Best TV Series That You’ve Never Heard Of: The Middleman – Clean living was his credo and justice was his bride…
Of all of the things I foresaw myself doing in the Summer of 2008, none of them included watching ABC Family at all. It was a network that had never hit my radar, probably because most of the shows were aimed at a far younger audience than I was with premises that did not correlate with my viewing preferences. That all changed when a YouTube promo for a new series titled The Middleman found its way onto my computer screen. It was different than the vast majority of what ABC Family had to offer. More than that, it was refreshingly different than anything else on network TV at the time as well. The Middleman was its own beast, living in its own space on a network that fully believed in the concept… even though that concept didn’t really fit in with the rest of their programming. To their credit, ABC Family is the only reason that a filmed version of The Middleman exists, and for that I am eternally grateful. Here’s a trailer for the full series on DVD to give you a taste of The Middleman experience:
Why is The Middleman awesome? Oh man… do you have a few hours to read about my love for The Middleman? OK, me neither. That sounds like way too much typing, but I will condense it down into a handful of handy dandy bullet points!
- The Middleman is a breath of fresh air. Everything about the show feels unique, exciting, and unexpected. There is a quirkiness to the series that you not only buy into, but crave as the minutes of each episode fly by. You want more pop culture references! You want more insane shenanigans! You want more witty banter that pokes holes in tropes! You want more Middleman, plain and simple and why wouldn’t you? There are ghosts, luchadores, succubi, space aliens, sentient possessed puppets, boy bands, alternate realities, fish zombies, robots, intelligent mafioso apes, terracotta warriors, evil business tycoons, art crawls, and so much more! With so much variety jam packed into each episode, The Middleman covers more ground in 12 episodes than most shows do in multiple seasons.
- The Middleman is the most quotable show in existence. I cannot even begin to tell you how often I quote The Middleman, but it is multiple times every day. Phrases like “I’m as serious as a Hefty bag full of rottweilers,” “You are going to reap the whirlwind… that means we’re going to do bad things to you,” and “it’s sheer elegance in its simplicity!” make it into my everyday interactions frequently. I also like to throw out a “specificity is the soul of all good communication,” whenever someone is obnoxiously being vague. There’s a quote from The Middleman for just about any situation that you’ll ever find yourself in, and I guarantee that it’ll be a unique phrase that nobody else is saying. It’s just plain funny to say or reenact some of the comedy bits from the show. I love doing the “!!!!” reaction whenever somebody does something that is supposed to surprise me.
- The cast of The Middleman were terrific as discussed in detail below:
- Matt Keeslar plays the titular role of the Middleman, and for a relative unknown he put in an inspired performance as the stoic yet goofily hip MM. His performance evokes an Adam West meets John Wayne appeal that is both endearing, rugged, and absolutely hilarious. Keeslar’s Middleman is the heart of the show. Just listen to this amazing supercut of some of MM’s best sayings!
- Natalie Morales brings the show to the modern era with her starving artist character Wendy Watson (Dub Dub to those in the know), who also just happens to be a Middleman in training. Morales has great comedic timing with just enough heart to make her grounded. She isn’t old fashioned like the Middleman so she instantly becomes the character that you can best relate to. All in all, Morales’ Dub Dub is our window to the wild world of The Middleman, and she does an amazing job of easing us into the weirdness.
- Mary Pat Gleason crushes it as the Middleman’s darkly humorous android assistant Ida. Gleason has a lot of fun with this character and it shows on the screen as she spots off jokes with a sardonic tone that is legendary. Ida is stuck in grumpy schoolmarm mode, and as such she always has an amazingly biting way of addressing her boss and his trainee during every interaction. If MM is the heart and Dub Dub is the window into the world, Ida is the tough love that we all need from time to time.
- Brit Morgan brings a touch of wacky to the series as Dub Dub’s roommate and confrontational spoken word artist, Lacey Thornfield. Lacey is always getting into trouble and forever trying to get to the bottom of what her roomie is actually doing when she says that she is handling a “temp related emergency” at all hours of the day. Morgan brings a sense of wonderment to the role of Lacey, making her ever so happy to help her friends and especially enthusiastic to spend time with the mysterious Middleman. You can’t help but root for Lacey, because Morgan makes her so damned lovable.
- Jake Smollett’s character Noser is the perhaps the coolest musician that you’ve never heard perform… ever. What’s great, is that Smollett legitimately sells the fact that Noser is not only a great musician but also more or less knows every song ever recorded in the history of the planet. Noser is laid back and officially the definition of cool. Smollett rounds the core cast out nicely, ensuring a perfect balance is achieved.
- Javier Grillo-Marxuach was able to faithfully adapt his comic book to the TV screen. The Middleman on TV is essentially a love letter to anyone who read the comics. Even though it is a quintessential representation of the core material, it is also accessible for an audience that has never seen or heard of it before. I have successfully introduced many people to The Middleman, and none of them had ever even heard of it before but by the end of the first episode they all loved it. This is a testament to how solid a concept The Middleman is and how expertly Javier Grillo-Marxuach executed his vision from comics to the small screen.
- The production design is wildly creative in all the right ways. You can tell that The Middleman was made on a tight budget, but that’s not always a bad thing. Shows on a smaller budget have to work creatively to bring the show to life on the screen, and the crew behind the filming and special effects on The Middleman did an excellent job. There are so many gadgets, sight gags, costume changes, and unique locations in each episode that you have to watch them multiple times to try and catch all of the detail. This is extraordinary work and only helps to make the overall experience that much better!
- Tree Adams’ soundtrack is a knockout! The score is an eclectic mix of classic spy music, bachelor pad lounge jazz, and modern pop instrumentation… and it all fuses together perfectly. This is a great score, and the theme to the series is especially rememberable. For more music by Tree Adams, including a large variety of work in other TV shows and movies that you’ve likely seen, check out his website: www.treeadams.com
- The Wilhelm Scream! There’s one in every episode and each one is awesome. It’s an amazing comedic thread that is laced through each episode and helps bind them altogether in madcap action harmony.
More could easily be said in favor of the show (as I mentioned before, I could go on for hours about the many merits of the series), but truly you should experience The Middleman for yourself and create your own excessively long list of personal reasons why you believe the series is amazing. To those of us dedicated fans that are in the know, we can tell you with a massive grin on our face that if you haven’t watched The Middleman… then you are truly missing out on a one of a kind experience that you will never forget. Do yourself a favor and give the show a look-see.
Bottom Line: The Middleman is the good stuff, like the exceptionally really super good stuff. This is the nerdy TV equivalent of “Chicken Soup for the Soul.” This show is there for you when you need a “pick me up” or need to restore your faith in humanity. If you love endearing characters, campy dialogue, pop culture references at every turn, comic book & film tropes lampooned, irreverent humor, zany antics, and keeping the old heroes alive, then you will love the Middleman as much as many of us already do. This is top tier entertainment and I give my highest recommendation to The Middleman. Watch it today! The Middleman is available on DVD at the video shop of your choice, and on digital download through Amazon and iTunes.
Unfortunately, as of this post The Middleman is still not available on Blu-Ray or through VUDU (Ultraviolet digital), but hopefully those formats will be supported in the future.
Sands of Zanzibar! There’s more!
The Middleman post TV series, both in print and in film! The good news is that in many ways we have gotten more Middleman content over the last few years. In 2009 Javier Grillo-Marxuach released the “13th episode” of The Middleman in the form of a script turned into a comic book. Originally planned as the season finale to The Middleman, “The Doomsday Armageddon Apocolypse” is a wild ride that gives us a glimpse into what the next season of The Middleman might have looked like. Although, having read the comic, I’m not sure how they would have filmed it, as it had a lot going on… seemingly more than the other episodes of the show. It reads like a 2 part episode or a movie, a really good one with a powerful ending, but I can’t even fathom how they would have fit all of that content into one episode. A new Middleman comic book came out in 2014. Titled, “The Pan-Universal Parental Reconciliation,” the most recent comic was a huge rollicking affair that saw characters from both the TV show and the original comic book meet in a bizarre and amazing crossover event story. It was a most excellent read, and exemplified all of the reasons why the concept of The Middleman just plain works on every level, whether in print or on the TV screen. All of The Middleman comics can be purchased on Amazon.com.
To sweeten the pot, and also part of the successful Indiegogo campaign that made publishing the most recent Middleman comic possible, the cast of the TV series got together to do a table read of the book… and it is every bit as awesome as you might think it is. These talented folks haven’t missed a trick in the years since the show was cancelled, and it is nothing less than pure bliss watching and listening to them interact as their classic Middleman characters. If you have an hour to burn, give it a watch and see the magic for yourself!
I do hope that the cast and the crew of the TV iteration of the Middleman get one more chance to film a reunion episode/movie. The show was ahead of its time and the ABC Family audience of 2008 were not ready for an irreverent show like The Middleman. 2008 was way before Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu were competing with network TV with original their huge amounts of original content that changed how we viewed shows forever. 2008 was before NBC’s Community made pop cultural meta riffing commonplace in TV shows everywhere, just look at shows like SyFy’s The Magicians, CBS’ The Big Bang Theory, and ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD to see how much pop cultural references are dropped all the time in dialogue, nonchalantly, as if that’s how people in TV shows have always talked. I personally love it, as a nerdy fan that talks in pop culture references all the time, this kind of dialogue speaks to me. 2008 was a great year because we got to see a filmed representation of The Middleman, but 2008 wasn’t prepared for the type of show that The Middleman was. It truly is a shame that the show didn’t get a few seasons to grow, as it is easily apparent that The Middleman was something special. It had a vibe, a tragic hipness if you will, that no other show before or since (in my opinion) has come even close to matching. 2017 is a far different landscape for content viewers across the world. There is so much terrific content with a unique vision out there, and it is finding audiences in large numbers. Shows like Bojack Horseman, Transparent, The Tick (a second chance for the live action TV concept, I might ad), and Casual which would not likely fair well on Network TV are finding audiences on digital streaming services, so much so that they are getting multiple seasons. On top of that, revivals are hip right now! Just check out the return of dormant series like The X-Files, Will & Grace, Prison Break, and Roseanne. Now is the time for MM and Dub Dub to return, and my suggestion for how they can return is sheer elegance in its simplicity! Instead of a full season with a 13+ episodes, revive The Middleman with a business model similar to how the BBC launched the Sherlock series with Benedict Cumberbatch, make three 90 minute long episodes per season of a relaunched The Middleman series. This model would be less expensive to produce than 13+ episodes, but would still net us four and half hours of new Middleman content! I would Kickstart or Indiegogo the hell out of a Middleman revival series or even a one off movie. We live in a world where Mystery Science Theater 3000 got revived by Kickstarter in 2016 and sold in distribution to Netflix in 2017, and I don’t see why The Middleman can’t do the exact same thing. Do it Javier. DO IT! My money, and almost certainly many others, is waiting to buy new filmed Middleman content ASAP.
In summary, The Middleman is awesome in all incarnations and you should read and watch all of it.
I’ll leave you with this…
Just in case you need to feel a little more Middleman-ish in your day to day life, I highly recommend purchasing the song “Palomino” by Tree Adams, which is more or less the low-key unofficial theme song for the Middleman himself. Also, once you hear, “clean living was his credo and justice was his bride…” you’ll have the song stuck in your head all day. Listen below if you do not believe me!