''Malcolm in the Middle'''s house -- A tour through the hit family comedy's set

”Malcolm in the Middle”’s house

Malcolm In The Middle creator Linwood Boomer’s mom was a little defensive when she first saw the set of her son’s semiautobiographical clan-of-nutjobs sitcom. ”She said, ‘My house was not nearly as messy,”’ remembers Boomer. ”There’s clutter and dirt, old sandwiches and plates — every inch of that set has something wrong with it.”

Achieving that certain Early American Disaster Area decor for the two-bedroom, one-bathroom structure took nine days, cost around $70,000, and required lots of thrift-store shopping. ”You throw in a whole truckload of stuff and the house just eats it up,” says the set’s leadman, Bill Fariello, whose crew was sent a memo urging them to bring in all their junk to fill up the atrocious abode. A second- hand sofa here, a turtle-shaped lamp there and… voila!… Malcolm’s home — based on Stage 20 of the CBS Radford lot in Studio City, Calif. — has a grime factor that’s unrivaled by any other pad on TV. So go grab your anti-bacterial soap, and come take our up-close tour of the dump.

The refrigerator is packed with empty food containers including stacks of Hungry Man frozen dinners and three different brands of ice cream. But the cast knows better than to snoop for snacks. ”It’s smelly!” declares Cranston of the unplugged appliance. The crew uses the fridge’s exterior as a gallery for crayon sketches drawn by their kids. But no one’s fessed up to contributing a subversive ”Secret Agent 420” sticker. (420 would be the street code for a marijuana bust.)

Although Malcolm matriarch Jane Kaczmarek describes the family’s mess hall as ”cluttered, dusty, and really lived-in,” underneath it all the kitchen’s a keeper. (In fact, when Kaczmarek, a self-described neat freak, recently remodeled her own home, she went in search of a GE enameled cooktop just like the one on the set.) And despite the detritus of a three-boy household, including spilled cereal, a constant overflow of dirty dishes, stale pizza crusts, and piles of newspapers (with mock stories created by the props department), this lower-middle-class galley is surprisingly inviting. ”We wanted to have a filthy mess and still have a place you wanted to be,” explains Boomer. ”We did that with nice warm lighting and colors that are flattering to the actors.” And for a family that isn’t afraid to walk around in the buff, that’s important.

Set decorator Kristin Peterson’s assistant found the copper Jell-O molds on eBay for a total of about $30 (they were $45 each at the local kitchen store). ”They’re a good shape,” says Peterson. ”And they sort of have that lower-income collector feel.”

Peterson gets plenty of help creating chaos in the kitchen. ”We’re constantly having food fights,” says Bryan Cranston, who plays Malcolm’s wacko dad. ”They get mad at us, but it’s sort of like anything goes.” Amid the flying Froot Loops, however, there’s still a nod toward civility. ”We have new place mats every episode,” points out Kaczmarek. ”I think it’s ridiculous, but I guess it’s the one concession they’ve made to make us look a little spiffy.”

The cramped quarters resemble a Toys ‘R’ Us after a category 5 hurricane. ”There are headless Barbies and G.I. Joes with both legs missing,” says Boomer. ”Thankfully, no one has tripped over anything and broken their neck.” A microscope and several National Geographic magazines speak to Malcolm’s studious side. ”He really fights not to be the kind of kid who’s a brainiac,” says Peterson, ”but I wanted to sneak a couple of things in that show he sometimes can’t resist.” At one time there was a chemistry set, but it got nixed from the set because the live chemicals were considered hazardous.

While the Super Soaker — sans water — is one of Frankie Muniz’s favorite distractions (”If you pump it up and (shoot) it, all this air comes out”), Kaczmarek likes to raid the books (which include such titles as Anne of Green Gables and The Clue of the Broken Locket, a Nancy Drew mystery) for her daughter. ”I bring them home and read them to her a couple of times,” says Kaczmarek. ”But if you write anything about that, you have to say that I put them back or else I’ll get in trouble!”

There’s little downtime for the boy actors who are constantly squeezing in algebra and world history between scenes. But Muniz (Malcolm) and Justin Berfield (Reese), both 14, make time to check out the new wheels in Mustang Illustrated and 5.0 Tech Guide. ”We’re going to be driving really soon,” says Muniz. ”So we’re always looking through the magazines like, ‘Let’s see what kind of cars we’re going to get.”’

The jars of frogs and cow brains floating in formaldehyde are favorites of the crew and actors. Kaczmarek admits to feeling ”at home” with the preserved body parts. ”For Christmas (five years ago), my husband (West Wing star Bradley Whitford) presented me with a big jar with a ribbon around it,” she says, giggling. Inside? Their dog’s castrated testicles. ”We have them on the bookcase in my husband’s office.” File that under Too Much Information!

Malcolm in the Middle
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