I saw all of these qualities in Malcolm in the Middle. It revived the family-centered themes of the 80's but didn't rely on the same conventions. Dewey was never reduced to sit wide eyed on the couch and pull a Rudy. Even in his age-limited acting capacity, the Dewey plot lines were in and of themselves complicated and funny. Reese was a relentless bad kid, never subjected to any sort of sitcom style interventions, yet he demonstrated his humanity in his protectiveness over the wheelchair-bound Steven. The parents never backed down on Francis's begs and pleads to be released from military school. The parents weren't just an excuse to have the children living in a house. They had their own problems, own storylines, own histories that had little to do with their children. Even Malcolm's direct narration stressed the unreality of the sitcom, and at the same time lent a reality to the show that had been detracted from shows previous by the main character's forced conversational exposition.
I loved the darkness of the comedy. I loved it until I saw an episode that was too dark. Hal and Lois suspected that they were again pregnant. The snuck around the house the entire episode hiding pregnancy tests from the boys and waiting for the results. In an Its A Wonderful Life sort of flashback, the couple reflected on their lives and how they had gotten progressively worse with each new child. They lamented on the deterioration of their relationship, the defeat of having to move into a smaller home, and the emasculation Hal suffered in his ongoing efforts to keep the job he resented that was feeding his family. They knew that a new child would only bring more of this pain. But luckily for them they weren't pregnant. I nearly cried at the end of that episode, and as I thought more about the series, about the absurdity of Francis' journey to Alaska and the wife he got along the way, and some of the more Dennis the Menace copycat plots that came along, the more I realized that the saviour had not come. The sitcom would die.
Last night I gave Malcolm in the Middle one more chance. Coincidentally enough, the plot of last night's episode was quite like the one that made me realize that the show was over: Lois's mother slipped and fell in their yard and decided to sue and thus squeezing the last of the money out of the couple that they had, meanwhile, Lois discovers that she's pregnant for sure this time. Between the frantic tear-filled discovery of the pregnancy in the doctor's office and later in the episode when Hal retreated to the privacy of his car to pound on the dashboard moaning and screaming "why me?", I knew I was right. Malcolm in the Middle is not The One. The writers mistake dark comedy for melancholy, authenticity for reality. Reality is not funny. Even reality television is not as real as one of these Malcolm episodes. Take the popularity of reality shows, with the darker hue of the Seinfeld brand of comedy and the well-worn genre of the family sitcom and you get Malcolm in the Middle. And it doesn't work.
Banzai TV, on the other hand, was awe-inspiring.