The Middleman
July 12, 2008

I know I’m about a month late, but that’s why I love TiVo. I just got a chance to start catching up on episodes of the Middleman TV show airing on ABC Family. I’d tried the first comic issue back when it was a free taste, and I enjoyed it, but I never kept up with it.

Middleman TV ad

I’m glad I checked this out. It stars newcomer Natalie Morales as Wendy Watson (or “Dubbie”) and Matt Keeslar as the square-jawed, straight-edge Middleman. Wendy is waving the flag for cute geek girls everywhere — she reads comics, plays video games, and wants to be an artist but has to work as a temp to pay the bills. At one of her jobs, she demonstrates such coolness under pressure (and instinct for self-preservation) when a mutant science project tries to eat her that she’s recruited into a secret agency that solves exotic problems. This first episode, it’s super-intelligent gorillas and mafia assassinations.

It was written by Javier Grillo-Marxuach, who also writes for Lost and Marvel and created the comic. That may be why it works so well. This is like a modern comic come to life: cool visuals, exciting action, and lots and lots of dialogue. They talk really fast. Really, really fast. (Definitely a rewind-and-rewatch show.)

The Middleman manages to be the perfect hero boy scout — always prepared to save the day — but is more than just two-dimensional. He’s immensely confident, competent, and even vaguely threatening without being obnoxious (as well as good looking, with that cleft chin). One of the supporting cast is a musician who seems to live in the hallway and speaks in mostly song lyrics. Another is a robot assistant named Ida with a mouth on her. And there are plenty of women on the show, running the range from artists to scientists.

The Middleman: The Collected Series Indispensability cover
The Middleman:
The Collected Series Indispensability
Buy this book

This is a show for geeks. It’s got adventure, imagination, and humor, and they take all three seriously. And the references! She calls the creature a “hentai tentacle monster.” When they talk comics, they name-drop Fell and The Spirit. A plot point turns on something the Joker said. Wendy quotes Planet of the Apes, and the visual look of the training sequence homages The Avengers (Peel/Steed, not Vision/Hawkeye). It feels like an updated Get Smart mixed with the post-modern approach of Pushing Daisies.

If you want to try the comic, due out later this month is The Collected Series Indispensability, which reprints all three collections so far at the price of two. There are preview pages of some of the comics at the Viper Comics website. The network doesn’t seem to be afraid of the comic connection — in the TV site store, they have listed, in addition to the usual logo merchandise, collections of Astro City, Flash, Mouse Guard (all mentioned on the show) and other series not mentioned (like Flight).

Mutants, robots, aliens, and magic all play a role in this series. It demands attention, which is ever rarer in television, but it doesn’t get caught up in its own mythology or punish you for not following it doggedly. I watched it twice for this review, and I noticed new things the second time through. I’m already salivating over the idea of the DVD set. I like it a lot. And now I have three more waiting for me.

24 Responses  
Ed Sizemore writes:  

I love this show too. It’s one of the few shows I’ve watched where I wish each episode was longer. I enjoy the characters so much, an hour a week just doesn’t seem like enough time.

Adam Arnold writes:  

When I first saw the trailer for this show when I was at the movies (don’t you love how they put commercials in theaters?), I wasn’t really impressed by it… but I watched the first episode out of boredom and enjoyed it. It wasn’t great, but it had a lot of promise. And each episode, it’s gotten better. I really enjoyed Episodes 2 and 3, and 4 was pretty solid as well. I like how they’re not just making this an episodic show, they actually have a long-term storyline in place.

Johanna writes:  

Cool, I have more to look forward to. After watching the second episode, I have a couple of very minor concerns — like they seem to have her wearing her glasses a lot less, and the credit sequence (Emma Peel-like low-cut tight jumpsuit) bears NO resemblance to what she actually wears in the episode (military-cut jacket, shirt and tie, sensible pants, same as the Middleman). But those, I’m sure, are Hollywood-dictated. The plots are still fun.

Johanna writes:  

After third episode, two thoughts: Cool, it’s the new Iron Chef! And we definitely need to see more of Tyler.

Lyle writes:  

I can’t remember where I read it, but I think she only wears the glasses when she’s not working… kind of a “Clark Kent” thing, indicating when she’s a civilian, not a hero. Whereever I read it, it was recent since I haven’t had the chance to watch the show with that in mind.

Johanna writes:  

Oh, duh! I should have caught that.

I was trying to find a picture of her in the glasses, but the official site only has the more glamorous snaps.

Rob S. writes:  

I was really surprised at how much I liked this series. What fun!

James Schee writes:  

Darn, I was going to watch this show but got busy and forgot it. Shoot, doesn’t look like the network puts the episodes online for free viewing either.

I guess I’ll wait for it to start repeating it, then do the DVR thing.

JE writes:  

Did a doubletake on the Avengers names. It would be Peel and Steed…

The series is shaping up to be great, though. Grillo-Marxuach seems to be sticking to his vision of the show with respect to the actual Middleman comic, so it’s all you’d expect.

That, and Sensei Ping!

Johanna writes:  

Oooh, my fingers got tangled. Fixed. Thanks! I’m glad other people are enjoying this too — I’d like to see it stick around.

Lyle writes:  

James, if the show gets a second season ABC Family usually does a marathon (or mini-marathon) around the season premiere. However, I don’t think there’s been a lot of continuity (except for some minor running gags which are still somewhat funny in isolation) so why not dive in with the next episode?

James Schee writes:  

Lyle, hmm I’ll do that then. I guess its my comic experience, though so many shows are like that now too, where if I didn’t see the first part I think I’ll be lost.:)

derektrainwreck writes:  

i’m suprised how much i like this show. its the perfect combination of plot, music, great characters, and great direction.

btw did anyone happen to notice any of the music in the show a few days ago? they played a song called “that town” by one of my favorite bands Layton. if you have a chance check out their myspace http://www.myspace.com/layton.

Johanna writes:  

The more I watch this show, the more I enjoy it… so of course I hear today that the ratings aren’t good and it may not be along much longer. So watch it, everyone!

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The Middleman is the most fun I’ve had in front of the TV in a long, long, long while. Snappy, smart, really funny, full of cultural references and a cast that just works.

I really hope the renew the show, I’m also one of those that don’t think it’s long enough.

Great job ABC, now keep it up and give us another season!

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