The Complete Series
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Reviewed by Will Harris
hen Bullz-Eye took advantage of the recent opportunity to interview Javier Grillo-Marxuach, the man behind the creation of “The Middleman,” we dared to suggest that, all things being equal, ABC Family may not have been the best of all possible networks to air the series. It was certainly not the first time he had heard such a suggestion, as he immediately offered what has been his standard response: “They were absolutely the rightnetwork, because they let me do it.” Well, you can’t argue with that kind of logic, especially once you know that ABC Family kept the show on the air for 12 episodes despite its flagging ratings, then proceeded to assist in the arrangements to get “The Middleman: The Complete Series” released on DVD through the fine folks at Shout! Factory.
Let us therefore try a different tactic and suggest that, at the very least, the show might have been better served in the ratings if it had aired on a network that more readily catered to unabashed geeks. And honestly, we mean that in the best possible way.
Grillo-Marxuach has one of the most solid sci-fi resumes in TV writing, having contributed to “Lost,” “Medium,” and “Charmed,” as well as underrated series like “Jake 2.0” and “The Chronicle.” But with “The Middleman,” he proceeded to take all of his collected pop culture knowledge and produce a show with more in-jokes and obscure references than your average Dennis Miller stand-up special. And to think that it all originated from a comic book! (Actually, given the way Hollywood buys up properties these days, the fact that “The Middleman” started as a comic book is probably the least surprising thing about the series.)
The premise of the show, as is handily spelled out during the pilot, is that there’s a secret agency known as O2STK – it stands for “Organization Too Secret To Know” – that exists solely to solve problems that the normal cops and law enforcement representatives wouldn’t have any clue how to tackle. Zombies, vampires, magical curses, aliens posing as boy bands – you name it, they’ve had to deal with it, and standing tall as the primary O2STK operative is the individual known as The Middleman (Matt Keeslar). It’s standard operating procedure for The Middleman to have a back-up – y’know, to serve in his stead should incapacitation arise – and it’s also in the pilot where we meet the latest inductee into the organization: Wendy Watson (Natalie Morales), a beautiful young woman who doesn’t necessarily grasp everything she’s up against but still manages to rise to the occasion nonetheless.
“The Middleman” is one of those shows where you’ll probably be able to tell within just a few minutes’ time whether or not it’s in your wheelhouse. The dialogue flies fast and furious, like a Kevin Smith movie on speed, and the amount of science fiction and fantasy concepts thrown at the viewer are only matched by the number of references to science fiction and fantasy movies and TV series. Seriously, it’s a full-fledged geek-a-palooza, with shout-outs to “Doctor Who,” “Back to the Future,” “Dune,” “Star Wars,” and even “Escape from New York,” with bonus names and dialogue paying tribute to non-genre favorites like “Die Hard” and, oddly enough, the Zombies – not the walking undead, but the ‘60s pop group. (During the zombie-themed episode, Wendy and The Middleman visit the Odessey& Oracle Exotic Fish Hatchery.)
Maybe Javier Grillo-Marxuach is right. Maybe we should just be grateful that ABC Family dared to air “The Middleman” at all. The series might’ve been more at home thematically on Sci-Fi, but it’s a show with such a unique concept and feel that you can’t blame him for accepting anyone’s offer to let him make it the way he wanted it. It’s creative, it’s hilarious, and since it only lasted for a dozen episodes, it will absolutely leave you wanting more. Good thing there’s talk that, if the sales of the series set are sufficient, a “Middleman” movie may well become a reality.
So what are you waiting for? Join the cause and go buy it!
Special Features: It should come as no surprise that Shout! Factory has taken another cult TV series and produced a kick-ass set filled with bonus material. There are four audio commentaries spread across the three discs of episodes, each driven by Grillo-Marxuach, but also variously including cast members, writers, director Jeremiah Chechik, and executive producer Hans Beimler. The fourth disc, however, is nothing but bonus material, allowing you to bask in web featurettes, alternate scenes, a gag reel, casting sessions, a table read, a music video for “Scream Ur Luv 4 Me,” photos, PSAs, a featurette which details the evolution of the title sequence…oh, it goes on. The favorite, however, will likely be the collection of the so-called “Weekly Javi-casts,” hosted by Grillo-Marxuach, each of which will show you exactly how many words one man can fit into a single segment. They’re hilarious, but man does that guy make the most of his time!