Confessions of a Spec Tater — Middle Child Syndrome

A look at the TV-on-DVD section of any entertainment store will show that it’s rare for a television show to run for at least a handful of episodes and not have some sort of DVD release.

Even shows that were broadcast for the blink of an eye thirty years ago are given extravagantly prepared special edition box sets.

That’s why, then, it’s so disappointing to have a television show that ran for multiple seasons, won critical acclaim, is still fondly remembered by audiences and yet does not have any real presence on DVD.

Last month marked the tenth anniversary of Malcolm in the Middle, a show that ran seven seasons and lasted 151 episodes before being cancelled in 2006.

While the show, about a precocious teenage boy and his family of miscreants, may have petered out towards the end of the show’s run, the majority of the series’ episodes sill hold up strongly today.

Despite that fact, only the first season of the show is available on DVD — released all the way back in 2002. Apparently, high music clearance costs made releasing the rest of the series financially unpractical.

Someday, I am sure the show will eventually see the rest of its seasons released on DVD. The music may be replaced or certain episodes may be left off the set, but eventually a show this popular and well regarded will find its way onto the market.

In the meantime, might I suggest going back and revisiting the series with the first, and only, season available on DVD.

Malcolm starred Frankie Muniz as a child genius. Torn between his abnormally powerful brain and his chaotic family, Malcolm was the show’s narrator. While Muniz once had a promising acting career, he has since put it on hold and gone into professional car racing.

Malcolm’s parents were played by Jane Kaczmarek (who would go on to star in the recently cancelled legal drama Raising the Bar) and Bryan Cranston (who has found more success as of late in the amazing show Breaking Bad). Cranston and Kaczmarek were great as the dysfunctional guardians of a family of equally dysfunctional children. Full of their own quirks and foibles, they were just as (if not more) interesting as the shows’ children actors.

Besides Malcom, the family (whose last name was never definitively established) consisted of three more boys played by Christopher Masterson (who still appears every now and then in low-budget films), Justin Berfield (who has gone on to a pretty successful career as a television producer) and Erik Per Sullivan (who also stared in the off-beat horror film Wendigo but has kind of disappeared from film or television as of late). There was also another family member added later into the series, a boy name Jamie, but the less said about him the better.

The first season had some great episodes, most of them dealing with Malcolm and his struggle to fit in. A short season, it only lasted sixteen episodes. The series’ more memorable episodes (including one that featured a family trip to a bowling alley as seen through split screen depicting two possible realities depending on which parent chaperoned the trip) didn’t come until the second and third seasons.

The first season did introduce a bunch of the series more memorable supporting characters, like Stevie, the asthmatic, wheelchair-bound best friend of Malcolm and Commandant Spanger, the head teacher at the military academy that Malcolm’s oldest brother Francis attends.

The series had an offbeat visual style that was directly influenced by Todd Holland, the filmmaker who directed a handful of the series’ episodes and would go on to co-create the short-lived series Wonderfalls.

Malcolm in the Middle may not be a classic television show worthy of eternal preservation in the Smithsonian, but it is a solid representation of early ‘00s sitcoms that still manages to hold up today — which is more then can be said about a lot of the television that finds its way onto the TV-on-DVD isle at the local video store.

Sound off: What’s your favorite Malcolm in the Middle episode?

Robert Saucedo is also not worthy of eternal preservation in the Smithsonian — but that’s not going to stop him from having his carbonite-encased corpse snuck into the museum when he dies. In the meantime, follow him on Twitter @robsaucedo2500.

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