One last season’s summer shows, ABC Family’s The Middleman, had me at the tentacle monster and reeled me in at the gorilla gangster. Javier [call him Javi] Grillo-Marxuach’s series – adapted from the graphic novel that was adapted from an unsold TV script [still with me?] achieved something that no other comics-to-movies/TV has ever done – the pilot script contained somewhere in the vicinity of 90% of the script that Javi wrote in 1988. The result was a fast-paced, character-driven and pop culture-fuelled super saga of a hero and his brand spanking new sidekick as they saved the world from villains that appeared to have jumped out of the pages of a comic – which is exactly what they were!
The Middleman [Matt Keeslar] made his first appearance at a laboratory where a misbegotten experiment had created a hentai tentacled monster that had just grabbed temp receptionist Wendy Watson [Natalie Morales]. Wendy had not panicked, but had grabbed a letter opener and was stabbing at the tentacle that was pulling her toward the monster’s mouth. The Middleman [we never learned his name during the twelve eps of the series] invited her to interview for a position with the Jolly Fats Weehawkin Employment Agency [this after she lost her job because the Zippo lighter with the DC-3 engraved on it, that was her father’s [whose DC-3 crashed under mysterious and as yet unexplained circumstances], is thought to be responsible for the “gas leak” that destroyed the lab where she was temping [and, omigawd, I’m writing like the characters in this show speak!].
Of course, she doesn’t know it’s he who issued the invitation, and when she shows up, she finds herself interviewing to become an apprentice Middleman. Turns out that comic book style villains and monsters really exist [see aforementioned hentai tentacled monster] and The Middleman’s job is to fight them. Since the job isn’t long on prospects for retirement, each Middleman is expected to take on and train his replacement.
The rest of the series relates how Dubbie [as her boss calls her] learns to handle her new job while dealing with a boyfriend who breaks up with her so he’ll have some pain in his life [he’s at film school]; an equally photogenic artist roommate named Lacey [Brit Morgan]; their mutual friend, Noser [Jake Smollett]; the evil son of the landlord of the building where they live in an illegal sublet, and Ida [Mary Pat Gleason], the cranky receptionist/tech expert/robot that runs the Jolly Fats Weehawkin employment Agency office. From there, it’s a piece of cake: training with Sensei Ping [guest star Mark Dacascos]; fighting lucha libre wrestlers, boy band alien dictators, her evil self from an alternate universe and so forth.
The eps have titles like The Accidental Occidental Conception, The Sino-Mexican Revelation and The Ectoplasmic Pan-Hellenic Investigation – showing Javi’s fascination for the titles of Robert Ludlum’s novels [and maybe influenced just a tad by The Man From U.N.C.L.E.] – and each is an accurate summation of the week’s major problem [thereby stretching our imaginations both before and during each ep].
The series was shot is big shots with lots of action within them – like panels of a comic/graphic novel. The result is a rich texture that makes the series feel much larger than its budget should have allowed. The show’s pilot was shot by Jeremy Chechik and a giant yellow teddy bear from his movie, The Avengers, makes a cool cameo in the series. It was Chechik who developed the series shooting style.
Matt Keeslar does an excellent job as the true blue Middleman; Mary Pat Gleason’s Ida is delightfully curmudgeonly [her personality matrix is, apparently, stuck on “cranky librarian;” Brit Morgan’s Lacey is a lovably scatterbrained [and yet surprisingly intelligent] and contentious spoken word artist, and Jake Smollett’s Noser is the perfect balance to these livelier characters – laid back and very aware.
Except for Noser [most of the time, at least], everyone talks in a rapidfire, pop culture laden manner – and yet, each is a distinct individual. I would imagine that scripts for each one-hour episode must have run double, or even triple the usual fifty to fifty-five pages. I haven’t heard that much verbiage in a TV program since Moonlighting.
Besides giving us the twelve extremely fine episodes that comprise the complete series of The Middleman, Shout!Factory has packed the set with many, many features: four audio commentaries [Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Jeremy Chechik on The Pilot Episode Sanction; Grillo-Marxuach, executive producer Hans Beimler and stars Matt Keeslar, Natalie Morales, Brit Morgan and Jake Smollett on The Cursed Tuba Contingency; Grillo-Marxuach and writers Margaret Dunlap, Andy Reaser, Jordan Rosenberg and Sarah Watson on The Clotharian Contamination Protocol, and Grillo-Marxuach, Keeslar and Morales on The Palindrome Reversal Palindrome]; Five Web featurettes [Who Are The Middlemen?; The Middleman Set Tour; The Tech of The Middleman; From Script to Comic…; Varsity Fanclub Meets The Middleman]; Fourteen Weekly Javi-Casts [Javi’s weekly internet podcasts]; Gag Reel [funnier than the usual gag reel]; Two Alternate Scenes; Audition Footage [Natalie Morales, Brit Morgan, Jake Smollett, Mary Pat Gleason]; Three Opening titles Sequences; The Wilhelm Scream; The complete ‘The Palindrome Reversal Palindrome’ Table Read; Five ‘The Middleman-ager’ Podcasts; Five PSAs [Probes, DNA, Cheating Vampire Cows, Mother Nature; ‘Scream Yr Luv 4 Me’ Music Video, and the Ralph King Photo Gallery.
The set also includes a twelve-page booklet, Getting to Know Your Truth Bomb User Manual, which contains episode titles and teasers and a two-page introduction by Grillo-Marxuach. As an added little bonus, the back covers of the slimpaks [which are designed to look like The Middleman and Wendy’s personnel files] that contain the four DVDs feature four of the many fake ID cards used by The Middleman and Dubbie in their investigations – there are IDs for each for the following: U.S. Department of the Interior; Atkinson Memorial Insane Asylum; American Shrimp & Crab Processors, and the Mossad. Detail is everything…
Grade: The Middleman: The Complete Series –A
Grade: Features – A+
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