“I’m just the Middleman”

I bought and watched the Middleman series on DVD a decade ago. Since then I’ve acquired the original graphic novel run, plus the two post-series graphic novels so I figured last year, why not go through the whole thing?

THE COLLECTED SERIES INDISPENSABILITY by Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Les McClaine collects three graphic novels. The first couple are quite close to a couple of episodes of the TV series, except Wendy — the new recruit to the Middleman organization — is white, not Latino. The third goes its own way, eliminating the Middleman and bringing back Wendy’s long-lost father, who turns out to be a Middleman too.

Then came the 2008 TV series, which is where I first encountered the mythos. In the opening, Wendy Watson (Natalie Morales) is an artist who loses her day job as receptionist at a genetics lab when something breaks out, the Middleman (Matt Keeslar) shows up to save her and then makes it look like she was responsible. However the incident shows Wendy can deal with the weird and impossible so the Middleman hires her through the Jolly Fats Weehauken Temp Agency to work on similar cases. The title of the post comes from Keeslar’s statement that he doesn’t know who runs the show — he’s merely the middleman.

The show had a solid cast, enjoyably goofy scripts, and a lot of pop-culture and untold-story references (“Has everyone forgotten the Day Without Wheat?”). Many other shows have done the same but on this one it just clicked … though obviously not with enough people to make it last longer (big sigh). But there were many memorable adversaries, such as an immortal linked to the accursed tuba from the Titanic’s band — any time he plays it, everyone in earshot drowns in the waters of the North Atlantic, even on dry land. Plus, the ending episode, a “Mirror, Mirror” pastiche in which every guy in the regular cast has a counterpart in the other world with a goatee.The series ended with a couple of plotlines hanging: what exactly was techbro Manservant Neville (Mark Sheppard) up to? Will Wendy’s roommate Lacey (Brit Morgan) and the Middleman ever get together and why is he so reluctant. Grillo-Marxuach (with Hans Beimler and Armando M. Zinker) resolved those in The Doomsday Armageddon Apocalypse in which Neville’s master plan unleashes chaos, we learn about the Middleman’s lost love and he tragically does not get the girl.

Then everything wraps up with The Pan-Universal Parental Reconciliation by the same creative team. In this one the world’s most efficient vacuum cleaner is somehow opening up gates between worlds, which leads to the comic-book team and the TV team meeting for the first time. It’s a lot of fun and provides a mostly satisfactory finish to both, but I hate the idea that Wendy’s father (in both universes) was a Middleman and had always marked her as his successor — it’s a variation on the Chosen One trope that as I’ve mentioned before doesn’t work for me.

Rereading/rewatching the whole thing was fun, and rewarding too: a lot of the references in the last two graphic novels were much clearer this time around (though there are footnotes for anyone who doesn’t get them). Who knows, perhaps ten years from now I’ll do it again.

#SFWapro. Cover by McClaine, all rights to images remains with current holder.

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