The Middleman: The Complete Series (2009, Shout Factory)
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Ready for some wholesome, butt-kicking goodness? Then you need to check out The Middleman: The Complete Series, the cult television series that aired on ABC Family in 2008. All 12 episodes have been released on a lovingly assembled four-DVD box set by Shout Factory that includes a payload of extras. Created by Javier Grillo-Marxauch, based on his Viper Comics Graphics novels (illustrated by Les McClaine), The Middleman is the type of show us comic book geeks love to death: Cool characters, sweet gadgets and gizmos, weird aliens and trips to the underworlds, plus enough laughs to keep us coming back for more. ThatÁ¢€â„¢s not to say that The Middleman isnÁ¢€â„¢t a show that canÁ¢€â„¢t be enjoyed by all. In fact, if youÁ¢€â„¢re a pop culture aficionado (and if youÁ¢€â„¢re reading this site, you must be), then you have to check out this series. Sadly, not enough people watched The Middleman when it originally aired (hence the cult status) and ABC Family canceled it after just 12 episodes. Boo!
Natalie Morales stars as Wendy Watson (Á¢€Å“dub dubÁ¢€ to her friends) an art school graduate trying to make ends meet by working as an office temp. She lives in an illegal sublet with her equally attractive artist best friend, an activist named Lacey (Brit Morgan). During a routine day temping at a laboratory, Wendy is on the phone when a science experiment goes horribly wrong and a slimy creature wreaks havoc. Suddenly a handsome, gun-wielding stranger shows up to dispose of the dangerous creature. He isÁ¢€¦ the Middleman (Matt Keeslar). Impressed by WendyÁ¢€â„¢s cool under fire and that she didnÁ¢€â„¢t freak out over the monster, the Middleman recruits Wendy to be his new colleague, his sidekick. As he puts it,
Á¢€Å“You know how in comic books there are all kinds of mad scientists and aliens and androids and monsters and all of them either want to destroy or take over the world? Well, it really does work like that.Á¢€
With its tongue firmly planted in its cheek. The Middleman is a hip, funny show filled with enough pop culture references to make your head spin and warrant multiple viewings. Keeslar and Morales zing one-liners back and forth like a seasoned comedy team. Keeslar plays his role so straight and gosh darn Mayberry sweet itÁ¢€â„¢s impossible not to root for him. Meanwhile, Morales is the perfect smart ass foil. Her Wendy Watson was raised on comic books and is aware of every sci-fi plot that ever existed, Wendy has an almost blasÁƒ© attitude about the incredible things sheÁ¢€â„¢s seeing and experiencing. Whether sheÁ¢€â„¢s sent to the underworld, thrust into a parallel dimension or shrunk to the size of a nanobot and placed inside an androidÁ¢€â„¢s brain, Wendy is cooler than John McClain in Die Hard (which is referenced throughout episode 11, Á¢€Å“The Clortharian Contamination ProtocolÁ¢€) and as tough as Snake Plissken. SheÁ¢€â„¢s a complex character, dealing with the unknown circumstances surrounding her fatherÁ¢€â„¢s death and having to deal with a worrisome mother. Wendy wants to be a good friend to Lacey, a good girlfriend to her hunky beau (Brenden Hines), yet still be able to save the world at a momentÁ¢€â„¢s notice. This is tough work!
Keeslar plays The Middleman (name unknown) as straight as Fess Parker in a coonskin hat. But donÁ¢€â„¢t write off Keeslar as a one note actor. As the Á¢€Å“mirrorÁ¢€ episode shows, he has a lot more range and can be just as sarcastic and mean as WendyÁ¢€â„¢s character. Keeslar brings so much charm to the Middleman, that heÁ¢€â„¢s the kind of hero you want your kids to worship. He does everything for the good of humanity and washes it all down with a glass full of milk.
The supporting characters in The Middleman have their own quirks, which make the interplay between them all so much fun to watch. Lacey could be just another whack job activist, but sheÁ¢€â„¢s also a really caring best friend and brainy blonde. Ida (Mary Pat Gleason) is the cranky old android who acts as a link between the Middlemen and the Middlemen program is like that honorary old grandma you never want to see on family reunions. While Ida has a soft spot for the Middleman, she looks upon Wendy as just another pothead and has no fear of telling her. And Tyler, WendyÁ¢€â„¢s good-looking musician boyfriend, an easygoing Brendan Hines, is like the perfect guy. He says all the right things, has a good heart, and wants to make the world a better place. As the series came to a close an Apple-type corporation that seemed a little too good to be true hired him. Too bad we’ll never see where that storyline went.
Acting and smart writing aside, the technical aspects of The Middleman are better than to youÁ¢€â„¢d think coming from a relatively small cable network like ABC Family. The music is snazzy, the camerawork and editing are nicely done, and the props look like something pulled from a great old science fiction movie. Sure, the effects look a little cheesy, but I felt that the show used that to its advantage. WhatÁ¢€â„¢s more, youÁ¢€â„¢ll be too busy laughing to notice how little money it seems the production had. Aside from a few naughty words thrown in and a scene or two with some provocative underwear, The Middleman is the kind of show any comic book reading, genre loving parent can sit down and watch with their child and have some fun together. Unlike so many action/adventure cartoons with superheroes, the emphasis isnÁ¢€â„¢t on the punches and guns firing, itÁ¢€â„¢s on the characters and plot.
Besides the enjoyable cast and crew commentary that accompanies multiple episodes, The Middleman: The Complete Series includes a fourth DVD of bonus features. Among these features are web featurettes, all 14 of the podcasts by creator Grillo-Marxauch, casting sessions, a table read of the final episode, plus much more. Together with the wonderful packaging by Shout Factory, The Middleman: The Complete Series is a jewel for any collector.