Spoken from experience: Truths and misnomers from ‘Malcolm in the Middle’


There are always those conditions of life that are determined without the luxury of personal preference; appearance, intelligence and wealth to name a few examples. Admittedly, most of these allotted realities become manageable as the years progress. You can hit the gym and keep up on clothing trends to mask a sub par appearance, take extra time to observe the world and increase your wealth of knowledge or work hard to increase your bank roll once the opportunity arises.

And then there are the attributes that are both unavoidable and impossible to alter, two ingredients for a cocktail that can turn very sour in a hurry.

In my life, being the middle child in my family isn’t exactly something that I can fix even if I desired such a thing. Sometimes, I have felt the injustices in my role as the prototypical “other child” on family trips and weddings. Not the wisest, but not the most innocent, and so on and so forth. If anyone understands the plight of being caught at the halfway point of a family, it would be Malcolm Wilkerson from Malcolm in the Middle. The popular 2000s sitcom gathered hardware at the Emmys during its’ six year television run. While the professional recognition is nice, the show is also a great case study in the under appreciation of the middle sibling and the inter workings of the maniacal side that every family tries to hide behind closed doors. Let’s take a look at some of creator Linwood Boomers’ hits and misses in describing the brotherhood experience.

Truth: Favoritism conspiracy theories

In the episode “Hal’s Christmas Gift”, Reese, Dewey and Francis (Malcolm’s brothers) all seem to be bonding behind Malcolm’s back. Malcolm’s suspicions increase until he finally confronts his brothers and receives a relief that an only child would never understand. I’ll never forget Francis’ response that ends the conversation and puts Malcolm at ease. “We love you, but sometimes we just get sick of you.” It’s paraphrased, but the sentiment is right on; sometimes siblings just need a break from one another, and then life goes on.

(Somewhat) Misnomer: Fight for the TV

One of the most popular scene transitions involved some sort of battle between any number of Malcolm and his brothers for the rights to choose what to watch on their living room television. Since there was only one television in the house, all hell was apt to break loose whenever there was downtime in the Wilkerson domicile. Although brothers will find a way to fight about anything, there just isn’t much of a window for conflict when many families own multiple televisions. Even for a comically poor family in the early 2000s, the Wilkersons should have been able to scrounge up another tube on the cheap to curtail some of the madness. But, of course, the madness was what made Malcolm in the Middle what it was, so the minor lapse in logic remained.

Truth: Same old, same old

Some may remember “Boys at the Ranch”, an episode during the later years of the show when the family made the trek up to oldest brother Francis’ dude ranch for a visit/vacation. The ensuing few days involve Malcolm and second oldest brother Reese attempting to “break” the suddenly boring and mature Francis. Long story short, Francis eventually gives in and channels his inner miscreant as the three blow off a firework that leaves them all blind for a few days (Excuse the video quality).  No matter how much a family grows and matures, the individual members can never destroy the spirit of the past.

Misnomer: Brothers’ ruling are final

Malcolm’s family has a definitive hierarchy that grants both parents and all of the children with their own amount of say in household decisions. The entire system is essentially broken down by seniority and isn’t broken unless the subordinate party has leverage in the form of blackmail or deception. Dewey, the youngest brother and collective whipping boy for first few years of the show, often got the short end of the stick around the house simply because his older brothers said so. While this sort of suburban Lord of the Flies setup would be intriguing, no household where I’ve ever dwelled or spent significant time has ever been able to establish so much order.

Truth: Brotherhood roles

The tough guy, the genius, the creative type, the socialite and oblivious wanderer are all roles filled by either Malcolm or his brothers in some part, and without the diversity there wouldn’t be the full range of values that existed on the Wilkerson family canvas during an episode. I fully believe that any family with at least three children will have all of the aforementioned and a few other major roles filled in some shape or form, almost out of necessity.

Truth: What’s with your friends?

Whether it was Dewey with his special education classmates, Malcolm with the nerds from the gifted program, Reese with his lesbian army buddy or Francis with his group of burnouts from high school, all of the members of the family appear to have friends that some would see as odd or flawed to the other members of the family. Some of the quips made about the array of unique characters brought through the house made for some of the funniest moments on the show, and one of the funnier subtle storylines was the off and on rivalry between Malcolm’s best friend Stevie (who was paralyzed from the waist down) and an older but far less intelligent Reese. The friends brought through my front door over the years in search of one of my brothers weren’t lacking enough to be considered Krelboyne quality, but I think that all of the Phillips brothers can name some of the less than desirable personalities that they had to endure in passing.

I won’t name any names, but there was an incident involving an underhanded tactic and a game of backyard volleyball during Scott’s college graduation party. Just saying. But after three and a half years I can agree to let sleeping dogs lie; I’m over it. Who am I kidding? No, I’m not. I could have been a damn good backyard volleyball player.

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