If it's crap ... We'll tell you
I recently sat down and watched and appreciated reruns of Malcolm of the Middle and I must say out of the last decade this has to be one of the funniest well written and well acted sitcoms to involve an extremely dysfunctional family. I think one of the most appealing aspects is the broad and complex characterization of the no last name family and the even broader slapstick which remind me of the Marx Brothers...or is it The Three Stooges?
To me, I find the two greatest comedy teams to be similar to the four brothers in the TV series. I want to take the time to compare and contrast Malcolm, Reese, Dewey, and Francis to likes of Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo, Moe, Larry, Curly, and Shemp. I want to see if the brothers' antics are witty, anarchic grandsons of the Marx Brothers or the dimwitted Three Stooges.
Ok, let's look at the brothers to the Marx Brothers. First let's look into the main brother of the two, Groucho and Malcolm.
They are the wisecracking and manipulative of the bunch and they repeatedly break the fourth wall in order to carry their point across.
However their motived couldn't be any different. Groucho seems to crash into high society and manipulate anyone in his path for his own motives that usually involve money. Malcolm's motivation is more complex, he's an egotistical genius who wants to lead a normal life, but thanks to his family and himself he never seems to achieve it. It is obvious though that both Groucho and Malcolm cannot go somewhere without hurling insults to everyone they set eyes on. They also however seem to outwit their opponents when luck is on their side if it means Groucho outwitting the entire New York Opera Company in A Night At The Opera (1935) or Malcolm outwit his teacher, Lionel Herkabe's system of teaching in the gifted class in the episode, Emancipation 3x02. However most of the time their schemes backfire in their face because they are so full of themselves. Another thing they have in common is their rocky relationships with women, in most of the films, Groucho always pursues and harass Margaret Dumont's high societal character and usually chase her because of her position and money and make snide remarks to her everytime he gets. And if she wasn't there he usually chase down some hot tail like Thelma Todd Malcolm, once again is complex he seems to date blonde women who are complete airheads I guess to be an opposite to his intellect, but even then he blows his chances.
Now let's look at Reese and Chico Marx.
These two are the dumb schemers of the group. Even though Groucho and Malcolm pronounce them as idiots, Reese and Chico usually out cons them like Chico conning Groucho at the races in A Day At The Races (1937) when Groucho tries to con Chico out of his money and Reese using the church donations for him and his brothers' selfish uses in the episode, Charity 3x05.
While Chico is not as violent as Reese he does have occasional fights with Harpo and both Reese and Chico usually team up with Dewey and Harpo when they go into a scheme that usually involves destruction.
Dewey and Harpo are the child like innocent in the group. They are also the most mischievous and also most misunderstood. They both crave attention as Harpo is the mute and Dewey is ignored by his parents and abused by his brothers. And like Harpo (who plays the harp), Dewey has a great ear for music as he play the piano and compose his own musical compositions. In my opinion, Harpo and represent the silent majority of America.
The fourth brother of the two groups, Francis and Zeppo are often the unsung heroes. They are both the straight men of the four brothers. However I think this is were the similarities end as both personalities are vastly different. Zeppo is the well behaved straight laced gentleman who takes Groucho's insults like a man. Francis however is a complete rebellious troublemaker who has misadventures when trying to one up his mother, Lois. Even though they are different from each other, Groucho and Malcolm still rely on their council every once and a a while. If anything Francis and Zeppo provide some sort of sanity in a world of madness around them. And much like Francis's subplot misadventures from his family. Zeppo after the failure of Duck Soup (1933) retired from the group and started his own acting agency. (also on a side note, the real life Zeppo was more like Francis than his one dimensional screen persona.)
Comparing the four brothers to the Marx Brothers seem like the obvious choice, but at times the brothers in Malcolm in the Middle can be very broad in the slapstick and the violence. So one would ask they be more similar to the Three Stooges? Well let's look into the chaotic trio and find out.
I think if there is one of similarity the two shows share is that they are underrated in comedy. I want to say that Malcolm was never the breakout hit like say, The Simpsons or All In the Family or even Roseanne. Still to this day there is only one season of the show has been out on DVD.
It is admired by fans but has never gotten the recognition it deserved. While the Three Stooges has a much bigger fan base than Malcolm In The Middle they are still not appreciated by the critics and the entertainment industry. The Ted Okuda/Edward Watz-penned book The Columbia Comedy Shorts puts the Stooges legacy in critical perspective:
"Many scholarly studies of motion picture comedy have overlooked the Three Stooges entirely—and not without valid reasoning. Aesthetically, the Stooges violated every rule that constitutes "good" comedic style. Their characters lacked the emotional depth of Charlie Chaplin and Harry Langdon; they were never as witty or subtle as Buster Keaton. They were not disciplined enough to sustain lengthy comic sequences; far too often, they were willing to suspend what little narrative structure their pictures possessed in order to insert a number of gratuitous jokes. Nearly every premise they have employed (spoofs of westerns, horror films, costume melodramas) has been done to better effect by other comedians. And yet, in spite of the overwhelming artistic odds against them, they were responsible for some of the finest comedies ever made. Their humor was the most undistilled form of low comedy; they were not great innovators, but as quick laugh practitioners, they place second to none. If public taste is any criterion, the Stooges have been the reigning kings of comedy for over fifty years."
They have not received any serious scholarly study on their brand of humor like say Charlie Chaplin. Actually that's not true they did received pne serious study in a book called Stoogeology: Essays on The Three Stooges Edited by Peter Seely and Gail W. Pieper that was released in 2007.
Another similarity is the violence that each group portray. While the Stooges' violence is more frequent and more cartoonish, Malcolm has it share of violent moments. In fact I believe that is why the channel, FX gave the show a 14 rating one time, because of the fighting that Reese, Malcolm, and Dewey do. When the reruns ran on Nick at Nite the rating dropped to a rating PG-L-V.
Now let's look at character similarities, we'll first look at Reese and Moe. There is no denying that Reese and Moe share common similarities. Essentially they are both bullies, but I think their motives are different. Moe bullies the Stooges around so he can be the leader and the brains of the group (even though he's just as or more so, destructive and stupid as the other two). Reese however just like to be bad just for the fun of it and sometimes bully his brothers to let them know he can do it, but Malcolm at times seems to override his tyranny.
This leads into Malcolm and Larry. Somehow at first glance it seems very unlikely because of the physical looks and the mental capacity they both differentiate. However they are both the middlemen of the three. However while Larry is a total doofus and a follower to the mayhem, Malcolm questions Reese's or Dewey's ambition with logic even though his smarts can be just as useful to Larry's brain size. If anything Larry and Malcolm represent the ego of their groups always skeptical for one time when hearing Moe's or Curly's schemes. (Ironically, Larry has his first and only starring role in the first Stooges short for Columbia, Women Haters (1934) in a sort of predicament that Malcolm would get in an episode of MITM.)
Well I covered the main three brothers, but what about Francis? I’m going on a limb and state that Francis is more like Shemp. Both are mischievous laid back sort of guys who are more worldly and a bit cynical than their brothers, Dewey and Curly. This comparison would fit Francis because of all the traveling he does throughout the seven seasons. The people that Francis meets could fit in easily in a Three Stooges two reeler. Just like Shemp, Francis could be quite cunning to his adversaries including his obsessive, overbearing mother!