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.
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.
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.