Review: The Middleman 1×1

Satirising pop culture – so you don't have to

The Middleman

In the US: Mondays, 8/7c, ABC Family

Danger, Will Robinson! The engines canna take it, Captain. There are simply too many pop culture references, Mrs Peel, and unless you fetch Skippy right now, Commissioner Gordon is going to be in serious trouble.

Welcome to The Middleman, a show that pelts you with a 1,001 ironic references per second without ever really knowing why or what it’s even satirising. It’s still funny, though.

Wendy Watson (Natalie Morales) thought mindless temp jobs were tough. Then she bravely faced a creature way beyond the bounds of her reality, and in so doing, impressed the straight-laced hero known as the Middleman (Matt Keeslar). Hello, new career! Now she’s balancing her art, her friends, and saving the planet while battling alien evils for the world’s most ludicrously secret organization. “The Middleman” – fighting evil so you don’t have to.

Was it any good?
British readers: did you watch BBC3’s Phoo Action? If not (and for the benefit of US readers), here’s the trailer. The Middleman is pretty much the US version of Phoo Action, a never-ending array of comic-book and pop TV-derived moments assembled together in the hope that even if 10% of it is cool, that’s still a whole lot of cool as a result.

Based on former Lost and The Pretender producer Javier Grillo-Marxuach’s comic of the same name, it follows jaded temp/art student Wendy Watson (Morales) and her encounter with and recruitment by the Middle Man, an Adam West-as-Batman style figure who drinks milk, listens to Pat Boone and puts aliens, evil geniuses and master criminals to rights using advanced weapons and his Navy SEAL training. He doesn’t know why or who for – he’s the Middleman. He just does, because it’s the right thing to do, gosh darn it.

While nowhere near as left field as Phoo Action, it does have that same desperate, “down with the kids” feel to it as well as far stronger plotting and consistency. Quite who these kids are the show targets, I don’t know, since again like Phoo Action, it betrays its creator’s age: you’ll have to have watched Batman, The Avengers, Dudley Do-Right and the original The Planet of the Apes, read The Flash and more just to get 1% of the jokes. You’ll probably have to rewatch it a dozen times to get the next 1%.

Oddly though, it doesn’t seem to know why it’s doing it: it just does it. Why is it sending up The Avengers and The Incredibles (“If I catch you monologuing again…”)? Because it can. Why does it have talking gorillas? Because it can. It’s not satirising comics per se; it’s not sending up old TV shows or movies. It’s sending up all of pop culture ever while simultaneously basking in its glory.

While that doesn’t make it as strong or as focused as some other shows, it does give it an open-ended quality that allows it simply to dwell in a world of its own making, without worrying it’s not 100% accurate in its pastiches. It feels a little try-hard, a little too geeky and a little too old for the kids its probably aimed at. But as a gateway drug to geekier pop culture, it works nicely and is recreational, amusing, smart and enjoyable.

Don’t fight it – go with the flow.

Here are some YouTube trailers.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.