child until the birth of Jamie, and often falls victim to his brothers' pranks. Dewey is very intelligent and musically gifted. He plays the piano. Despite his intelligence, he is placed in a remedial class for slower students (or "Buseys") due to a misunderstanding. Dewey remains in the class and serves as their self-appointed teacher. By the seventh and final season of the show, the Busey class is no longer mentioned.
Francis (Christopher Masterson): Hal and Lois' first son. At the beginning of the series, he is attending military school in Alabama, run by the strict Commandant Spangler (Daniel von Bargen). He has himself legally emancipated at the start of Season 3, leaves the school, and travels to Alaska. He finds work at a logging camp and later meets and marries Piama (Emy Coligado), a woman of Inuit heritage. When the camp closes, they move to the western United States and take jobs at a Wild West-themed hotel/ranch, run by kindly but eccentric German, Otto Mannkusser (Kenneth Mars), and his wife, Gretchen (Meagen Fay). Francis and his mother have a mutual love-hate relationship. Although a juvenile delinquent, he is street-smart. Francis becomes a less frequently seen character after season 5, becoming an occasional recurring character and making only a small handful of appearances in Season 6 and the final Season 7. Whereas he was featured regularly in previous seasons as a side-story to the main family, Francis' steady job disappeared in season 6 due to legal issues, and he returned to being a delinquent, leading a questionable and poor lifestyle with his wife, Piama.
Jamie (James and Lukas Rodriguez): Hal and Lois' fifth son, born at the end of Season 4. Despite his infancy, he is shown to already have some of his brothers' habits, such as stealing and disrespecting Lois.
Craig Lamar Traylor as Stevie Kenarban, Malcolm's best friend who's in the Krelboyne class and uses a wheelchair. Stevie has difficulty breathing and is revealed in season 5 to have only one lung.
David Anthony Higgins as Craig Feldspar, Lois' overweight coworker, who has a crush on Lois. He is very geeky and self-absorbed. In the rare event he is given actual power, he can also be as bossy as Lois, but much less competent.
Emy Coligado as Piama Tananahaakna, Francis' wife. She is an Iñupiat Alaska Native. She is a good wife to Francis and helps him resolve troublesome situations, but is disliked by Francis' mother, Lois.
Eric Nenninger as Eric Hanson, Francis' somewhat naive friend from military school who precedes Francis to Alaska. It is his call which brings Francis to Alaska.
Catherine Lloyd Burns as Caroline Miller, Malcolm's "overly earnest" teacher. She ardently adores Malcolm due to his intelligence. Francis uses her adoration to pay a medical bill to stitch up Malcolm in one episode. She is the teacher of the Krelboynes in Season 1.
Kenneth Mars as Otto Mannkusser, Francis' boss who owns the ranch he works at after he leaves Alaska. He is of German descent and he is a kind-hearted person. He is married to Gretchen.
Daniel von Bargen as Commandant Edwin Spangler, the head of Marlin Academy. He is missing his right eye, his left hand, and his ring finger on his right hand, and he actually never served war time. He despises Francis because he fought against him. In the end, he loses his other hand.
Cloris Leachman as Grandma Ida, Lois' mother and Malcolm's grandmother. She despises Francis and Lois, except on one occasion when she was kind to Lois. and the whole family hates her. She lost her leg saving Dewey from being hit by a truck, one of her few recorded good deeds. She once tried to sue Lois, her own daughter, for slipping on a leaf in the walkway of Lois's house and becoming temporarily injured.
Meagen Fay as Gretchen Mannkusser, Otto's wife who helps out at the ranch.
Karim Prince as Cadet Stanley, Marlin Academy student, Francis' best friend and informal bodyguard during the show's first season.
Sandy Ward, John Ennis, Richard Gross, and Christopher Michael Moore all play Francis' friends at the Alaskan logging camp.
Dan Martin, Jonathan Craig Williams, Edward James Gage, and Alex Morris all play Hal's poker friends.
Chris Eigeman as Lionel Herkabe, the second teacher of the Krelboyne class and a former Krelboyne himself. Despite sharing many of the same personality traits, he and Malcolm hate each other. He is also bossy, stubborn, and sadistic.
Brenda Wehle as Lavernia, Francis' first boss, a malevolent woman.
Merrin Dungey played two different, unrelated characters. In the pilot episode Dungey plays Malcolm's teacher before he transfers to the Krelboyne class. Later in the first season, she appears as Kitty Kenarban, Stevie's mother who left him and Abe, but then returned.
Extended pilot episode, A Stroke of Genius featurette, commentary on select episodes, gag reel, deleted scenes, alternate show openings, bloopers, Dewey's Day Job featurette, Season 2 Still Gallery.
In February 2012, it was announced that Fabulous Films would be releasing the first season of the show in the UK in April, as well as releasing each subsequent season the following month, ending with a complete series set near Christmas 2012. However, in late March 2012, several retailers had removed the release date from their websites; this was later revealed to be because of "technical issues with the Masters" and that the release date had been pushed back to June. Other seasons will now follow on either a monthly or bi-monthly basis.
All the UK DVD releases are intact as originally aired with no cuts, with the original music, with the exception of one Season 3 episode "Company Picnic" which was originally aired as a one-hour special, before being re-edited and split into two parts for syndication. The DVD presents the syndicated version.
All seven seasons as well as the complete series set were released in Australia in September 2013. The complete series set altered the separate seven season sets to fit into four volumes.
All episodes are in NTSC format, despite several sets being listed as PAL. They are also in 16:9widescreen format and lack optional subtitles, although they are mistakenly labeled as including them (with the exception of the first season, which is ported from the U.S. release and includes subtitles). The subtitles being labeled as included was fixed in the complete boxset. The opening theme of Season 1, the extended pilot and all extras are in 4:3. In season 2 and 7 opening theme is not 4:3 but has an extended picture effect instead of the black bars. In seasons 3 to 6 the opening theme is in 16:9. Some episodes, due to the only widescreen source having them, includes the TV PG and fox widescreen logos on them but no TV logo.
The show is rated PG for Parental Guidance in Australia and PG in New Zealand for violence, coarse language and sexual references.
Season one holds a Metacritic score of 88 out of 100, based on 25 reviews, indicating "Universal Acclaim".
The show quickly gained a large viewer base, starting off with ratings of 23 million for the debut episode and 26 million for the second episode.
Fox shuffled the show's air time repeatedly to make room for other shows, eventually giving it a free pass[clarification needed] in its seventh and last season. On January 13, 2006, Fox announced that the show would be moving to 7:00 pm on Sundays effective January 29, 2006. On January 17, 2006, Fox announced the cancellation of the series, with the 151st and final episode airing at 8:30 pm ET/PT (the show's original timeslot) on May 14, 2006. The finale was watched by 7.4 million.
In Australia, in 2001 Malcolm in the Middle premiered on Channel Nine, Monday nights at 8:00 pm. It rated strongly, with the help from its lead-in Friends, which at the time rated 2,279,000, 2,031,000 and 2,410,000 as the night's most watched show, and year's 2nd most watched TV program. Malcolm in the Middle's ratings included 1,952,000, 1,925,000, 1,712,000, 1,644,000, and sometimes rating over the 2 million mark: 2,002,000, 2,008,000.
In France, the show first aired daily at 8 pm in December 2001, on M6, but did not find its public and was quickly off schedule. Then, when the show made its comeback in the summer of 2003 at noon, it had a big success. The last seasons had over 1.5 million viewers and a share sometimes over 30%. Due to the show's popularity, the network is currently still broadcasting reruns.
In the UK, in April 2001, 6 months after it was shown on Sky1 it premiered on terrestrial television on BBC2 at 6:45 pm on Fridays, where the first episode gained 3.3 million. With the success of the first season, season 2 was moved to prime-time the following year at 8:30 pm. It is now shown weekdays on 5* which began January 3, 2011.
In Mexico, the national channel Canal 5 began airing the show in 2001. It screens five-episode blocks of the series on weekdays from 7:00 pm to 9:20 pm.
Jane Kaczmarek and Cloris Leachman gained the highest honors in the cast for being nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award every year they appeared on Malcolm in the Middle. Leachman succeeded in winning 2002 and 2006. The show won a total of 7 Emmys during its six-year run and a Peabody Award.
The show entered barter syndication one month before the sixth season premiered on Fox and was later aired on FX in the fall of 2007 until the fall of 2010. When the show entered syndication all of the TV-14 episodes had to be changed to TV-PG since they did not meet the syndication standards for a TV-14 rating. However Netflix categorizes the show under TV-14 (despite the only episode to use that rating is "Poker #2").
The show was launched on Nick at Nite on July 5, 2009 at 8:00 pm with an all night marathon. However, Nick at Nite aired the show with a PG rating and the episodes were either banned or heavily edited due to content that was too strong for the PG rating. When Nick at Nite pulled Malcolm it began airing on TeenNick from November 26, 2010 and continued until December 2010. The show returned to TeenNick's line-up on July 18, 2011.
On September 26, 2011, Malcolm in the Middle began airing on IFC. As of March 2013, the show has returned to TeenNick, airing weeknights at 10:00 pm (EST) and again at 10:30 pm (EST). Later during 2013 the show aired from 3:00 am (EST) till 5:00 am (EST), but has since switched to just a one hour block from 4:00 am (EST) to 5:00 am (EST) after the 90's Are All That block was pushed back an hour.
In the UK, the show was originally aired on Sky1 from September 3, 2000, later also airing on Sky2 and Sky3 before finally leaving all Sky channels in December 2010. It was also shown on BBC2 from April 6, 2001 until March 7, 2009. From January 4, 2010, it was shown on Fiver (now 5*) at 6:00 pm and again at about 7:30 pm. By 2014 it was only being shown weekly on Saturday at 3:15 pm in the order originally broadcast, the last repeat of the show in the UK (also the last ever episode produced) was shown for last time on 5* at 3:15 pm on Saturday January 18, 2014.
Russian channel STS made a shot-for-shot adaptation called Супер Макс (English: Super Max) that comprises 1 season so far.
^"Block Party". Malcolm in the Middle. Season 4. Episode 8. January 4, 2004. Event occurs at 14:40. Fox Network. "I can tell you, I have a photographic memory. I can picture everything I put in the car."