Middleman, The

Tagged: TV

US tv series (2008). Created by Javier Grillo-Marxuach for ABC Family. Producers include Grillo-Marxuach, Shane Keller, and John Ziffren. Directors include Jeremiah S Chechik and Michael Zinberg. Writers include Grillo-Marxuach, Les McClaine, and Andy Reaser. Starring Matt Keeslar as The Middleman, Natalie Morales as Wendy Watson, Brit Morgan as Lacey Thornfield, Mary Pat Gleason as Ida, and Jake Smollett as Noser. 12 one-hour episodes produced.

Based on the Comic-book series by creator Grillo-Marxuach, this charming but short-lived series is, like Futurama (1999-2003, 2010-2013), a zany, off-the-wall comedy that spends as much time poking fun at science fiction as it does telling science fiction stories. Art school graduate and office temp Wendy Watson is recruited by the eponymous Superhero, a clean-cut, clean-spoken, clean-living throwback to the square-jawed protagonists of 1950s comic strips, to be his sidekick, and must balance her bohemian lifestyle with the demands of her new job, which throws her in the path of Alien invaders and Mad Scientists. A comics sensibility pervades the series, from Wendy's alliterative name to its hyper-realized visual style to the slight hamminess of its dialogue, but all of these elements are leavened with a knowingness that gives this deceptively lighthearted series a surprising heft. Keeslar, for example, ably conveys a sense that there is more to his character than meets the eye, and that his wholesome persona is simultaneously a performance, a principled stance, and a joke. The series' breakneck dialogue, rife with repetition and alliteration, quickly transcends Parody and becomes its own artistic achievement, and the references it makes to beloved staples of science-fictional and geekish interests, from Doctor Who to Die Hard, are often hilarious and clever (when a character frozen since the 1960s makes a reference to Star Trek, for example, he immediately apologizes, assuming that Wendy and her boss will not be familiar with this long-cancelled television series). The series is also notable for the refreshing maturity with which it treats the relationships between Wendy and The Middleman, between Wendy and her increasingly suspicious best friend Lacey, between Wendy and her boyfriend Tyler, who is neither intimidated by her independence and strong will nor willing to define himself by her achievements, and between Lacey and the lovelorn but cautious Middleman.

Despite these qualities it is perhaps understandable that a series as quirky as The Middleman should have failed to find an audience (especially when pitched to ABC Family's younger viewership, for which the show, comic-book sensibility or no, was decidedly unsuited). Its cancellation was so abrupt that the production could not even film the season's final episode, which reveals much about the Middleman's history and brings to a head the conflict between him and Wendy and their arch-nemesis, Manservant Neville (Mark Sheppard). The show's cast performed a reading of the episode's script to an enthusiastic audience at the 2009 San Diego Comic Con (a recording is included in the show's DVD), and the story also appeared as the concluding volume in the comic-book series. [AN]

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