We all grew up with those shows that our mothers disapproved of, especially those of us who grew up in conservative, Christian homes. For a lot of my friends, it was SpongeBob. Their mothers thought the show was stupid, that it would make their kids stupid, and anyone who watched it was stupid. My mother watched a few episodes of the show and came to the conclusion that it was harmless. The topics and themes being discussed in each episode were innocent and silly enough that she was confident they wouldn’t mentally handicap us in the future. (Now, I have some friends who point out all the sexual innuendo that was underlying each episode and I’m horrified. Still, I stubbornly believe that if you watch SpongeBob with the innocence of a child, it’s a decent show about friendship and adorable sea creatures. At least, the first few seasons are. I stopped watching after season 6, I think…) What SpongeBob was for most mothers, Malcolm in the Middle was for mine.
Francis, Reese, Malcolm, and Dewey were always getting themselves into trouble, hurting each other, hurting the people around them, or financially crippling their parents in one way, shape, or form. They were disrespectful to pretty much everyone; they couldn’t seem to behave even in front of complete strangers. My mother was convinced their terrible behavior would somehow rub off on us kids. It also bothered my mother how much Hal and Lois had sex on the show. She admitted that it was important for a married couple to continue being intimate throughout their married years, especially after they had children. She just didn’t like the fact that they showed us the passionate make outs and the half naked clips.
Despite her reservations, Malcolm in the Middle always seemed to air before SpongeBob did, right after we came home from school. So when we turned on the TV to watch SpongeBob, we usually caught the last few minutes of an episode of Malcolm. I ended up seeing enough of the show to realize that it had its moments of hilarity but was, essentially, ridiculous. I’d never known a family that was as disruptive as theirs. I didn’t think it possible in the real world. Plus, if we caught a scene with the parents making out, we could always change the channel and check back later to see if SpongeBob had started. In reality, it was not as big a deal as my mother made it out to be. But she is our mother. She is always going to try to protect her kids from the big bad world, and I’m thankful for that even if it does make me roll my eyes or think her a little silly at the time.
Now, as an adult, I’m watching Malcolm in the Middle with my husband.
It all started after we finished the latest season of Dr. Who. It was rumored that a tenth season would be coming out, but there wasn’t anything posted on our favorite streaming site. We were caught up with Hawaii 5O, had already finished Sherlock, weren’t really in the mood for Supernatural or Burn Notice, so we started brainstorming. What shows were readily available? What shows were we curious about? What were we in the mood for? Somehow Malcolm came up. I think it was thrown out there as a joke but, after thinking about it for a bit, we thought: “Why not? We’re adults now. We can watch whatever we want.” (Always a surprising realization for me.) “Plus, if we don’t like it, we can always stop watching,” we reasoned. So we started the show.
It turns out, we really like it. (Sorry, Mom.)
My husband grew up in a house full of boys. They weren’t nearly as devious as Malcolm and his brothers, but my husband can relate to and appreciate a lot of the shenanigans the boys get into in the show. I mostly laugh and shake my head, and murmur, “We’re not going to do that when we have kids” or “We’re not going to let our kids get away with that” or “If my son does anything like that…” or “I hope we have girls.” It’s both nostalgic and educational…now that we’re adults.
I don’t think I could really appreciate this show as a kid. I couldn’t relate to the boys because my siblings and I were “good kids.” I couldn’t relate to Hal and Lois because I had no idea what it was like to be a parent. (I don’t have kids so, technically, I still don’t know what it’s like to be a parent but after many a late night conversation with my mother, mother-in-law, and other relatives with young children, I’m starting to get a better picture of what parenting is going to be like.) The things the parents go through on the show (being bullied by a car salesman, freaking out because they misplaced their paycheck, wanting to get away and do something nice for themselves only to have the event ruined for one reason or another) are things I can relate to now because of my life experiences. Now, I can watch these kids get into trouble and wonder how my parents would have handled a similar situation with me. Now, I can watch these kids plot against their mother and wonder how I can avoid having that kind of relationship with my future kids. Now, I can wonder at the things little boys think about and look forward to the random thoughts or actions or ideas of my future sons. Now, the things happening on this show are relevant to me.
Isn’t that funny? This show is supposed to be for kids and preteens, but here we are, enjoying it as adults. It’s still pretty ridiculous how much trouble Malcolm and his brothers get into, and I sometimes wish we had less information about the parents’ sex lives. But I can handle it now because I’m an adult. It’s kind of cool how a show that’s been over for almost ten years is still teaching and making people laugh today.