In Defense of “Malcolm in the Middle”

Entertainment Weekly recently published an issue titled “The Binge Guide: 32 Perfect Shows For Every Occasion.” While the notoriously dense The Wire made it, as did other shows with serious substance (The Sopranos and Breaking Bad), somehow Malcolm in the Middle did not.

For reasons that are wide, varied, and vaguely justified, I think Malcolm in the Middle gets something of a vicious wedgie these days. Maybe it’s because Frankie Muniz progressively gets more and more unlikable throughout the seven seasons, starting as an adorable little kid and ending as a punk who seems to be glaring and/or yelling the vast majority of the time.

Maybe it’s because the show has an inherent reliance on physical comedy more than other sitcoms, on account of it being the wild tale of a set of parents dealing with a handful of raucous, mostly ungrateful children – if there was a comedy spectrum, with something like Reno 911! on the lowbrow end and Arrested Development on the highbrow end, Malcolm in the Middle probably falls closer to a parody of Cops than a dysfunctional family in the O.C. (don’t call it that).

Or maybe it’s because we tend to remember last impressions the most when it comes to pop culture, and like all TV shows, Malcolm in the Middle reached its apex in the middle and started to go downhill the last two or three seasons. Whatever the reason, there are two things to remember: Malcolm in the Middle was – and still is – a lot better than you think and a binge-worthy show does not directly correlate with the quality of said show.

I guess the thing that bothers me the most about Entertainment Weekly‘s egregious decision-making skills is that they apparently don’t know what a good binge-worthy show actually is. Here’s what my criteria are, and yeah, I’m making it all up as I go along.

First of all, a binge-worthy show has to actually be entertaining. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a comedy (The X-Files is a great example), but comedies are definitely the easiest to binge-watch (Family Guy, Parks and Recreation, and Trailer Park Boys, to name a few).

“Entertaining” means the show doesn’t even have to be that good. Are Storage Wars and Pawn Stars actually good, or are they just inexplicably fun to watch?

A binge-worthy show is also a show that does not require viewing from the beginning of the series – again, The X-Files and even something with a more defined story arc like The Office are good examples of shows you can go into at any point and enjoy.

Time is also a concern: an episode that is 22 minutes long feels much different than an episode that is twice that length. Shorter episodes equals more efficient binge-watching. It’s that simple.

Those are my criteria for now. Now tell me how exactly The Wire is a show anybody should be binge-watching!? You can hide behind the vague criteria of a “perfect situation” but I can’t imagine when there would ever be an appropriate time to binge-watch The Wire. Even The Sopranos, a show that maintains a steady pace right from the beginning, is very difficult to binge-watch; the most I’ve seen at once is about three to four episodes. And that was an exhausting process.

Breaking Bad is the one outlier: a show that is usually quite serious, goes for approximately 48 minutes per episode, and most definitely has a slow start. And yet, it’s really addicting. Like blue crystal meth, perhaps?

But let’s go back to Malcolm in the Middle. It’s certainly entertaining, with excellent acting (Jane Kaczmarek as the mom, Lois, and Bryan Cranston as the dad, Hal, are simply phenomenal – and they have the statue nominations to back it up), developed characters, and light material that makes it very easy to watch for hours at a time.

While the majority of the episodes revolve around some type of bad behavior caused by the boys or some kind of angst due to Malcolm’s genius status, sometimes the show mixes it up and gives us moments of really beautiful sweetness, usually in the form of Lois and Hal expressing their love for each other, or the boys getting revenge on Lois’ behalf.

Look, I started my Malcolm in the Middle marathon a couple of weeks ago and I’m almost done. Keep in mind every season has about 22 episodes. If that doesn’t quality as binge-worthy, I don’t know what does.

So what was Entertainment Weekly thinking? I guess you could say…

Life is unfair.

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