So, cast your mind back six or seven years. One of the network guys based out of the UK was over in Dublin, we were talking about cult TV, and he mentioned this short-lived show he really liked, put on a youtube compilation of funny bits and I quite liked it. Then the AV Club ran an article about it shortly thereafter which put it back in my head and I - achem - acquired it, and loved it.
Then, a week or two ago it popped back into my head, so I decided to schedule in a rewatch, and loved it all over again.
The show has a spotted history. Created by Javier Grillo-Marxauch, a veteran cult TV writer/producer who worked on Lost, Charmed, and seaQuest DSV amongst others. He shopped around a pilot script for a while, got nowhere, and so turned it into a comic which did quite well - well enough to get the TV concept another look-in, in fact.
And so, the TV show: It revolves around Wendy Watson, an abstract expressionist painter who works as a temp to make ends meet and try and afford the rent on the illegal sublet she shares with an equally photogenic artist named Lacey. One day, while working as a receptionist at AND Laboratories (we scramble your DNA), a tentacle hentai monster gets loose, and she’s in the middle of fighting if off when this guy in an Eisenhower jacket and tie shows up and zaps it. A fruitless day of trying to get a new temp jobs winds up with her at the Jolly Fats Wehawkin temp agency - which happens to be a front for her rescuer’s activities. Wendy is quickly recruited to be the sidekick and successor to The Middleman, and adventure follows.
If I was asked to describe the show briefly, I’d say it’s the old 60s Batman show, but contemporary and more self aware. The Middleman is a total cheeseball, very similar in tone and delivery to Adam West’s Batman, but in the modern world, so he’s contrasted primarily against Wendy’s modern sensibilities.
But it’s also a show written by nerds, for nerds. The writers had instructions to pick something related to the A plot’s main theme, and include as many references to it as possible in the the episode. So an episode about ghosts is set at Reitman university, Wendy and the Middleman pose as doctors Stantz and Zeddemore when they visit a site on Ray Parker Jr. Avenue. Later in the same epsiode they call each other Keymaster and Gatekeeper on the radio, and someone is referred to as having won the Egon Spengler and Ivo Shandor physics prizes. The gags are mostly background things, so they never overpower the show - they’re fun easter eggs.
There’s a lot of humour from insanely long dialogue chains, which are often repeated to the point you know there’s lengthy blooper reels out there. A hooters-style restaurant is always referred to as “The pirate-themed sports bar with scantily-clad waitresses”, usually followed by a “Yarr”, and sometimes “A den for middle-aged gropers and fratboys”. The show is fond of captioning everything for comedic effect - establishing shots are sarcastic or use even more catchphrases, when someone wakes up they say “Where am I, how long was I out?”. There’s an episode with a countdown to an inevitable explosion, and after there’s another explosion when the countdown comes back it says (that last one wasn’t it)
And beyond that, the game is incredibly positive and kind-hearted. Wendy and Lacey, the equally photogenic artist with whom she shares an illegal sublet have one of the most natural and wonderful friendships on TV, helped by the fact that Natalie Morales and Brit Morgan formed a fast friendship while shooting the show, and they still hang out all the time almost 10 years later, and their relationships with the Middleman (Wendy seeing him as something between an older brother and a surrogate father, while he and Lacey share a love they dare not consummate) work very well.
Of course, no show is perfect and the Middleman falls down a bit in the technical execution - there’s no elaborate action scenes, and the effects are quaintly low-budget, but these are minor complaints. It’s an amazingly fun show that’s well worth checking out.
have some clips: