From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Eight Reasons You Should be Downloading the First Season of “The Middleman”

1. The Middleman. The milk-swilling superman (whose real name is as yet unknown) is a hero from another era – an era when “What the monkey?” counted as profanity. In between teaching protégé Wendy Watson the finer points of world-saving, he dispenses homespun advice like, “The next time we trap a rampaging pig-insect hybrid from another galaxy that accidentally gets loose in custody, you should shoot after it gets out of the car.” (Helpful advice, by the way.) As the Middleman, Matt Keeslar deftly establishes the tone of the show – right along the line between being the butt of the joke and being in on it. He inhabits the character so fully that it’s hard to imagine he’s not actually the Middleman, and in a show overrun with flying zombie trout, such verisimilitude can be hard to come by.

The Middleman and Wendy

2. Wendy Watson. An unhappy temp and frustrated artist, Wendy Watson is on the lookout for something better, and the man with an Eisenhower jacket might just have the job she’s been waiting for. She makes the transition from temp to paranormal crime-fighter with aplomb–right after punching out her boyfriend for filming their breakup.

Much has been made of Wendy Watson, and rightly so — her friendship with Lacey revolves around art, family, and work more often than it revolves around boys, which is a rare thing in television. She’s a Latina who is not the sassy-best-friend. She’s a young woman who is competent in her work, supportive of her friends, and cordial to her mother — which, sadly, is paranormal all by itself, and presents a heroine worth looking up to.

3. There’s no place like homage. From Reitman University to Beryllium Spheres, the Middleman is a well of pop-culture references that never runs dry. Drinking games have already sprouted up around the themed episodes (of which there are many – some are obscure, but even the casual viewer can spot Ghostbusters and James Bond with no trouble). For those who can’t tell their Joe 90 from a hole in the ground, creator Javier Grillo-Marxuach provides an episode-by-episode list of shout-outs on the Middleblog.

4. Technical support. Whether it’s Ida the irascible android assistant, Lacey the activist roommate, Pip the landlord’s insufferable poseur son, or Roxy Wasserman the ex-succubus fashionista, there’s never a dull character in Wendy’s life. Though Mary Pat Gleason and Brit Morgan give the slyest performances, knocking every line reading out of the park, there’s enough awesome floating around any given B-plot to make a steaming hot cauldron of awesome soup. (What? Awesome soup is delicious!) Often the show’s best world-building is done in these B-plots; while The Middleman and Wendy are wrestling zombie trout, Lacey is navigating the rough waters of Art Crawl and trying to keep Pip from delivering his hour-long performance piece “Hey Mr. God.” Warning: his performance scene will induce acid flashbacks in anyone who endured art school.

5. The writing. In a world populated by supervillains named The Candle and bitchy Underworld desk clerks, Titanic tuba players and evil-genius physics majors, the writers of The Middleman seem like the coolest kids in class suddenly given free reign to document their darkest dork desires. Though the tone can be uneven (a satire of Steve Jobs one episode, plastic surgery cracks the next), the feeling of adorkable adventure never wavers. Recurrent mortal peril has never been so much fun.

6. The Middleman and Wendy. In this case, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The Middleman and Wendy have quickly formed one of sci-fi’s best adventure teams, on par with Scully and Mulder (presuming Mulder ever exclaimed “My little pony!” when times got tough). Their partnership is based on mutual respect and genuine friendship, and though they’re more buddy-cops than longing-gazes, their chemistry effortlessly sells the show every week.

7. Your chances of influencing ABC Family are greater than your chances of influencing the election. The Middleman’s future is still uncertain (word’s out on the second season, and the first season was trimmed from thirteen episodes to twelve), so if you’re interested in the show, now’s the time to show support. All twelve episodes are available on iTunes for easy download, and though the table reads are no longer available on ABCFamily.com, they provide a weekly “Javi-cast“, during which Grillo-Marxuach answers fan questions and conducts behind-the-scenes interviews with writers, graphic designers, and more. At this point in the game they’re counting every page hit; Flowers for Algernon, what’s stopping you?

8. Did we mention the writing? The Middleman, when faced with a supervillain who’s left a trail of clues that add up to a palindrome: “Typical supervillain horse feathers. Can’t wait to hear this guy’s monologue. ‘I am the Palindrome. Feel my power. Power my feel. Palindrome the am I’. Peter piping weirdos.”

Genevieve Valentine is a writer in New York; her fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Byzarium, and Quarter After Eight, and she is an occasional columnist at Defenestration. Her appetite for bad movies is insatiable, a tragedy she tracks on her blog. She is currently working on a formula to evaluate the awfulness of any given film, a scale that will be measured in Julians.

Tagged as: