Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Middleman: The series finale manifestation

In a gadda da vida! Check out the slave girl outfit on Dub-Dub.
One of the books I picked up at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con was an early copy of Viper Comics' The Middleman: The Doomsday Armageddon Apocalypse, which, according to Middleman creator and Doomsday Armageddon Apocalypse co-writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach on his Twitter page earlier this week, "has shipped to the distributor and should hit comic book stores this or next weds."

After JGM wasn't able to film the 13th and final episode of his rejected TV series pitch-turned-Viper comic-turned actual TV series due to budgetary issues, he did what Buffy creator Joss Whedon and Farscape creator Rockne O'Bannon have done with their respective shows after the end of their runs. Like those two cult TV masterminds, JGM decided to pick up where his show left off--in comic form instead of onscreen.

Without giving too much away, The Doomsday Armageddon Apocalypse is an entertaining and bittersweet farewell to the TV incarnations of the Middleman and his trainee sidekick Wendy Watson (wonderfully brought to life on the show by Matt Keeslar, the most prim and proper action hero on TV since the days when Paul Gross' polite Canadian Mountie neatnik literally cleaned up the streets of Chicago on Due South, and newcomer Natalie Morales, who once called herself "the child that Amanda Peet and Rosario Dawson would have if they could procreate"). But the graphic novel, which JGM co-scripted with his fellow Middleman co-executive producer Hans Beimler, also opens the door for more adventures with the Middleman characters, although if JGM decides to resume the comic, I doubt we'll see them drawn again as Keeslar, Morales and the other actors (in the comic, Wendy is a redhead and is white instead of Latina).

Natalie Morales and Matt Keeslar in The MiddlemanI wasn't familiar with the comic before the TV version premiered on ABC Family last summer, but I instantly became a fan of the show because of its perfectly cast actors and amusing dialogue, which was loaded with pop culture references that were never forced and bizarre-sounding exclamations like "Story of O!" and "Eyes without a face!" For those who have never watched The Middleman--and really ought to now that Shout! Factory has released all 12 wordily titled episodes on DVD--the show is about Wendy, an unemployed art student who becomes the apprentice to a mysterious, Eisenhower jacket-wearing secret agent known as the Middleman, the latest in a long line of agents who take on adversaries other agencies are too chicken to fight, from evil extraterrestrials disguised as boy bands to corporate tycoons with hidden agendas like Manservant Neville (serial guest star Mark Sheppard), a Steve Jobs-esque mastermind with nefarious plans for his iPod-like uMaster product (rhymes with "View-Master").

Superbly illustrated by Armando M. Zanker, The Doomsday Armageddon Apocalypse pits the Middleman and Dub-Dub against a more-insane-than-usual Manservant Neville and further explores the Middleman's conflicted feelings for Dub-Dub's hot and leggy performance artist best friend Lacey, who was continually referred to by the show's chyrons as "the young, equally photogenic artist whom Wendy shares an illegal sublet with." On the show, the Middleman's love interest started out as yet another annoying Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but both actress Brit Morgan--an interesting cross between a young Frances McDormand and Zooey Deschanel who could have been perfect as a relative of McDormand's mother character and Deschanel's daughter character in Almost Famous--and the show's writers developed the Middleman's biggest admirer into something more nuanced than an MPDG. I usually don't care for the romantic subplots on my favorite shows--I'm not one of those viewers who "squee" over the "shipping" of two characters, and I wish those two slang terms would go away and take the equally grating "bromance" with them. But Lacey's crush on the Middleman--who's attracted to her and shares her love for Randolph Scott westerns, but doesn't want another relationship because of both his loyalty to his job and a rarely discussed previous romance that ended in tragedy--brings some welcome depth to an otherwise lightweight, '60s Avengers-style series.

Speaking of The Avengers--my second favorite spy show, right below Burn Notice--Jeremiah Chechik, who co-produced The Middleman and directed several of its eps, previously made the ill-advised Ralph Fiennes/Uma Thurman feature film version of The Avengers. Chechik was able to do something with The Middleman that he failed to accomplish with his bloated reimagining of Steed and Mrs. Peel: he captured the spirit of the original, lower-budgeted Avengers. There's no sexual heat between the Middleman and the occasionally catsuited Wendy(*) like there was between Steed and Peel (the Middleman views Wendy as the little sister he never had), but the enthusiasm the Middleman and Wendy have for their work is as infectious as it was when that other pairing of "top professional and talented amateur" did their duty for queen and country.

(*) Not catsuited enough on the show for my tastes. The only times on the show that Morales squeezed into the Peel suit that she rocked for ABC Family's Middleman posters were the opening credits and "The Obsolescent Cryogenic Meltdown."

I recommend watching Shout! Factory's Middleman: The Complete Series box set before reading the series finale, which contains tons of callbacks to the show's running gags and makes little sense if you've never seen the show. At Comic-Con, the cast and crew performed the entire novel as a table read (which I wasn't able to catch, but meeting JGM and having him and previous Middleman GN artist Les McClaine sign my copy of The Doomsday Armageddon Apocalypse compensated for missing the table read). On Facebook, readers won't be able to see this, but here on Blogspot, I'm juxtaposing a Doomsday Armageddon Apocalypse moment between the Middleman, Wendy and Ida the android secretary with the table read version of the scene (it takes place between 7:06 and 8:12 on the embed), performed by Keeslar, Morales and Ida's portrayer, Comic-Con audience favorite Mary Pat Gleason. Ida is what you get if you mash up Ray Bradbury's Electric Grandmother with Roz from Monsters, Inc., Blanche Devereaux from The Golden Girls and Joe Flaherty's pothead-hating Harold Weir from Freaks and Geeks ("Go back to Jamaica, greenie!").

Page 11 of The Middleman: The Doomsday Armageddon Apocalypse by Javier Grillo-Marxuach, Hans Beimler and Armando M. Zanker

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