On a summer day in 2013, my brother and I made a trek to the San Fernando Valley to go see the house where “Malcolm in the Middle” was filmed. When we arrived, we saw that the iconic house had been replaced by a sleek, modernist cube. Nonetheless, we felt like we were standing on sacred ground. Growing up, we would joke that “Malcolm in the Middle” was our Torah and the cyclical reruns on Fox were our weekly Torah readings. Every time we would rewatch, we had a fresh interpretation. The Fox sitcom, airing from 2000 to 2006, was about a quirky suburban family relishing in mediocrity. Frankie Muniz starred as Malcolm—a neurotic, genius middle child with a penchant for breaking the fourth wall. Years after our failed pilgrimage to Studio City, my brother told me that two Australian teenagers had been making a podcast titled The Weekly Muniz, that was devoted to the lead actor’s life. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of regret that we didn’t think of this idea first.
Until I listened to “The Weekly Muniz,” I had assumed that other than my brother and I, nobody really bothered to do a weekly welfare check on Frankie Muniz’s IMDB page. Hayden Bleechmore, now 20, and Duncan Peat, 21, have been recording their podcast for the past two years in Melbourne, Australia. They grew up watching “Malcolm in the Middle” reruns on network TV, where it enjoyed a prime-time slot. The two met at a high school drama club, and later formed a comedy duo. Their first foray into Muniz-related content was “Agent Cody Banks 3: Trouble in Iraq”—a spoof trailer they made for a film studies class. While the obvious approach to a Muniz-themed podcast would be to ruthlessly mock his fall into obscurity, The Weekly Muniz does something a lot more special by taking a deep-dive into the minutiae of his existence—“Malcolm in the Middle” trivia, Muniz’s TV cameos, his open-wheel racing career, his social media presence, various rock bands he’s been in, and most recently, an appearance on “Dancing With The Stars.”
Though Bryan Cranston has clearly had a successful post-“Malcolm” career, the other actors have slid from A to B to D List, snagging small roles or quitting the entertainment industry altogether. Muniz’s career trajectory has been perhaps the most tragic. Once an up-and-coming, Emmy-nominated actor starring in films along Amanda Bynes and Hillary Duff, he languished into obscurity, only occasionally resurfacing with social media meltdowns or health crises.
But Hayden and Duncan are Muniz optimists at heart. Their podcast rests upon two elusive goals — landing an interview with Muniz, and getting people to champion his career. Each episode starts with Hayden and Duncan singing a song devoted to the actor. Within seconds, they start cackling. Ultimately, their show is an exercise in seeing how far they can stretch any topic—did you know that Muniz was the first person to ever get “Punk’D?” For episode 55, they spent 30 minutes discussing the 2001 film Dr. Dolittle 2 solely because Muniz voiced a bear cub in the film. In episode 29—“Fairly Odd Beef”—they analyzed Muniz’s recurring role as “Chester McBadbat” on the Nickelodeon cartoon “Fairly Odd Parents.” When I asked if they ever find it hard to come up with new topics on a weekly basis, Hayden remarked that he liked “the challenge” of doing something so granular.
Hayden and Duncan plan to record their podcast until Muniz agrees to do an interview with them. Even though Muniz has yet to accept their offer or even respond to their persistent social media requests, the podcast has already succeeded in uniting an unlikely fan base around the globe. One of Muniz’s many post-“Malcolm” projects has been pursuing a career as a drummer. In 2012, he joined Kingsfoil—a rock band based in York, Pennsylvania. Once claiming to be “the biggest Kingsfoil fan,” he left the group in 2014 because of “scheduling conflicts.” In September 2016, as an homage to Muniz listening to a Kingsfoil song 47 times in one sitting, Hayden and Duncan set up an internet challenge to see who can watch the music video for the Kingsfoil’s hit “What Your Momma Taught You” the most times. Hayden and Duncan watched it 48 times, while a couple in Scotland managed to sit through the video 53 times. Two Australians won the competition by watching it a whopping 60 times. Duncan reminisced about witnessing his podcast’s global impact. “It made it feel worth it to have fans that aren’t just our friends and my mum!”
The Weekly Muniz is arguably the first step to a C-Lister’s comeback—the memeing of a star. James Van Der Beek recently experienced a social media boost after a “Dawson’s Creek” clip of him crying got spliced into an infinite amount of memes, GIFs, and parodies. He now stars as Diplo on a comedy series for Viceland, a role that’s pretty much tailor made to tickle his millennial audience. Once a has-been accepts their ironic appeal, they open themselves up to numerous and potentially lucrative opportunities to capitalize on being in on the joke. It also gives them a chance to reclaim their narrative on their own terms.
A has-been hitting rock bottom and then succumbing to the vultures is now a well-worn cliché. It’s also ideal fodder for our cynical entertainment—shows like “I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!,” “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew,” and “The Surreal Life” unabashedly exploited washed up stars, purposefully putting them in uncomfortable situations. On the critically acclaimed Netflix cartoon “BoJack Horseman,” this nihilist trope is satirized and explored in depth. Throughout the show’s four seasons, BoJack, the anti-hero protagonist, goes to great lengths to try to separate himself from his past as a successful sitcom actor only to continuously mess his life up again. The ethos of the show is summed up in the theme song’s lyrics: Back in the 90s, I was in a very famous TV show!
As a finalist on “Dancing With the Stars,” Muniz is at an intersection of his career. Though he’s no longer working as an actor, he’s now on one of the highest-rated shows in the U.S. This might not be an Emmy gilded comeback but it sure has made him the most relevant he’s been in years. It’s now up to his fan base to let go of Malcolm and embrace Muniz for who he is now.
The Weekly Muniz gives us a chance to indulge in nostalgia while accepting the star’s contemporary status. The podcast exists in that coveted grey area between irony and sincerity: though Hayden and Duncan love to dissect every funny, often sad detail of Muniz’s life, they are definitely rooting for him. When I asked them if there’s any hope for Muniz, Duncan was straight to the point—“Um, fuck yeah he’s making a comeback big time.” Hayden echoed. “‘Dancing with the Stars has got to be one of the biggest shows in America, the comeback is underway!”