Tuesday, July 21, 2009

THE MIDDLEMAN - THE COMPLETE SERIES

Based on a series of graphic novels created by Javier Grillo-Marxuach, THE MIDDLEMAN was a 12-episode science fiction comedy series that ran last year on ABC Family Channel. Sort of a Basic Cable version of MEN IN BLACK, the premise of the show is that a young, geeky artist named Wendy Watson (Natalie Morales) is recruited into a super top-secret organization to fight "exotic threats" of a comic book nature alongside the square-jawed, upright (and somewhat uptight) hero known only as The Middleman (Matt Keeslar).

These "exotic threats" include everything from zombie fish and armies of luchadores to extraterrestrial boy bands and fashion model succubi. Each episode is loaded with pop culture and geek references – Episode 12’s plot alone contains references to BUCKAROO BANZAI, GALAXY QUEST, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, SLIDERS, STAR TREK’S "mirror universe" and the BATMAN television show. These reference and in-jokes come fast and furious, integrated quite naturally into the characters’ rapid fire – almost Howard Hawksian – dialogue.

Production values and special effects are surprisingly decent, especially considering the show’s Basic Cable budget, and the cast is uniformly excellent. There are even a few cool "geek" guest stars, like martial arts actor Mark Dacascos as the nigh-legendary Sensei Ping, and Kevin Sorbo, of HERCULES THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS and GENE RODDENBERRY’S ANDROMEDA, as a cryogenically frozen Rat Pack-era Middleman.

Shout! Factory has collected all 12 episodes onto a 4-disc Complete Series DVD set comprised of two double slimcases. Each episode is presented in crystal-sharp 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby stereo sound. There are commentary tracks by cast and crew on four episodes, and Disc 4 is loaded to the brim with supplemental features, including 14 internet podcasts with creator Grillo-Marxuach, a handful of web featurettes, alternate scenes, a blooper reel, three versions of the opening credits, a featurette on "The Wilhelm Scream," casting tapes, a music video, PSAs, promos, a photo gallery and footage of the "table read" for the final episode.

THE MIDDLEMAN is a smart, funny show, and probably far too hip for the ABC Family Channel’s audience, though the network deserves considerable credit for giving it a chance. It should have run a lot longer, but at least the series has been preserved on DVD for fans – both old and new – in fine form by geek friendly Shout! Factory. Highly recommended.

BUY: The Middleman: The Complete Series