Tuesday, August 26, 2008


It's been a while since I lost my geek heart to a TV show that was so obviously doomed. Which brings us to The Middleman, on ABC Family of all places.

I had been avoiding this on the grounds that it was just a silly-looking summer series and also the whole obviously doomed thing but a series of positive mentions on io9 and other Web sites (including a plug by Justine Larbalestier) led me to try the thing once.

I was hooked within the first five minutes, by about three very clever bits. That kept me going, but I was very surprised after a few episodes by how much I came to like the characters.

Five things:

  • It's unabashedly geeky. I initially described the show as "Men In Black, if the characters had all seen Men In Black." It's awash in SF/Comic references, many of which are placed in the background to reward those who are paying attention.

  • It's unabashedly heroic. The Middleman is the kind of square-jawed throwback that snarky shows usually make fun of. Not here. Somehow the show manages to make the hero retro and cool, without really making him just retro-cool. If that makes sense, which it probably doesn't.

  • It's unabashedly silly. Plots to date have included fish loving zombies that shout "TROUUUUT", vampire puppets, and a grunge match between kung-fu masters and masked Mexican wrestlers. It's the goofiest show this side of Pushing Daisies.

  • The heroes have fun. The series creator said he wanted to get past the current idea that comic-book-esque heroes need to be dour and wear their responsibilities like a 2000 pound weight. In this show, the Middleman pulls a rare reverse Peter Parker, telling his sidekick Wendy that if she falls in love and doesn't follow it, that's on her, she can't blame it on the job.

  • I also really like that, in a show that features a character who uses a "NDBS Detector" (Not Detectable By Science), they've also made Wendy's best friend a Carl Sagan reading skeptic (among other things).

So, go watch the one remaining episode next week. And then say good bye. Let's just say the ratings were so low that ABC Family won't even release what the ratings were. Plus they cut the series order to 12 episodes from 13. The outlook isn't good. But the whole season is on iTunes...

Parenthetically, if you can believe the numbers that the series creator threw out in an interview, the show, which is ridiculously low-budget, still costs roughly 1.5 million dollars an episode. (He said ABC Family spent 17 million on the series as a whole.) That's staggering.