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Malcolm In The Middle's 7 Best And 7 Worst Episodes

There are few sitcoms from the early 2000s as influential as "Malcolm in the Middle." Not only is the show a stylistic breath of fresh air, it captures the messy and chaotic lives of American teenagers in a way few network sitcoms ever had before. It strips away the pristine family tropes the genre had become known for, and introduces a more down-to-earth portrayal of the dynamics at work in many middle class families. What results is something utterly irresistible.

While "Malcolm in the Middle" aired its ending back in 2006, the show's endearing characters, timeless humor, and great performances have given it major staying power among audiences. So it was no surprise that fans were elated to hear star Frankie Muniz spill the beans about a potential revival being spearheaded by Bryan Cranston (per Fox News). While it isn't a sure thing, news of this potential reboot will no doubt encourage old and new fans alike to give the original show another watch. That means there's never been a more perfect time to look back on the series' best installments ... or its worst. From clip show disasters to thrilling revenge capers, these are the 7 best and 7 worst episodes of "Malcolm in the Middle."

14. Best: Traffic Jam (Season 2, Episode 1)

"Traffic Jam" picks up just after the Season 1 finale, "Water Park." Having ruined the family's vacation at the titular water park, Reese and Malcolm are being driven home. But then the family gets stuck in a massive traffic jam for several hours. Having no place to go, everyone gets out of the car, whereupon Malcolm ends up meeting Jessica, a girl his age. The two hit it off immediately, and go on several small adventures before the traffic jam is cleared up.

This episode, while still hilarious, is one of the series' most surprisingly heartfelt stories. Malcolm develops a crush on Jessica, but soon learns that she's from Canada and lives too far away for them to see each other again. Jessica reveals that she didn't want to tell Malcolm earlier, as it might have ruined their time together. This makes the story a great example of why it's important to enjoy life's fleeting moments while they're happening. Things end on a bittersweet note as Jessica tries to hand Malcolm her number while passing by his car, only for a dog to eat it. This perfectly encapsulates the feeling of relishing a fond memory, and knowing it will never happen again.

13. Worst: Francis Escapes (Season 1, Episode 7)

"Francis Escapes" is one of the earliest episodes to focus on Malcolm's oldest brother Francis, who is away at military school. After his mom revokes his phone privileges (cutting off contact with his girlfriend Bebe), Francis escapes from the school and hides out in the family's backyard. He reaches out to Malcolm, trusting his brother to keep his secret and help him run away with Bebe.

This episode actually contains some interesting and relatable character dynamics. Consider the heartbreak Francis feels when he finds out that his relationship is more important to him than it is to Bebe, or the betrayal he sustains when Malcolm spills his secrets to Lois, knowing that it's for Francis' own good. Unfortunately, the episode's humor falls flat. Repeated jokes centered around Dewey thinking Francis is a monster that lives under his bed and Bebe convincing Malcolm to help her get away with shoplifting feel tired and stale. Instead of lifting the episode's central themes, the humor drags them down, leaving "Francis Escapes" a so-so entry in the show's stellar Season 1.

12. Best: Rollerskates (Season 1, Episode 13)

When fans think back on Bryan Cranston's best "Malcolm in the Middle" episodes, many immediately remember "Rollerskates." This episode is very much carried by Cranston's Hal, and offers an early glimpse into his intense devotion to personal projects. While he's typically the more laid-back parent, when he sets his mind to something, his fierce and obsessive side emerges. This often leads to Cranston's most hilarious performances.

In "Rollerskates," Malcolm makes the mistake of asking Hal to teach him how to skate, despite being warned against it by his siblings. Hal, who used to skate professionally, demands that Malcolm attend intense training sessions that are excessively hard. These training sessions give Cranston some great opportunities to show off his physical comedy chops. However, the episode isn't all laughs: It also features some fantastic and poignant bonding moments between Hal and Malcolm. Hal handling his son cursing him out feels especially complex and authentic.

11. Worst: Cattle Court (Season 7, Episode 20)

"Cattle Court" may be one of IMDb's lowest-rated episodes of "Malcolm in the Middle," but it's still pretty funny. Reese, who's working at a butcher shop, ends up meeting a fellow classmate named Carrie, who's a vegetarian. Trying to impress her, Reese quickly throws away his food and pretends to be a vegetarian as well. But things go rapidly wrong when he tries to sneak meat in his hat and pockets on a date with Carrie.

There are quite a few fun moments in the episode, but the highlight comes when Reese begins to feel guilty about his diet and place of employment. He dreams of animals putting him on trial and sentencing him to be cooked, a clever and comical reversal. But the episode's message gets muddled, due to the script's inability to commit to either Reese feeling bad about his meat-eating ways and going vegetarian, or sticking to his love of meat. Additionally, the secondary plot, which involves Malcolm convincing Craig that Lois doesn't value him, feels mean-spirited and unfunny.

10. Best: Water Park (Season 1, Episode 16)

"Water Park" concludes "Malcolm in the Middle" Season 1 with aplomb. Lois and Hal finally manage to save up for a family vacation, and decide to take the kids to the water park. Dewey can't go, due to his ear infection, so that leaves Malcolm and Reese as the only two kids on board. As usual, the brothers can't get along, leading them to spend the majority of their vacation fighting, rather than enjoying the water park.

The boys try to one-up each other by playing a series of escalating pranks, until Malcolm takes things too far by pulling his brother's shorts down in public. The absurd revenge plot makes for really funny gags, and also helps illustrate the brothers' strained relationship. The B-plot, which sees Dewey grow closer to his eccentric babysitter, is also really funny ... until it ends tragically with her being carted off in an ambulance.

9. Worst: Softball (Season 5, Episode 12)

"Softball" is, in many ways, similar to the Season 1 episode "Rollerskates." But unlike that installment, it fails to successfully capture the mentor-mentee relationship in an interesting way. Here, Malcolm reluctantly agrees to let his mom teach him how to be better at softball. Like Hal, Lois ends up being very strict and humiliating Malcolm in front of his friends and team, including a girl he likes. However, in the end, Malcolm learns valuable skills that make him a better player.

One of the reasons "Rollerskates" works so well is that it chronicles how Malcolm's training changes Hal's character, transforming him from a mild-mannered dad into an intense control freak. But Lois is always an intense control freak, which means "Softball" doesn't bring anything new to table. This makes the main plot feel redundant and unmemorable. Additionally, Hal's side plot, which features a job interview with a spy agency, feels too dumb and over-the-top to be a good fit in the typically grounded show.

8. Best: Family Reunion (Season 4, Episode 3)

"Family Reunion" introduces audiences to Hal's side of the family. When Hal's sister calls and half-heartedly invites him and his family to their reunion, Lois urges him to accept. However, upon attending the event, Lois does not receive a warm welcome. Hal's folks look down on her, in large part because most of them are rich. This episode perfectly blends the humor viewers expect from an episode about a wacky family reunion with great character moments from Lois and Hal.

Much of the humor in "Family Reunion" is carried by guest star Christopher Lloyd, who portrays Hal's father, Walter. Walter takes a liking to Malcolm, due to his intelligence and love of history, and his attempts to get Malcolm interested in Civil War reenactment are a joy to watch. He also has great chemistry with Bryan Cranston; their strained relationship gives the episode many strong moments. "Family Reunion" ends with the four children defending their mother by running over the dinner tables with a golf cart — a perfectly "Malcolm in the Middle"-style show of devotion.

7. Worst: Living Will (Season 6, Episode 12)

In "Living Will," viewers find out that Hal has a very difficult time making decisions, which leads him to ask Lois to make them for him. But when a neighbor who isn't close with Hal is left in a vegetative state, it's revealed he's named Hal as the executor of his living will. Hal is faced with the decision to pull the plug or keep him on life support. 

Things go downhill, both for the family and the viewer, when fear paralyzes the upper half of Hal's body, forcing him to do everything with his feet. While Cranston is an impressive physical comic, the humor feels too focused on making fun of him to be truly funny. This episode also features a side plot involving Craig's dad trying to make him take over his gyms. While this leads to a funny scene where the boys try to teach Craig Feldspar to fight dirty, the actual character arc between Craig and his dad feels cheap, with little interesting buildup.

6. Best: Lois Strikes Back (Season 7, Episode 16)

Lois is known for pushing boundaries, but in "Lois Strikes Back," she finally takes things too far. After a group of girls from school pull a prank on Reese that involves setting him up on a date with a pig, Lois decides to take things into her own hands and exact revenge on each of the perpetrators. While it's almost scary to see how far Lois will go to make sure the girls get their just desserts, this episode is a perfect backdrop to Lois and Reese's character development. This results in some much-needed bonding between mother and son. Much of it comes towards the end of the episode, after Lois realizes that there's a part of her that likes acting out ... and that Reese likely inherited this trait.

In addition to great character-building moments, "Lois Strikes Back" also brings a lot of laughs. Lois' revenge schemes are just over-the-top enough, and include things like removing the heads from one girl's dolls and placing them in her locker, and setting up another to look like she's running away with her boyfriend on prom night. When Reese finds out about his mom's antics, he ends up encouraging them, and they team up to finish her schemes together. It's a happy ending ... sort of.

5. Worst: Kitty's Back (Season 6, Episode 5)

"Kitty's Back" revolves around Malcolm's best friend Stevie's family. After running away from her folks back in Season 3, Stevie's mom Kitty returns out of the blue and asks Lois to help her get back together with her husband and family. Lois refuses, feeling that Kitty doesn't deserve a second chance. However, the next day, Stevie and his father Abe are mad at Lois for being mean to Kitty. At the end of the episode, Lois realizes it's not her place to judge Kitty and gives her old friend a second chance.

This episode's plot is unfortunately filled with tonal misfires. It tries to deal with heavy subjects, like Kitty's abandonment of her family and subsequent quest for redemption, but makes light of things like her drug use and criminal acts. Additionally, the wedge that the episode tries to force between Stevie's family and Malcolm's family feels false and unnatural. The cherry on top of the disappointing sundae is a tropey and uninteresting secondary plot involving Francis hazing Dewey while inducting him into the "brotherhood."

4. Best: Graduation (Season 7, Episode 22)

Sitcom finales are a difficult thing to get right, but luckily, "Malcolm in the Middle" succeeds. "Graduation" is filled with sharp writing, hilarious gags, and satisfying character arcs that fulfill many of the show's oldest themes. Malcolm, who has been accepted into Harvard, is having trouble figuring out how to pay for it. He's offered a high-paying job by a friend of Stevie's family, but taking it would mean skipping college and jumping straight into the workforce. Meanwhile, Reese is excited about his new job as a janitor at his old school. But then he learns that the school tries to cycle janitors out every 30 days, to avoid paying benefits. Undaunted, Reese tries to set up a mess that will make him indispensable for over 30 days. 

At his mom's urging, Malcolm turns down the job, taking up a janitorial position (like his brother) to pay for Harvard instead. This is a tough choice, but it's the right one, emphasizing the value of hard work and humility. Embracing these themes perfectly caps off the show's exploration of middle class family life.

3. Worst: Clip Show 2 (Season 4, Episode 17)

As the title suggests, "Clip Show 2" is one of the two clip show episodes of "Malcolm in the Middle." Clip show episodes are often widely disliked, as they tend to feel like lazy rehashes of old content. Sadly, this one is no different. "Clip Show 2" is one of only two "Malcolm in the Middle" episodes to score below a 7.0 on IMDb, and for good reason.

The plot of this episode involves Hal and Lois trying to make decisions about their will. Their discussions about it lead them to look back on old memories, which enables the clip show format. Sadly, the pacing and structure are all over the place, and without proper context, many of the clips lose what made them funny in the first place. That being said, the entire episode isn't a complete bust. "Clip Show 2" features a very sweet moment as Hal and Lois jump to Dewey's aid after he wakes up sick and prove they'll be good parents to the new baby.

2. Best: Bowling (Season 2, Episode 20)

"Bowling" starts out like any other "Malcolm in the Middle" episode, with plans for Reese and Malcolm to go out bowling with some of their classmates. But it quickly becomes one of the show's most novel installments after it splits into two universes, separated by whether Hal or Lois drives them to the bowling alley. Lois' version is more difficult for Malcolm, as she humiliates him while trying to show him how to bowl. Hal, in contrast, leaves the kids alone and bowls several lanes down, giving Malcolm the chance to hit it off with a girl he likes.

"Bowling" does a great job of showing how each parent's dynamic with the kids differs, and how one simple change can lead to wildly different nights. Watching it almost feels like replaying a choice-based video game, which makes for deeply satisfying television. The fact that Malcolm's night with his mom actually turns out for the better — he ends up getting kissed because the girl he likes feels bad for him — is an especially enjoyable turn. This episode fully showcases the show's talented cast and sharp writing, which makes it the highest-rated "Malcolm in the Middle" installment on IMDb.

1. Worst: Clip Show (Season 3, Episode 19)

The only episode more disappointing than "Clip Show 2" is the original "Clip Show." In this episode, Hal drops Malcolm, Reese, and Dewey off with a psychiatrist after finding damage to his car and assuming the boys stole it. The meeting with the psychiatrist sets up the episode's clips, as the boys tell the professional various stories about their prior experiences.

This premise works better than some, and Andy Richter is a lot of fun as the boys' psychiatrist. But this doesn't change the fact that the clip show format just doesn't work. Much of the series' humor works because of its build-up. Without that sort of context, the episode's clips fall flat. It also doesn't help that "Clip Show" arrives less than three seasons into the show's runtime, meaning all the clips feel too recent to land and there's less material to draw from. This all leads to "Clip Show" earning a dismal rating on IMDb.