They tell why this season will include underage gambling and beating up clowns
Frankie Muniz, Justin Berfield, ...
Credit: Malcolm: Saeed Adayami

A dysfunctional family sitcom seen through the eyes of an 11 year old genius? Nah, it’ll never work well enough to rescue a network from the Nielsen dumpster. But that’s pretty much what happened last winter when Fox’s ”Malcolm in The Middle” (Sundays, 8:30 p.m.; Wednesdays, 8:00 p.m.) hit the air. The show’s second season debut on Nov. 5 wasn’t too shabby, either, netting 15.5 million viewers. cornered a few of the ”Malcolm” stars (Bryan Cranston, Jane Kaczmarek, Frankie Muniz, and Erik Per Sullivan, along with series creator Linwood Boomer) to preview what familial fiascos await viewers this year, and to hear them talk (with a heaping dose of sarcasm) about their lives as ratings winners.

You guys are returning to the schedule as a big ol’ surprise ratings hit. Does it feel any different?
Bryan Cranston (dad Hal): Lemme tell you something about the hazards of being a big fat TV star. Sometimes the limousine doesn’t show up on time and you have to drive yourself. Oh yeah. Occasionally, the wardrobe is not exactly correct; there might be a button missing or something. That’s when I blow my top. Next thing you know, there won’t be any fruit smoothies on the set or something. You can’t tolerate that kind of thing.
Jane Kaczmarek (mom Lois): Nobody recognizes me. My husband (Bradley Whitford) is on ”The West Wing” — everybody recognizes him. I can’t tell you, there are times when we’re in places and people are going, ‘Oh, Brad, Brad, Brad!’ and then they look at me and they say, ‘Hello.’ My theory is that I think they’re afraid I’m going to yell at them.
Frankie Muniz (Malcolm): There’s a lot of people that used to sort of be my enemy. They used to beat me up and make fun of me, and all of the sudden I’m like their show and tell. They’re like, ‘Oh yeah, come and meet my friends!’ So it’s sort of weird like that but, you know, it’s okay.
Erik Per Sullivan (youngest son Dewey): I’ve gotten a lot more attention and I mean a LOT more. [Kids] want to shake my hand: ”I’m never going to wash this hand again!”

Was it amusing to see the amount of press coverage last year about ”Malcolm” ”saving” Fox?
Linwood Boomer: I thought it was completely overblown. We always made the joke, ‘Yes, I saved comedy.’ You know, I woke up one morning and said, ‘Hey, no one’s saved comedy yet! Why hasn’t someone saved comedy? Boy, I’d better get on it! Next year, I’m working on cancer.’

In the Nov. 12 episode, the family beats up a pack of clowns after one of them insults Lois. Why clowns?
Boomer: If anything, it’s a public service to everyone in America. What I’m trying to figure out is, who likes clowns? It’s like this giant scam that’s been foisted on the American public. No one likes clowns. Anyone I’ve told that the family beats the snot out of a bunch of clowns, says ‘Good!’ I haven’t had a single person say, ‘Clowns? Why are you beating up clowns?’
Cranston: I think it’s important to emphasize the family unit, and what’s better than having a family all go out together and beat up a group of clowns? There’s nothing more wholesome, more heartfelt. The family that fights together stays together, you know.

How about some other plot teases? Doesn’t Malcolm wind up with a girlfriend?
Muniz: The only thing I can say to that is, let me pick her. I mean, I want to be happy…. My last [on screen] girlfriend was six years younger than me and that was a little weird.
Boomer: It’s not going to work out super well for him. It’s going to be very difficult in true ”Malcolm” fashion…. We have Malcolm abandoning his friends to go do a high school play, which, of course, turns out horribly… Lois is held up at gunpoint, taken hostage, while the boys are busy dealing with a houseful of bats.
Kaczmarek: We go to a convention, and I yell a lot at Hal because he keeps beating up this guy… They keep beating each other up and I turn a hose on him to stop them.
Cranston: In another episode, we go to an Indian gambling casino for a little vacation. And I don’t do too well at playing cards until Malcolm tells me he can count the cards for me. So we start to use his genius and I bet and we win a lot of money. However, we have to give it back when we get caught. Lots of wholesome family entertainment. You use your underage child to cheat to try to win money — that’s bonding right there.

Malcolm in the Middle
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