Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Middleman

Entertainment Weekly recommended that I watch it, so I did. Boy, was it a painful start. Stilted dialogue, blind acting. It sort of had the air of "Gee, I wonder if anyone will really buy this pilot." But slowly, things did pick up and get better. The setup or the plot doesn't really matter. The show is based on the comics of Javier Grillo-Marxuach and it's a kind of Men in Black must-stop-the-weird-stuff-and-protect-humanity action show. According to the Wiki article, the comic book series was intended to be a television series but got hijacked into a comic book series and is now a television series. On ABC Family. Makes sense to me. From the Wiki article I get the idea that Grillo-Marxuach wanted to cram in as much stuff as he could from every TV show and movie he ever liked. Okay, that's fun, until you trip on the zillionth cultural reference and you wonder, hey, where's the show? Is there a show?

What they did right was in the casting. Natalie Morales as Wendy Watson and Matt Keeslar as The Middleman are fun to watch and even have a bit of chemistry together. And boy, can Natalie deliver rapid-fire dialogue. But what's with the dialogue? You've got the rapid-fire delivery of a 30s screwball comedy with the inane content of a 60s adventure series like Batman. But what you don't have is the sophistication and wit of the 30s screwball comedy nor the languid, sultry rhythms of the 60s shows like The Avengers so it's like taking a bite out of a blueberry-arugula muffin.

The Middleman can get a lot worse or a lot better. I hope it gets a lot better. But it needs something more, something unique that has the potential to become a cultural reference of its own. Otherwise it's just a visual card catalog.

I think you can still watch the pilot at the ABC Family website.


Geoff said...

The best part of watching the pilot was playing "name-that-influence" bingo. Here's what was on my card by the end:

x - Buffy
x - Batman (60's TV series)
x - Get Smart (60's TV series)
x - Coneheads (SNL skit)
x - Men in Black
x - Dr. Who ("resuscitated" version)
x - The Avengers (very unsubtle!)
x - Ghost Busters
x - Scrubs (recurring character gags)
x - Ugly Betty
x - Heroes
x - Brazil

. . . and no doubt I missed a few. It was probably the most mashed-up "mash-up" I've ever watched!

I wanted to give up on it several times but couldn't. I'll give it a few more episodes to see whether it implodes or finds its footing. After all, I hated Scrubs when I first watched it . . .

TV Kitty said...


Geoff said...

Just finished watching episode two. Seems I need to add a few more:

x - Torchwood
x - Dragnet (TV series)
x - Get Smart (TV series)
x - Twin Peaks
x - Kill Bill
x - Sabrina, the Teenage Witch

I think I'm headed for a Bingo blackout.

BTW my money is still on: "imploding".

Geoff said...

Oops, had "Get Smart" twice . . .

Geoff said...

I'm not including the T2 reference as it was a give-away.

TV Kitty said...

Just when I think I'm out, you pull me back in!

Geoff said...

Me again. Just finished watching episode three. The list of influences is starting to tail off, but there are two more to add:

x - Green Hornet -- Sensei Ping (Mark Dacascos) reprises "Kato" -- could it be more blatant?
x - My Name is Earl -- Noser (Jake Smollett) plays a version of the "Crabman"

TV Kitty said...

Doesn't this exercise make your face hurt? Anyway, I'm sure Noser is another reference. Like something out of a commercial to me. Probably Gen X stuff. BTW, what happened to Ben, the film student/boyfriend? Didn't they make up or something in the first episode?

Sad to say, things aren't really getting any better. In fact, the more they try to flesh out the characters, the more things taste flatter than a week-old can of soda. Ida really isn't working for me. And wow, the gang can't act. The last episode was like watching tryouts for a high school play. I think that's the big difference between Middleman and, say, Miss Guided. Miss Guided is in the same spirit but there's a whole lot more acting going on. If the crew of The Middleman was going to focus so little on the acting, maybe they should have just made it into a cartoon.

Geoff said...

> Doesn't this exercise make your face hurt?

Yes, but it wouldn't be a hobby if it didn't hurt.

> I'm sure Noser is another reference. Like something out of a commercial to me.

I can't find the Youtubage to support it, but I think the similarities are unmistakable

> Sad to say, things aren't really getting any better.

Agreed. It's controlled flight into terrain.