Thanks in part to his role as Walter White on Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston is recognized as one of the top actors of all time. The story of a chemistry teacher turned drug kingpin in Albuquerque, New Mexico gripped fans for five seasons on AMC, and made Cranston a household name. But before he became the one who knocks, Cranston was best known for his comedy work which included appearances on sitcoms like Third Rock From The Sun and Seinfeld. But his funniest role was as Hal, the bumbling, emotional father on Malcolm in the Middle. Both parts were amazing for entirely different reasons.
The focus of Malcolm in the Middle was intended to be Malcolm, the brilliant and gifted middle child of Hal and Lois. But over time, the characters that people tuned in to watch were actually Hal and Lois. Their dynamic was the source of much of the comedy, with one being the yin to the other’s yang. As funny a character as Hal was, he wouldn’t have been anywhere near as enjoyable without Lois balancing him out and vice versa.
WALTER WHITE: Serious
“Funny” is not a word that one would use to describe Walter White. “Scary” or “deadly serious” would be far more apt terms for the man who cooked some of the most sought after meth in the history of the drug. He was also feared by others, becoming a surprisingly creative murder in defense of his family and his empire.
White rarely laughed throughout the series, and certainly did not make others laugh. But that’s what made him so engaging as this seemingly regular guy took this insane situation so seriously.
As an employed father with initially four children in the pilot, and a sixth announced in the finale, Hal was actually quite relatable. He was a loving, caring father and husband but was also extremely indecisive and quite anxious. Lois made most of the decisions. Without her, there’s a decent chance Hal would have died of exposure. While these traits are amplified for comedic effect, most parents have experienced similar feelings on some level. Fathers in particular could connect with Hal.
WALTER WHITE: Unsympathetic
While Walter’s journey started from a sympathetic place after a terminal cancer diagnosis, that aspect of the character quickly fell away. As he disappeared deeper and deeper into the pit he’s dug for himself, it became apparent that there’s no way out for him.
Even worse, he didn’t actually seem to want out. Walt appeared to enjoy being Heisenberg to an extent, and everything that came with it. Once he reached that point, he became a brilliantly unsympathetic protagonist who fans simultaneously wanted to succeed and fail
HAL: Not So Classic Sitcom Dad
Sitcom dads are a bit of a common trope but what made Hal standout was that he wasn’t so common. The way he approached the world was quite different from what fans were used to seeing from this type of show. Hal was far more uncertain and more emotional, but less of an alpha male type. If he had a daughter, he wouldn’t have been the guy at the door threatening her date. He was more interesting than that.
WALTER WHITE: Driven By Family
Walter’s decision to cook and sell meth came to him after being told he was going to die of cancer soon. Becoming Albuquerque’s number one purveyor of meth was an attempt to provide for his family after he was gone.
It had the potential to be a successful, though still criminally insane, plan. While he shows it in a strange way, Walt’s devotion to his family was one of the few aspects of his character that was truly relatable to people.
If you watched Malcolm in the Middle, you couldn’t help but love Hal. The man was endearing, which was one of the reasons Lois fell for him in the first place. Well, that and his barely manageable sex drive. The man was a lover, not a fighter. His charms weren’t lost on the audience, either. They found him to be the kind of guy you wouldn’t mind spending the good portion of a half hour once a week with.
WALTER WHITE: Unsettling
Here’s the truth about Walter White. The guy was scary. A high school teacher went to being a full blown murderer and drug kingpin virtually overnight. For the transition to be as quick and as smooth as it was, the aspects of Walter White that came to be known to the DEA as Heisenberg were always lurking there.
He was just finally pushed hard enough into making good use of them. It’s unsettling to think that Heisenberg was lurking inside of Walt for five decades on some level, waiting for its moment to break out.
HAL: Breakthrough Role
While Cranston never won an Emmy for his work on Malcolm in the Middle, he was nominated several times. He had been an actor for decades, with parts in several big dramas and comedies. But playing Hal was, without question, his breakthrough role. It was the one that made fans and critics sit up and take notice of him, the one that made him a name. Without Hale, the rest of Cranston’s career would have unfolded a lot differently.
WALTER WHITE: Career Defining Role
Reputedly, it was a one time part on The X-Files that made Vince Gilligan, who worked on the series, think of Cranston for Walter White. The rest, as they say, is history. Walter White is now regarded as one of the greatest TV characters of all time, and that is thanks to Cranston’s difficult and nuanced performance. Playing an unsympathetic anti-hero is never easy but Cranston sure made it look that way.