It’s been two decades since Malcolm in the Middle first premiered on Fox to 23 million viewers. After seven seasons, and 151 episodes, the series received critical acclaim; garnered a cult following and won a Peabody Award, seven Emmys, one Grammy, and seven Golden Globe nominations. I’ve already written a lengthy anniversary piece looking back at how Malcolm in the Middle revolutionized the sitcom and why I consider it to be one of the best comedies of the 2000s. Now, it’s time to decide what the best episodes of Linwood Boomer’s hit series are! In preparation for this list, I managed to rewatch the first four seasons and most of the last three seasons. What follows is what I personally think are the ten best episodes of Malcolm in the Middle.
The 30 Best Episodes of Malcolm in the Middle
30: Boys at Ranch
Season 4, Episode 8
Hal and the boys visit Francis at the ranch. Everyone is shocked to find that Francis is a lot different from who they remember. As Hal gets depressed that the ranch succeeded where he failed in getting Francis to be responsible, the boys try to restore Francis to his old self by revealing a secret stash full of rockets and fireworks. Hal and Otto get drunk and end up stranded in the desert during the night. The boys set off the fireworks, helping to rescue Otto and Hal but blinding themselves. Meanwhile, Piama is worried about a torturous weekend with Lois and is relieved when to learns that she is not there.
29: Ida’s Boyfriend
Season 5, Episode 11
Ida brings a wealthy Chinese man, Mr. Li (James Hong) to whom she is engaged to the family’s house for a dinner, informing them of her plans to fly to Hong Kong to live with him. Malcolm gets his tongue pierced, but it swells up, and he must hide it and the resulting lisp from Lois until the wedding ends. Reese smashes Dewey’s new toy in front of him, so Dewey pretends Reese does not exist. Malcolm discovers that Ida is drugging the man by making him drink opiate-laced tea to change his mood, allowing her to take advantage of him and get his money. When she attempts her drug laced tea again, it goes awry as the whole family is drugged. Li comes out of the effects of the drugs and breaks up with Ida. Lois punishes everyone for their behavior and decrees that no one will encourage drug use again.
28: Malcolm Babysits
Season 1, Episode 5
The whole family is forced to live in a trailer owned by Lois’ coworker, Craig, while their house is being fumigated. However, Malcolm ends up spending more time at the home of an upper-middle-class family who has hired him as their babysitter, but he learns that they were secretly videotaping him. He later blackmails the family to leave him alone and quits the job. Francis finds the corpse of a missing janitor in the basement of the military school, and teams up with his friends to give the forgotten custodian a Norse funeral, which turns into a disaster.
27: Stupid Girl
Season 4, Episode 4
Malcolm pretends to be stupid so he can win over a cute girl (Brittany Finamore) who really is stupid and soon finds that he is actually becoming dumber. Stevie wins Lois’ approval and she takes him to the school dance. Hal rents a steamroller and becomes addicted to running over various objects until Dewey brings him back to his senses by standing in front of it.
Season 1, Episode 12
Reese joins the cheerleading squad because he has a crush on one of the cheerleaders. Malcolm is embarrassed to have a brother who is a cheerleader, and even the Krelboynes are making fun of him, but he ends up helping Reese learn his routines anyway. Dewey desperately tries to talk Lois into buying a new toy. Hal, hearing Reese crying and seeing him practicing cheerleading routines with Malcolm in the backyard, tries to give all the boys “The Talk“.
25: Reese Comes Home
Season 6, Episode 1
Reese, as soon as he lands in Afghanistan, panics and deserts the army. He dresses as a local woman to help him get away, accidentally getting married in the process. Lois, having recovered from her mental breakdown and on a mission to find him, travels to Kabul, selling the family car to afford the trip and hiring locals for the help. Malcolm volunteers at a veterans’ hospital to alleviate his guilt of making Reese leave.
24: Family Reunion
Season 4, Episode 3
The family goes to Hal’s family reunion for his father’s birthday, and Hal’s family makes Lois miserable because she is from a lower-class family. Hal, Piama and the boys are furious for this and get revenge on the family. Hal clashes with his father, Walter (Christopher Lloyd), and forces a confession from him by tickling him. The boys drive a golf cart over the celebration with the help of their younger cousins, destroying the party. Even though Hal and Lois pretend to be angry at the boys, they are both proud of them for standing up to the family. Lois finally starts treating Piama kindly, not wanting to turn out like her own in-laws.
Season 4, Episode 12
A combination of Malcolm’s disgust at the house falling apart around them, and Hal’s fear-induced “zero tolerance” attempts at maintaining peace and order in the family, results in Malcolm being kicked out of the house. The longer he has no home, the more his sanity begins to slip away. Hal finds Malcolm at his ex-girlfriend’s house and agrees to keep this between them, knowing that Lois would have gone through greater lengths to find him. At the ranch, Otto’s family arrives and Francis has to deal with Otto’s piano-playing nephew who intentionally annoys him, which leads to him smashing his piano in front of Otto’s family. Reese attaches a fire hose to his back for more speed on his bike, which ends in a disaster.
Season 2, Episode 23
Reese and Malcolm plan with Stevie to sneak into the carnival fair that is in town. However, Dewey spies on them and blackmails them into taking him. They all sneak off to the county fair together, but they arrive as the fair is closing and end up being locked in and chased by a security guard. Hal and Lois were going to spend the evening having sex until Stevie’s parents showed up and they all discovered that their sons lied. They search various places around town and eventually find them at the Tri County Fair. The four are punished by having to walk back home.
21: Pearl Harbor
Season 6, Episode 4
Jessica (Hayden Panettiere), Malcolm and Reese’s teenaged neighbor, tricks each of them into believing the other is gay. Reese and Malcolm get back at Jessica by giving Malcolm a hickey, which leads Lois to blame Jessica for it and punish her. Hal, tired of competing with a neighbor who always outdoes his Christmas decorations, decorates his house for Pearl Harbor Day. Dewey is writing a report on Hal being his hero, but when Hal rips his report because Dewey lied about him, Dewey does his report on Lois instead. After the neighbor outdoes Hal again for Pearl Harbor Day, Dewey reconciles with Hal and together they dump worms on the neighbor’s decorations, attracting birds that knock all of the decorations down and defecate all over them.
20: Reese Cooks
Season 2, Episode 18
After another destructive prank by Reese, Hal and Lois find themselves struggling to discipline him as he shrugs off at any attempts at punishment. Trying a different angle, Hal forces Reese to attend a culinary class only for Reese to discover a remarkable talent for cooking. In the class’ cooking contest, Reese is found to have cheated by putting foul-tasting ingredients in the other contestants’ foods. Hal punishes him by forbidding him to cook, satisfied that he has finally found a punishment that works. Cynthia organizes a “Be My Friend” party for everyone at the school, but Malcolm is worried that she’s setting herself up for disappointment and tries to stop her. At Marlin Academy, Eric tries to force Francis to do his half of a major project, but Francis keeps getting distracted.
Season 3, Episode 8
Hal finally gets an invitation to Abe’s poker game, but Hal feels left out after the game. Hal believes that Abe’s friends targeted him because of his comparatively boring job, but it never occurs to him that he was the only white player there. Malcolm clashes with Stevie for filming him in a homework assignment, leading to a poker match between Hal and Abe. Reese collects money from old ladies who wanted to partner up at Lois’ dance class, then uses the money to buy Dewey a toy and smashes it in front of him. For revenge, Dewey films Reese being dragged to the class. Meanwhile, Francis and his Alaskan friends are trapped in an Alaskan blizzard fending off cabin fever.
18: Reese Joins the Army: Part 2
Season 5, Episode 22
The company uses Hal as a scapegoat and Lois has become more mentally unstable. When Francis learns that she may no longer be able to care for his siblings, he enlists Malcolm to help forge their father’s signature in a legal document that would declare Lois mentally incompetent, emancipate Malcolm, and give Francis and Piama custody of Dewey and Jamie. Malcolm admits he can forge only Lois’ signature, while the missing Reese knows Hal’s signature. Meanwhile, Reese becomes a top-class soldier in training and makes his way with his squad into a Ranger mission in Afghanistan. Malcolm finds evidence that destroys the prosecution’s case against Hal, but also infuriates Lois and snaps her out of it.
17: Reese Joins the Army: Part 1
Season 5, Episode 21
Reese’s new girlfriend Beth is about as dumb as he is. Malcolm initially dislikes her but they soon grow to like each other too much and Beth breaks up with Reese. Devastated, Reese runs away and joins the army under the false surname “Jetson.” Hal’s company goes under, and two corrupted FBI officers want him to falsely testify against his employer. He refuses, but they have him arrested when the employer provides false testimony against Hal. Lois stresses out when she must work overtime at Lucky Aide to make ends meet; eventually her snappy demeanor and mounting mental instability get her fired. Dewey enters a piano contest and is angry when no one notices.
16: Grandma Sues
Season 4, Episode 9
Grandma Ida is injured by slipping on leaves Reese neglected to rake up, and she sues Lois and Hal – just when Lois discovers that she is pregnant. To make matters worse, she hires an expensive lawyer and sues for a vast sum. This turns to horror when they find out that their insurance is canceled, which could lead to Ida evicting them from their own home and taking all of their belongings. The boys band together with Piama in support for Hal and Lois. However, upon learning that the family has no insurance, the lawyer refuses to aid Ida, who instantly tries to get on their good terms, but they kick her out of the house.
Season 1, Episode 6
Malcolm stays overnight at Stevie’s house. He convinces Stevie to sneak out to an arcade downtown, but Stevie’s wheelchair is stolen, and they have to find his wheelchair while dragging Stevie in a cart. Meanwhile, to prove that he is mature, Lois challenges Reese to give Dewey a bath and put him to sleep in exchange for being allowed to stay up late to watch a scary movie, but the task proves more difficult than he expected. Francis is hazed by a group of students, but tells them their tricks are amateurish to what Lois did to him, and the students decide to worship Lois.
14: If Boys Were Girls
Season 4, Episode 10
Hal asks Lois if she’d like the new baby to be another boy or a girl, but they are interrupted by the boys fighting. During a hellish trip to the mall with Hal, a fed up Lois imagines life with daughters instead of sons, with Reese as Renee (Mimi Paley), Malcolm as Mallory (Lisa Foiles), and Dewey as Daisy (Jennette McCurdy). Though the fantasy starts pleasantly, Lois soon discovers the problems with raising girls: Renee is promiscuous and pregnant by Mallory’s crush, Mallory is an egotistical brat and a liar on a clandestine diet, and Daisy is a master manipulator. The problems are made worse with the arrival of Frances (Christopher Kennedy Masterson), who had followed her male counterpart by rebelling against Lois and leaving college. The girls gang up and blame Lois for all of their problems, just as the boys had done earlier, making Lois realize that girls are just as difficult to raise as boys. In the real world, Hal desperately searches for the perfect Valentine’s Day present for Lois and settles for a baby’s outfit. Though the boys are well behaved for once and have thoughtfully bought a heart-shaped candy box, Lois still wishes for the new baby to be a girl.
13: The Bots and the Bees
Season 1, Episode 14
Lois visits Francis at military school after he has a medical emergency. Francis is upset when everyone else at the academy gets along well with Lois. Hal, no longer under Lois’ supervision, quickly regresses into his wild teenage persona. He resumes smoking, stops going to work, and lets Reese and Dewey get away with everything. Malcolm and the Krelboynes decide to enter a killer robot competition, but Hal takes over the project and builds a dangerous robot complete with a bee cannon, to the point that the boys end up launching the bees onto him to stop him.
Season 1, Episode 13
Malcolm becomes frustrated with Hal’s roller skating lessons and says “the F word” to his dad; Hal punishes him severely. Lois throws out her back by screaming too loud at Reese for tracking mud in the house and refuses to take painkillers until Reese sneaks them in her milk. At Marlin Academy, Francis fakes the same back injury to get out of a wilderness survival exercise at the academy, but is caught and forced to go on the exercise.
11: Traffic Jam
Season 2, Episode 1
The family is thrown out of the water park and banned for life. On the drive back, Hal lets a car overtake them, only for it to be hit by a truck, causing a massive traffic jam. Lois harasses everyone to clear the accident so they can get back on the road and cannot accept that things are beyond her control. Hal has an existential crisis when he realizes how easily it could have happened to them. Reese and some kids battle a man in an ice cream truck who refuses to sell to them. Malcolm spends the time with a smart, funny girl and is devastated to find out she lives in Canada. She tries to give him her phone number, but a vicious dog that Lois freed eats it. At the military academy, Francis tries to eat 100 candy quacks to settle a silly argument. Meanwhile, Dewey ended up lost in the middle of a corn field and is escorted home by a variety of people, arriving just before the family returns.
10: Reese Drives
Season 3, Episode 13
Reese gets his learner’s permit, but after a poor student named Jackie makes him miss his turn for a driving test, he steals the Driver’s-Ed car and ends up in a chase with the cops. However, he drives back to the driving course and makes a perfect score, impressing Jackie and his whole family. After allegedly throwing eggs on Craig’s house, Lois makes Malcolm clean it, but Craig framed Malcolm so he could have Malcolm’s help to set up his new home cinema. Francis makes several promises to different lodgers in order to fix a hole in the lodge’s roof, but when he can’t deliver, the angry lodgers come after him.
Season 7, Episode 22
In the series finale, as Malcolm struggles with his valedictorian speech, Hal finds out that the family may not have enough money to send Malcolm to college. Reese is moving in with Craig, and since they are both leaving, they decide that Jamie should have the childhood they never got—one free of threats. As such, they destroy the evidence of the worst thing they ever did: fake an X-ray of Lois having cancer to get away with bad report cards, a way to destroy each other if someone had nothing to lose. Francis finds the 9-to-5 job of his dreams but will not tell Lois, Reese becomes a janitor, Malcolm works his way through college, Dewey feels closer than ever to Jamie, and Lois discovers she’s pregnant again.
8: Water Park
Season 1, Episode 16
The family takes a trip to a water park. Lois and Hal sneak alcohol into the park, try to avoid the boys and have fun. Malcolm and Reese engage in an escalating war of pranks. After they spill Lois and Hal’s food and drink she catches up with them at the top of a giant water slide and berates them. Malcolm pushes her in, but she grabs both of them and pulls them down together, still yelling at them. Dewey was unable to go because of an ear infection and is left with a strict elderly babysitter (Bea Arthur), who later collapses and is taken away in an ambulance. Dewey chases a red balloon blowing around in the street. Spangler learns that Francis has been letting him win at pool to keep him in a good mood. Spangler threatens to punish Francis if he loses again, while the other cadets threaten to beat him up if he wins. When Francis misses an easy shot, Spangler starts trying to throw the match, resulting in both players trying their best to lose.
Season 1, Episode 1
11-year-old Malcolm (Frankie Muniz) lives with his dysfunctional family: neurotic father, Hal (Bryan Cranston), control-freak mother Lois (Jane Kaczmarek), dim-witted bully 12-year-old Reese (Justin Berfield), and odd 6-year-old Dewey (Erik Per Sullivan). His eldest brother, 15-year-old Francis (Christopher Masterson), has been packed off to military school for chronic misbehavior. At school Malcolm tries to keep his head down and avoid the school bully Spath, but his teachers spot his intelligence and testing reveals his I.Q. to be 165. When Lois forces him to join the school’s gifted class, Malcolm objects because he doesn’t want to be bullied for being a “Krelboyne”. Frustrated at being ostracized by the regular kids, Malcolm lashes out at Spath, and with some help from his new friend Stevie, fortuitously humiliates Spath and becomes the nerds’ hero.
6: Lois Strikes Back
Season 7, Episode 16
When four popular high school girls play an evil prank on Reese by pretending he has a secret admirer and then dropping a pig off at his front door, he falls into depression. Lois fails to negotiate with the principal, then forces Reese to tell her who the girls are so she can get revenge for him. Hal builds a pitching machine.
5: Red Dress
Season 1, Episode 2
Lois is supposed to meet Hal at an expensive restaurant for their anniversary date, but Lois forgets to go after she finds her red dress burned and flushed down the toilet, sending her into a violent rage. She spends the night punishing Reese, Dewey, and Malcolm, trying to figure out which of them burned her dress. Meanwhile, Hal makes friends with a member of the restaurant staff while waiting for Lois. Malcolm, seeing that he and his brothers cannot fight Lois alone, calls Francis for help against Lois. It is later revealed that Hal burned the dress by accident.
4: Dewey’s Opera
Season 6, Episode 11
When Lois buys a brand-new king-sized bed, Hal thinks that her motive is to put more distance between them and refuses to sleep in it. Moved to tears by an opera he sees on television, Dewey is inspired to write his own operatic masterpiece based on his parents’ quarrels, “The Marriage Bed”, which is turned into a school production. Malcolm and Reese build their own street luge board and Malcolm gets into a feud with a mystery rider who keeps forcing him off the road. When he makes a bet against the mysterious street luger, he is horrified to learn that it is Stevie and loses his bet. However, Stevie breaks both his arms in an accident. Jamie has his first crush, on a girl in a house across from the family’s, but the girl becomes attracted to another boy.
Season 6, Episode 10
When Lois catches the boys vandalizing a billboard for a strip club, Malcolm alters the vandalism into a women’s rights protest to avoid punishment, which sparks a colossal media circus. After Hal grants a TV interview, a woman from his past turns up at the faux protest. Reese, inspired by the giant billboard stripper who comes to life in his dreams, gives an impassioned speech about the objectification of women, while Lois tries to find a way to get the boys down without creating a wrath in front of the media. Eventually, Lois lies to the press that Dewey has a serious medical condition, and the police make them come down.
2: Burning Man
Season 7, Episode 1
Malcolm and Reese attempt to hitch their way to the annual Burning Man festival, but are caught. When Hal and Lois demand an explanation, Malcolm makes the event sound so interesting that they decide to make the trip as well and turn it into a family vacation. At the festival, everyone heads out to partake in the activities except Hal and Dewey; Hal is scared of the Burning Man attendants who mistake his bourgeois lifestyle as an ironical persiflage of society, while Dewey has to do all the chores around the RV. Reese and Lois fit right in at the festival, while Malcolm has sex with a healer (Rosanna Arquette). Reese is nominated to “burn the man down” which will bring the event to an end, but cannot accept that it has ended, and in his attempts to keep the weekend going he accidentally torches the RV. Hal and Dewey are forced to work “dirty jobs” to repay the RV, Malcolm ends up depressed, and Lois and Reese agree in secret to return the following year.
Season 2, Episode 20
In this Sliding Doors-style story, the viewer simultaneously sees what happens when the boys go bowling with Hal and what happens when they go bowling with Lois. In both versions, Malcolm and Reese go to bowl, while Dewey stays at home for killing the neighbor’s parakeet, with one of the parents guarding him. In both versions, when Hal/Lois return home from the bowling alley, they ask the other to take them next time. Alex McKenna guest stars.