Sitcoms about comically dysfunctional families are a dime a dozen, but none of them are as unique as Malcolm in the Middle. Through 151 episodes and 7 seasons, the early 2000s show that followed the everyday ups and downs of Malcolm (Frankie Muniz), his brothers and parents Lois (Jane Kaczmarek) and Hal (Bryan Cranston) became a relatable sensation among viewers. Since its end, the series has become a mainstay in people’s nostalgia for the 2000s.
But as with any piece of media made years ago, some parts of Malcolm in the Middle don’t hold up under modern scrutiny. This isn’t to say that the show is now unwatchable, but let’s just say that Malcolm, Reese, Dewey, and Francis wouldn’t be able to get away with some of their signature gags if they took place today. Here are 10 episodes and plots from Malcolm in the Middle that didn’t age well.
10 Graduation (Season 7, Episode 22)
Malcolm in the Middle’s series finale is generally beloved but some parts of it didn’t age well. The most glaring one is the resolution of Lois and Malcolm’s story, where Lois plans out Malcolm’s future without his consent.
While the episode frames this to be heartwarming – especially after her impassioned speech about class representation – Lois is still a domineering mother who controls every aspect of her son’s life. Malcolm was offered his dream job but Lois rejected it for him, stripping Malcolm of his own agency even as he prepares to live on his own.
9 Surgery (Season 2, Episode 17)
Fearing that Malcolm may have appendicitis, his family rushes him to the hospital. What follows is the kind of scary hospital episode story you’d expect any sitcom to make, only more mean-spirited than usual.
Malcolm in the Middle is no stranger to dark humor but the events of Surgery just feel unwarranted. Malcolm is treated like crap for getting sick and he’s almost wrongly operated on multiple times. Surgery even ends with his family blaming him for the medical costs and demanding to know why he didn’t figure out his own ailment if he was so smart.
8 Pearl Harbor (Season 6, Episode 4)
Pissed that the neighbor’s Christmas décor always outdoes his, Hal decides to claim victory by making a decorative mural for Pearl Harbor Day instead. Say what you will about Pearl Harbor commemorative décor but what sullies the episode is Hal and Dewey sabotaging their neighbor’s display after losing again.
Add in a gay panic subplot when Jessica lies to Malcolm and Reese that the other may be gay, and the episode just gets even more uneasy to sit through. It’s not the show’s worst foray into risqué territory, but Pearl Harbor really belongs in 2004 when it first aired.
7 Malcolm Films Reese (Season 5, Episode 5)
Malcolm’s spiteful teacher Mr. Herkabe blackmails him to film Reese in compromising situations to destroy his reputation. To regain Reese’s trust, Malcolm exposes the school population’s secrets, denying Herkabe’s power. The way privacy is belittled by the characters involved simply won’t fly well today, especially in a school setting.
The subplot about Francis dealing with a critic also aged terribly. Here, the newspaper critic is depicted as a vindictive bully who uses his profession to rain bile on everybody. The problem he presents is solved when he’s repeatedly beaten senseless.
6 Bully (Season 2, Episode 10)
While Reese may be a fun brother to have around, he’s still a bully in school. So after he abdicates his bullying throne, Malcolm and friends do everything they can to make Reese return to his bullying ways because they’re now at the receiving end of their classmates’ anger.
In recent times, the issue of campus bullying has been taken a lot more seriously due to the heavy ramifications it poses. Malcolm in the Middle's episode about a retired bully who reclaims his title as a dominant bully isn’t a character arc that would capture audience’s hearts today.
5 Krelboyne Girl (Season 2, Episode 12)
This episode follows a typical sitcom set-up: a girl has a hilarious crush on the lead character. Problem is, Cynthia isn’t Malcolm’s type and she’s too weird for his liking. What ensues instead of hilarity are the awkward gender stereotypes one could expect from a teenager plus stalking.
Cynthia’s crush on Malcolm isn’t even puppy love because it’s bordering on obsession. Throughout the episode, Cynthia makes creepy passes on Malcolm, who solves the problem by flinging a brick into her window. As expected of a sitcom, Cynthia forgives Malcolm and her love for him endures.
4 Cynthia’s Back (Season 3, Episode 14)
After spending some time in Europe, Cynthia returns looking different from how Malcolm remembers. Thanks to puberty, Cynthia now has bigger breasts and a shriller personality – both of which obviously catch a teenager’s attention a bit too quickly.
Here, Cynthia fends off Reese’s attempts at groping her (or at least seeing her chest) while Malcolm wonders why she’s no longer the silly girl she used to be – disregarding the fact that she simply grew up. While not the worst of its kind, Cynthia’s Back suffers from depicting outdated stereotypes about women being too emotional and casual sexual harassment.
3 Stupid Girl (Season 4, Episode 4)
When Malcolm begins to develop feelings for his dumb classmate Alison, he decides that the best course of action to win her affection is to play dumb. While Alison is indeed academically weak, Malcolm’s gameplan is more than a little condescending and problematic.
Malcolm’s reasoning isn’t just demeaning to Alison (and women in general) but to himself as well, since he willingly sabotages his school performance in the hopes of getting laid. The episode ends with no one learning anything since Lois randomly stumbled upon Alison and Malcolm before promptly ending their relationship because Malcolm was holding some beer.
2 Humilithon (Season 4, Episode 2)
To say that Malcolm in the Middle’s treatment of women isn’t good is an understatement. While it never comes across as sleazy, it has too many misguided moments to count. Cynthia’s treatment embodies this perfectly, since her few appearances leave a lot to be desired.
Just when Malcolm’s about to ram Hal’s car into Lois’, Cynthia stops him by publicly claiming she slept with him. Cynthia sacrificing her dignity to keep Malcolm’s intact may have been earnest on her part, but the problem is that a woman lost a lot for an immature boy who barely changed by series’ end.
1 Burning Man (Season 7, Episode 1)
Malcolm and his family’s trip to the Burning Man festival isn’t controversial because of the titular festivities but because it’s where Malcolm supposedly lost his virginity. While premarital sex is normal, Malcolm (a teenager) sleeping with a middle-aged woman is not. Legally speaking, his sexual experience with Anita counts as statutory rape.
The episode never addresses this troubling detail, focusing instead on Anita’s rejection of Malcolm and the ensuing heartbreak. Though the episode was shot in such a way that the showrunners have plausible deniability, it’s still hard to overlook the disturbing subtext.