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"Malcolm in the Middle" on FOX

By Devin D. O'Leary

JANUARY 17, 2000:  I have no idea why it took so long for FOX's "Malcolm in the Middle" to make its way onto the airwaves. Originally skedded for an October bow with the rest of the fall season, FOX soon bumped the show to midseason replacement status -- a distinction usually relegated to "Hail Mary" shows with little hope of success. "Malcolm in the Middle," however, could very well pass as the funniest series of the season.

This seriously twisted sitcom concerns the domestic, social and educational adventures of one young lad named Malcolm. At first glance, Malcolm isn't a whole lot different than a lot of other sitcom kids these days. He's the middle child in a highly dysfunctional suburban brood. His clueless dad is saddled with an extreme body hair problem. His mom has a tendency to wander around in the nude. His older brother is stuck in military school. His younger brother is a pants-wetting social pariah. Unfortunately, it's soon discovered that Malcolm is cursed with an I.Q. of 165. The kid's a genius -- the only problem is he'd rather spend his days reading comic books, watching cartoons and scarfing sugared cereal than learning about the Pelopenesian War with a bunch of nerds.

"Malcolm in the Middle" has been described as a live-action "Simpsons," and it's a pretty apt description. "Malcolm" employs the same kind of rapid-fire joke delivery system pioneered by FOX's cartoon hitcom. "Malcolm" is loaded with hilarious lines ("The only good thing about childhood is that, at some point, it ends,") and packed deep with visual jabs (note how the houses on either side of Malcolm's abode are lined with "For Sale" signs).

What makes "Malcolm" such an appealing prospect, however, is not so much the stitch-inducing humor, but the frightening level to which its goofball reality mirrors our own twisted childhoods. As Malcolm and his bros loll around the couch in their pajamas watching cartoons and sucking breakfast cereal, our prepubescent hero wryly comments, "The only thing my family does better than anybody is Saturdays." A harried mom shouts to her three kids from the kitchen, "I don't have time to make lunch. Two of you will have to have leftover pizza slices. The other one gets ... um ... uh, I think it's peas." A junior high school bully advises a terrorized underclassman, "You have three choices: You can get down on your stomach and beg for mercy, you can lick the bottom of my shoe, or you can take a beating. Now, you must choose at least two of these -- but if you choose three, you get a 'pass' for the next two weeks."

This is sitcom at its "Leave It To Beaver"-on-acid best! Run, do not walk -- push down old ladies if you have to -- but get to your TVs right away and catch "Malcolm in the Middle." You've just discovered your newest TV addiction.


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