June 16, 2008
Superhero, Sidekick Are a Disarming Pair
By David Kronke, TV Critic
If at first you don't succeed, write a comic book.
Javier Grillo-Marxuach, who has written for shows like "Lost,""Medium" and "Charmed," initially wrote "The Middleman" as a TV pilot; when it was rejected, he turned around and turned it into a comic-book series, which somehow found its way back to TV.
For which we should be grateful. "The Middleman" is a fun little romp of a show, a superhero action-comedy that's deadpan one moment and over-the-top silly the next. And stars Matt Keeslar and Natalie Morales provide the perfect wit and panache to possibly make this a surprise sleeper hit this summer.
Much of the story and dialogue in tonight's episode come airlifted intact from Grillo-Marxuach's comic book. We meet Wendy (Morales), an aspiring artist consigned to menial temp jobs, working for a DNA lab when she's attacked by a very cheesy-looking monster, the result of an experiment gone horribly awry. She's rescued by The Middleman (Keeslar), a superhero so staid he makes the Silver-Age Superman look like "Iron Man's" party-hearty alter ego Tony Stark, who's impressed at how she responded to the peril with a cool, almost blase, temperament ("Whatever, I'm a temp," she replies) and offers her a job as his assistant.
Together, they battle the sort of menaces that you might see in a Mad Magazine parody of "The X-Files." Tonight, they investigate an ape that's murdering mobsters. Confronting the evil genius behind the scheme, The Middleman declares, "If there's one thing I hate more than scientists trying to take over the world, it's scientists who twist innocent primates with computer-enhanced mind-control to live out their sick and perverted fantasies of criminal power."
"That's a very specific thing to hate," Wendy replies.
"The Middleman" is cheeky in almost every detail, down to the title cards that give out too much information, information often repeated in silly, expository dialogue. At times, the show goes almost giddy with its foolishness, such as a brief parody of the stylish '60s spy show "The Avengers."
But Keeslar and Morales make for a great team. Keeslar rattles off seemingly endless lines of technobabble with aplomb, and Morales is a terrific foil, responding to the lunacy surrounding her with dry whimsy - she refuses to be nonplussed.
Wendy may be incapable of being surprised, but viewers may be happily surprised at how charmingly goofy they find "The Middleman."
David Kronke, (818) 713-3638
THE MIDDLEMAN >What: Action-comedy about a staid superhero and his plucky assistant, who's new to the saving-the-world business.
\>Where: ABC Family.
\>When: 8 tonight.
\>In a nutshell: Funny, sometimes silly, with two terrific lead actors.
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