Recently I was introduced to a show that is both extremely underrated and unbelievably delightful. It is, essentially, everything that is good about superhero comics (as written by Stan Lee, not Frank Miller) distilled into a television show. The Middleman, which premiered on ABC Family in mid-June 2008, had an all-too-short life and was canceled a few months later after a 12-episode run. It was critically acclaimed and its fans loved it, but even though it’s only been a few years, today it’s unfairly overlooked by the majority of nerd culture. In my opinion, this is a tragedy on par with Firefly’s cancellation (yes, I said it) and now that I’ve fallen in love with it, I feel I have a responsibility to share it with people who would probably love it if they only knew about it.
What is it about?
Described by its creator Javier Grillo-Marxuach (of LOST fame - wait, he only worked on the early seasons, come back!) as “a cross between Men in Black and Get Smart,” The Middleman follows the adventures of the titular Middleman and his apprentice Wendy Watson, who work for the O2STK (Organization Too Secret to Know). Their job? Protect the earth from extraterrestrial, supernatural and otherworldly threats, or as it’s most commonly explained, “exotic problems.” Wendy is just your average twenty-something working at a DNA lab, when a catastrophe involving a hentai tentacle monster rampaging her workplace brings the Middleman into her life. The only options for her after witnessing the true madness the world contains are to join him in his work or face death. Because the latter option would make for a very short and grim show indeed, she accepts his offer and together they become the perfect team, “fighting evil so you don’t have to!” Trout-craving zombies, evil lucha libre wrestlers, a mouthy fourteen-year-old who’s a bit too obsessed with a hit boy band, a vampiric ventriloquist puppet possessed with the soul of Vlad the Impaler, and so much more await them.
Where can I watch it?
Some kind individual has uploaded all 12 episodes to YouTube! The quality isn’t HD, but if you’re looking to “try before you buy” this is probably your best bet, since the downfall of Megaupload. The show is unfortunately too obscure for most mainstream TV streaming hubs to host it. There may also be torrents floating around - please feel free to add to this post if there’s something I’m missing. (And if you must do things the legal way, Amazon sells the DVDs for around $30. You’ll get commentaries and oodles of special features too so it’s totally worth it!)
That’s a lot of text up there. You still haven’t given me a real reason why I should watch this.
Fine, you lazy ████.
You should watch The Middleman because it’s a fun show. It’s a show that makes you smile and laugh because it’s ridiculous, and it embraces that ridiculousness in a way that “ironic” shows like Glee can only dream of. It’s a show that embraces idealism and belief in heroes, a show that wants more than anything for the world to be the kind of place where good triumphs over evil. If you’re tired of shows that constantly put their characters through hell and send your heart through the wringer, then this is the show for you. There is a place for deep emotions and realistic plots in television, but there should also be a place for lightheartedness and idealism too.
Okay, I’m interested. Tell me more.
- This is a show entirely populated by delightful, interesting, complex people. You may be sucked in by the ridiculous premise, but if you don’t love at least one character by the end of the pilot then this probably isn’t the show for you. There’s the Middleman himself, who is essentially a proto-Steve Rogers without the extra muscles but with the same endearing aw-shucks heroism and drive to protect and defend the innocent (and who refuses to swear and instead comes up with colorful substitutes - “Flowers for Algernon!” “Chocoholics Anonymous!”). Wendy Watson is probably one of the best protagonists I’ve ever seen in any form of media: she is fearless when it comes to monsters and ghouls, but has a bit of a problem taking relationships seriously due to a innate knowledge of how every one of them will end; is “ironic, not cynical”; single-mindedly determined and emotionally reserved; can snark with the best of them; and last but not least, is canonically half-Cuban as well as being raceswapped from the comics (where she is a pale-skinned redhead). Ida, the Middleman’s android assistant who takes the appearance of a middle-aged librarian and can provide any information they might need for a case…though it comes along with colorful insults and withering indifference. Lacey Thornfield, Wendy’s roommate, is passionate, romantic, fiercely loyal (to the point of near-death in some cases), and steadfastly unwilling to compromise her principles. Tyler Ford is sweet, understanding, and every boy-liking geek’s dream. Which is to say nothing of the secondary characters, bombastic villains, and various one-episode wonders that pepper each episode - far be it from me to give everything away.
- Platonic relationships galore! Wendy and the Middleman have a comfortable bantery dynamic that never has any hint of turning romantic or sexual, Wendy and Lacey’s friendship is sweet and genuine and they often bring tears to my eyes and squee to my heart, and in general there’s a warm feeling of camaraderie present that lifts the spirits and the heart. (It also smashes the Bechdel Test in pretty much every episode, usually within the first ten minutes.)
- But, you say, I like romance too! Never fear, this show has the best of both worlds! Lacey and the Middleman’s doomed but adorable might-be-love is hinted at, ship teased, and ultimately - well, that would be a spoiler and spoiling too much isn’t nice. Wendy herself might seem like the typical unlucky-in-love character at first, but just wait until you meet her epically adorable geek love interest.
- This is sort of a family show, and in the interest of being a family show, nearly all the cussing is bleeped out - complete with black bars over the lips. It’s just as glorious as it sounds. (See, I wasn’t being rude earlier when I called you a lazy ████, it was a reference!) Plus, the Middleman’s subvertive exclamations are pretty much worth your time alone.
- There is banter flying so fast you won’t be able to keep up, and you’ll probably want to rewatch it because you’ll definitely miss at least a few amazing lines the first time around.
- Have I mentioned the goofy-ass monsters? There are a lot of goofy-ass monsters. If you are a cheesy-CGI connoisseur then this show is right up your alley. This is literally like somebody filmed a Silver Age comic, people.
- Speaking of Silver Age, two words: parallel universe. (I’m not telling you where or how, that would spoil the fun.)
- Lest I make this show sound like wall-to-wall cheese and ridiculousness, the moments of genuine emotion are moving and you will probably feel feelings. But they will be sandwiched in between the laughs!
- It’s literally 12 45-minute episodes. You can knock it out in like 2 days (and you’re probably going to want to, this show is like CGI-covered crack).
- If you’re tired of shows that shred your heart like a gerbil shredding a Quaker Oats box, or if you’re looking for something to distract you from life and all its negativity, this show is a soothing balm not unlike your favorite celebrity showing up on your doorstep with a box of freshly-baked cookies and a basket full of a bunch of your favorite baby animals. (Okay, maybe that’s exaggerating, but it’ll probably make you smile.)
I hope this post has given you a good look into a criminally underrated show that will show you whether or not it’s something you’d be interested in checking out. (Sorry about the length, but if you end up loving it the same way I do you’ll understand.) Really, what have you got to lose? It’s sheer elegance in its simplicity.