Muddled times for ‘Malcolm’ clan

Times Staff Writer

With a baby on the way and sociopathic Grandma Ida paying a visit, the tumultuous Wilkerson clan has its hands full Sunday in the first of a two-part “Malcolm in the Middle” (8:30 p.m. on Fox; 9 p.m. next week for Part 2).

Introducing an infant to a series is a time-honored sweeps tradition in the television ratings wars, but it’s Cloris Leachman as Ida who steals the show tonight. Resurrecting glimmers of her unforgettable turn as Frau Blucher in Mel Brooks’ classic comedy “Young Frankenstein,” Leachman terrorizes everyone she comes across after she arrives, ostensibly to see her daughter Lois (Jane Kaczmarek) through the final days of her pregnancy. But Lois is aghast at Ida’s appearance, and it isn’t long before we see why.

Grandma arrives puffing furiously on a cigarette and proceeds to burn a hole in the sofa, insultingly refers to Wilkinson daughter-in-law Piama (Emy Coligado) as the maid, and attempts to castrate Piama’s husband, Francis (Christopher Masterson). And that’s in the opening few minutes. Later, she awakens from a nap and shouts out, apparently still in dreamland, “Take the children, let me live!” It’s Leachman at her best.


But after finding out that the baby will be coming a little sooner than expected, the menfolk have their own problems to worry about. Determined to have one last bonding moment before the new addition comes, Dad (Bryan Cranston) decides to take Malcolm (Frankie Muniz) and his brothers to a car show. It turns out Dad has his dates mixed up and they arrive to find a bridal expo underway. But with the parking fee he just paid weighing on his mind, Dad insists they make the best of it and, of course, things couldn’t turn out worse.

This well-written, solidly performed series is as close to a live-action cartoon as you can get, and when it’s clicking on all cylinders as in Sunday’s episode, it’s a joy to behold.