Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Glad to be stuck in the "Middle."

Remember my summer TV preview about new shows? Well, the pickings were pretty slim. Of the four shows that I thought might be interesting, I've watched two thus far, USA's In Plain Sight and last night, ABC Family's The Middleman. (Thus far, In Plain Sight is okay, mainly coasting by on the appeal of the lead character and her amusingly abrasive ways, but hasn't yet risen to the same level as the network's other cops and robbers shows).

When I tuned in to The Middleman last night, a few things instantly struck me:
  • The budget is somewhere in the neighborhood of community theatre, and they've taken this constraint and embraced it with a delightfully cheesy tone.
  • There are mouthfuls of dialogue being spouted by the characters, almost all of which is pop culture savvy and amusing.
  • Even the onscreen "setting" graphics are dryly funny: "the illegal sublet Wendy shares with another young, photogenic artist."
The basic premise of the show follows young slacker artist Wendy, who gets by on various temp jobs. After coolly encountering a monster during one of her gigs at a lab and being saved by a straight arrow "hero," Wendy finds herself recruited by a supersecret organization to be the apprentice to the hero, AKA "The Middleman."

The Middleman himself is your prototypical square-jawed hero, who often sounds like Ward Cleaver and likes to drink milk while solving "exotic problems" to fight evil, supplied with high tech gadgets by a mysterious benefactor. The "exotic problem" in the pilot gives you a taste of what's coming: the Middleman and Wendy must track down a genetically altered and brilliant gorilla who has watched too much gangster TV (The Sopranos, Scarface, The Godfather) and decides to take over the local mob. Yep, an intelligent monkey carrying around a machine gun being controlled by an evil (and deadpan) mad scientist, played by 24's Chloe.

The dialogue riffed on everything from comic books, to James Bond movies to the lyrics to "Shaft." And it was all delivered with a knowing (but not entirely smirking) poker face that perfectly straddled a difficult tone between satire and homage. The leads are extremely appealing, and The Middleman is a frothy, entertaining confection that's like a hybrid of The Tick and the old Batman TV series for a new generation.

Although I'm worried about the long term viability of the show (usually, things this geeky, smart and funny in an offhand way don't hit a huge demographic), I'm definitely on board for the ride. You'll want to check this out. If you didn't catch the premier on ABC Family, I'm sure they will repeat it, or I've heard rumors that the full pilot is available for free on iTunes.


  1. Thanks for the tip, sound good-especially when you compare it to The Tick-I will check it out. Our taste in TV seems to run on similar tracks except for your foray into the American Idol cesspool.

  2. I really enjoyed it. I kept wanting to write down about half the dialogue because it was so slyly amusing.

    And yes, it fits right in the regular "wheelhouse" with most of my other past and present viewing habits. (Good to know someone else has great taste!) ;-) And you're also right that Idol is the old "one of these things is not like the other" that sticks out. That's the only reality TV I watch (unless you call the occasional Mythbusters "reality").

    The Middleman is definitely high-concept, but geekily entertaining. I'll be interested to see what people think of the tone and execution.