Hal drinking Rum out of a lotion bottle he snuck into an amusement park. Still from Malcolm In the Middle, “Waterpark” (Season 1, Episode 16, 2000.)
Actor Bryan Cranston gained much success through the role of Walter White in Breaking Bad and since the ending of the show he has become a high profile actor. Although Breaking Bad received much acclaim and is even considered one of the greatest shows of all time, Cranston’s role as the offbeat father Hal in Malcolm in the Middle is often overlooked, perhaps due to the show being a comedy rather than a drama.
Although Malcolm in the Middle ran for seven years and was a critical success, the show was never reached immense commercial success. While all the characters certainly contributed to the show’s recognition, Cranston’s performance of Hal should be considered the breakout role of the show. The sitcom’s plot often relied on Hal’s crazy antics, and the actor’s energy and ridiculousness made him stand out, as the other characters on the show were unable to match Cranston’s amusing performance.
Hal often provided the comic relief of the show, with notable instances including quitting his job and turning the garage into an art studio, entering a Dance Dance Revolution Contest, and spending an enormous amount of time and dedication in teaching his son Malcolm to roller-skate. While the mother of the family, Louis, was stern and able to control of the house, Hal on the other, was chaotic, absent minded, and absurd.
A large shift from the traditional family sitcom which emphasized unity and conformity and the father served as a voice of reason and wisdom, Malcolm in the Middle revolved around a dysfunctional working class family, struggling to raise their trouble-maker children, who terrorized anyone they can. Although the family is well-aware that they are disliked by their entire neighborhood, they could not care less, especially Hal, who often does things to intentionally bother his neighbors.
Even though Cranston would go on to win four Emmy’s and a Golden Globe for the role of Walter White, producers were reluctant to cast him at first due to his performance in Malcolm in the Middle, being that it was entirely comedic.
Just because the show may not be as dark and serious as Breaking Bad, it did touch on important issues, such as being stigmatized due to class, the difficulties of being a socially outcasted, being financially insecure, and even providing a glimpse on the hardships of physical disabilities, as Schultz discusses in his chapter in the Sitcom Reader.
While Cranston’s role as Hal earned him just one Golden Globe and Emmy nomination, I think this role showed true comedic genius and is extremely underrated, as it helped launch the actor to stardom. At least some people seem to agree that Cranston’s performance as Hal was comic gold, and have even made mashups of the two series. ***WARNING: video contains spoiler content for Breaking Bad***