"...an over-the-top, sixteen-car-pileup-sugar-popped-cereal-bowl of a series that's not afraid to be everything your mother warned you about television: a cartoonishly extreme, randomly fantastic, special-effects laden, three-fisted walking-and-talking toy-line advertisement of an action-adventure-sci-fi comic book in which the fabric of reality barely survives in the end, and the journey invariably reveals a completely surreal strangeness behind everything we hold to be true."
— Javier Grillo-Marxuach's original pitch for The Middleman.
Wendy "Dub-Dub" Watson is an art school graduate who, like most artists, has to get a Real Job to get by in life. Because she's an artist, this means temp work. Her mother worries about her and calls to ask embarrassing questions about her sex life that Wendy answers in dutiful deadpan ... until the day she's temping for a genetics research firm and a multi-limbed, multi-eyed monster shows up in the reception area. Enter...The Middleman. He seems to be a refugee from the Silver Age of Comics, from his looks to his manner of speech. And having dispatched his duty, he warns Wendy that as far as the rest of the world is concerned this was a "gas explosion" and if she tells the truth of what she's seen he'll have to root her out like a hog (not in the Australian sense) and kill her.Wendy is immediately fired; it turns out her boss believes that she was the one who caused the "gas explosion" by fiddling with her missing father's lucky lighter. She spends a day pounding the pavement looking for more temp work but she finds no prospects now that word's spread that she's a possible pyromaniac. So she returns to the illegal sublet she shares with another young, photogenic artist only to have her artist-activist roommate Lacey inform her that she has a message from one more temp agency...a rather oddly named temp agency...and they want to see her immediately.So Wendy reports to the Jolly Fats Weehawken Temp Agency to check on the job offer. After a battery of increasingly bizarre aptitude tests at the hands of the cranky receptionist Ida, Wendy is introduced to The Middleman, who explains what his organization is about. You know the way things work in comic books where mad Scientists and supervillains are always trying to take over the world? Well, that's also the way things work in real life. It seems he's looking for an apprentice and Wendy's cynical, snarky attitude and matter-of-fact reactions to things like the eyeball monster make her an ideal candidate for the job. Angry that he'd framed her Wendy refuses at first, but thanks to her current lack of any other prospects she relents and joins up. After that she embraces this new lifestyle and proves to excel at it, despite the problems a twenty-four hour a day "temp job" causes in her personal life.Originally a comic book (that itself started as a television pitch), Javier Grillo-Marxuach aptly adapted it for a surprisingly faithful series that had one season on the increasingly inaccurately named ABC Family Channel. The season was originally intended to be thirteen episodes long, but was cut to twelve for budgetary reasons (and still managed to end on a satisfying note). The script for the never-filmed thirteenth episode, titled "The Doomsday Armageddon Apocalypse," debuted in a table read at Comic-Con '09 with almost all of the original cast, and was released as a graphic novel shortly thereafter. It is definitive proof that Tropes Are Not Bad.
The Middleman: She's had the crankies something awful since she got stuck on "Domineering Schoolmarm version 2.0".
Air-Vent Passageway: Lampshaded ("Was this building designed by television writers?") and then justified with "The Nakatomi Protocol," which makes the normally capillary-sized airvents big enough for people to crawl through
Alpha Bitch: The sorority girl Allie from "The Ectoplasmic Panhellenic Investigation" initially appears to be one, but is soon revealed to merely be suspicious of Wendy thanks to the Executive Board having been body swapped with physics nerds trying to take down the Greek system, and she turns out to be fairly nice and helpful with Wendy's current romantic drama
Applied Phlebotinum: The Middleman admits he has no idea whence come the weapons and gadgets and things — they just show up sometimes in boxes.
Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: In the 13th episode: "You murdered my boyfriend, destroyed my workplace, trapped Noser in a giant diamond, gave my best friend Lacey leukemia, and did God knows what to the only father figure I've ever known, and the worst you could think to do to me was put me in a slave girl costume?"
Beard of Evil: Every male in the alternate universe has a goatee. Except for the guy who wants to leave it
Big "NO!": In the very first episode, when the villain of the day, a mad scientist planning to build an army of super-gorilla soldiers controlled by a supercomputer to take over the world, accidentally destroys her own supercomputer. It's hilariously long.
Don Calfari: But I did not give the order to wipe out the Spaldoni family. That is an order that I did not give. Henchman: Okay, Don Calfari. If you did not give the order, then what does that mean? Don Calfari: That would mean someone had to give the order... Someone that was not me.
Cassandra Truth: Pip tries to tell everyone that Noser is a ventriloquist, but it doesn't really help that he puts in the part about Lacey kissing him.
Disguised in Drag: In "The Ectoplasmic Panhellenic Investigation," a fraternity pledge sneaked into a sorority house this way, only to see and hear some ghosts as a result of Pineal Weirdness. Wendy eventually takes him back to the house in drag so the ghosts can explain how they got that way.
Dramatic Drop: Wendy drops a spoon upon unexpectedly getting a well-timed, very important tidbit of information.
Duel to the Death: In "The Sino-Mexican Revelation", MM must duel on behalf of Sensei Ping.
Eagleland: The Middleman is an excellent Type 1 example.
Failsafe Failure: Wendy has to push Ida's reset switch to stop the detonation. Unfortunately, the nanobots beat her to it and disabled it.
Fanservice: Quite a bit for a "family" show, including Wendy and Lacey's short-shorts and Dubbie's "slutty but sweet" pirate outfit in "The Sino-Mexican Revelation"
And don't forget the catsuit and the "Honey Ryder nightmare."
Prefer your eye candy male? The Middleman's spent some time in a bicep-baring toga (and later a tank top), altMiddleman goes shirtless in leather pants. And then there was the time he wore a tux. And got handcuffed to a pipe.
And then there was the time they both had to strip to their undies (and then more so for MM) in the Decontamination Chamber. Yowza. And then there's altLacey and altIda - same snark, completely different package
Wendy also used a tube of brown paint to make an excrement metaphor.
"Now let's try to get there before that little girl sucks the band through a hole... IN SPACE!. "
In "The Cursed Tuba", the Middleman is telling Lacey why they can't date, citing a "rule at my job". He wishes he could get around the rule, but his choice of quote and metaphor has an unfortunate alternate interpretation...
The Middleman: It's like Sam Boone says in Ride Lonesome; there are some things a man can't ride around.
The Middleman insists that Wendy must infiltrate the Omegas because a sorority house is the one place someone like him would never be "allowed to penetrate".
Wendy: "That's not what I heard."
The last televised episode has Wendy's boyfriend spending the night.
Wendy referring to the genetics lab monster as a "hentai tentacle monster".
In "The Boy-Band Superfan Interrogation", the episode starts with Wendy and roommates trying to adjust an old satellite dish to pick up a martial arts tournament...
Lacey: How about now? Wendy: Fuzz.... fuzz... fuzz... ooh, fuzzy porn! Lacey: Sounds good to me.
Genre Savvy: Both the Middleman and Wendy to various degrees. In fact, their knowledge of comic book tropes is part and parcel of the job they do.
A God Am I: In the panel for the 13th episode, collecting thousands of pineal glands and creating a hivemind from all the uMasters of the world allows Manservant Neville to become a Reality Warper. He quickly dubs himself a god.
Goshdang It To Heck: All of the Middleman's dialogue is like this, except for once (where it's appropriately bleeped).
In the Comic-Con 13th episode table read, you can tell the excrement's hit the cooling-device when MM swears twice without being bleeped (which also counts as a Precision F-Strike). Not that there's no bleeping - Wendy gets bleeped at least twice.
Most swearing is bleeped, and to emphasize the fact it's a "family" show, the lips of the person swearing are covered by a black box for the duration of the offending words...but there's a fractional delay to let astute viewers know which naughty word was likely the one spoken.
Israelis with Infrared Missiles: One episode has MM and Wendy pretending to be Mossad agents. Unfortunately, the guy they're bluffing is a former member of the IDF. Fortunately, the Middleman speaks Hebrew
MM: 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!
Wendy: Is that true? MM: Why would I lie about that? Wendy: It's just a very specific thing to hate.
It's Pronounced TroPAY: a plotpoint in one episode, when Tyler is being reviewed by the board of Fatboy Industries and he notices that they pronounce Manservant Neville's first name like it would normally be pronounced, rather than they way it actually is ("MA Nservant" rather than "Minservant") It reveals that this is just another test
Pip is usually described as a "malignant nematode", but the idea is the same.
Ida, who spends every episode making cranky, cutting remarks and casting aspersions on Dubbie's character. Still technically one of the good guys, though.
Just Between You and Me: Subverted in that the Palindrome doesn't want to talk about his plan. His alternate counterpart, however...
Kiss of Distraction: Lacey gets a videotape of Noser's ventriloquism performance away from Pip by distracting him with a kiss. Later on, Pip tries to explain to Joe that he had a tape of the performance but Lacey stole it, but Joe doesn't believe she would do such a thing. When Pip explains that she distracted him with a kiss, Joe laughs and says, "Yeah, this story's getting easier to believe."
Lampshade Hanging: Metaphorically speaking, there are lampshades hanging off every available surface on this show's sets. The Middleman and Dub-Dub seem to have a supply of them handy for hanging them whenever a situation calls for it.
There's a literal wall of unexplained lamps at the organization's headquarters. This may or may not be where they keep their extra shades in between cases.
Large Ham: You will use respect when addressing Sensei Ping!
The Middleman: Dubbie, cover your eyes! [fires device, which subdues someone who had been hiding on the ceiling] Wendy: [who paused to ask why rather than simply obeying and got hit by the device's discharge] ...concussive stun field generator. Yeah. [thud]
Noodle Incident: Lacey refers to something involving "blueberry pudding pops and the elliptical machine."
A slightly different version of the trope is used when the Middleman and Dubbie manage to bluff NASA away from a downed space probe...by pretending to be NASA. After the real agents leave...
Wendy: We should be NASA every mission. The Middleman: It's thinking like that that led to drug-resistant malaria.
Note however that doing the same thing every time really is what leads to drug-resistant malaria...
In the same episode, a minute earlier...
The Middleman: I'll be godfather to an aardvark before I let a debacle like the Viking Mission happen on my watch. Wendy: The Viking... but those were unmanned...? The Middleman: I'll explain in the car. * cuts directly to next scene with no explanation*
Older Than They Look: If everything said about Sensei Ping is taken at face value, he must be at least seventy years old, but he only appears to be around forty.
Once an Episode: EveryMotive Rant includes the villain claiming that his or her plan is "sheer elegance in its simplicity, isn't it?" followed up by either Wendy or the Middleman saying "No."
There's also the Wilhelm Scream in every episodes and "reaping the whirlwind" pops up a lot. Plus, they usually have some prop from the previous episode in the background.
Painting the Medium: every single time the time is mentioned in on-screen titles, it's different. In episode three, it changed between time zones ("Alaska Time," "Zulu Time"), in episode five it was phrases about time ("Hammer Time," "Jail Time") In episode eleven it was "Four Hours Six Minutes Before the Inevitable Detonation." Also, Wendy's and Lacey's apartment is usually referred to as "The illegal sublet Wendy shares with another young, photogenic artist." (Occasionally it's "her equally adorable roommate Lacey" instead.)
At least once it was "her sexpot roommate."
There's also the time that Wendy wonders if the Middleman secret headquarters was built by TV writers
Missing Mom: Lacey's mother, Dr. Barbara Thornfield, M.D. PhD is so busy she calls once a year to rationalize why she forgot Lacey's birthday, every year. She's so distant that her assistant doesn't know which daughter Lacey is, and Lacey is an only child. She's so distant that Lacey does not call her "mother" or "mom" but "Dr. Thornfield" and when not speaking to her directly refers to her as "Dr. Barbara Thornfield, M.D. PhD".
Disappeared Dad: Wendy's father has been missing since she was 14. All she has to remember him by is a Zippo lighter which the Middleman used to frame her for the event at which they met so he could recruit her.
Retirony: Cindy, who was two weeks away from retirement.
The Resolution Will Not Be Televised : The show was canceled after 12 of 13 episodes. The finale, The Doomsday Armageddon Apocalypse has been adapted into a graphic novel (not to be confused with the earlier graphic novels, which were adapted into the TV show, take place in a different continuity to the show/new comic, and also ended on a mysterious-and-as-yet-unexplained cliffhanger). At Comic-Con 2009, the whole cast got together to do a read-through of the unfilmed script for Episode 13. A semi-approved 'bootleg' video of the event is available online (and at one point was linked to from the O2STK website, and it eventually appeared on youtube.
Running Gag: The Interrodroid getting its head ripped off, Ida always calling Wendy a stoner, and the removal of the pineal gland causing psychic powers. Also, the fake IDs used by Middleman and Wendy:
Doctor: We don't get many visitors from the Department of Education. Wendy: Well, if you can teach the criminally insane, you can teach anyone.
Either Tyler or Wendy referring to a "____-nado", followed up with the other one responding "A tornado made of ____?"
Also, the "My plan is sheer elegance in its simplicity, isn't it?" line that every. single. villain uses.
Schmuck Bait: The Middleman gives Wendy a list of three things she must never bring up in conversation with Sensei Ping. Naturally, she ends up bringing up all three.
Although she did do it on purpose because he was getting on her nerves.
Secret Identity: Lacey and Noser both think that Wendy works for a consultant who solves exotic problems. Which, strictly speaking, is true. But Lacey also knows about Wendy's Middlewatch and thinks it's pretty odd for a temp job to have a pager that works like that.
Heck, Lacey seems oblivious even when she encounters Wendy wearing her uniform complete with sidearm.
Serial Escalation: Every episode seems able to top the last in making everything more awesome.
Shoe Phone: There's a lot of unusual spy gear, ranging from watches to funky glasses.
Shout-Out: To other TV shows, movies, comic books and pop culture. Dozens in any given episode.
The Avengers - Like Wendy's father, Emma Peel's husband disappeared in a mysterious and unexplained DC-10 crash. Also, Wendy's Imagine Spot upon being asked to join the Middleman is a pastiche of the Avengers opening credit sequence.
Doctor Who: The NASA experts are named after Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Sgt. Benton, and Zoe Herriot, as well as a reference to "Zygons," "McCrimmon College" (for Jamie McCrimmon), and "The Treaty of Periperpegilliam" (for Peri, because that was actually her first name).
In the unmade thirteenth episode, the Middleman's instructions to Wendy before his Heroic Sacrifice are a direct quote from the speech the First Doctor gives his granddaughter before they part.
The titles of each episode/graphic novel are homages to Robert Ludlum.
Sir Swears-a-Lot: Cindy Marshall is constantly dropping Cluster F-Bombs, especially when the Middleman tries to interrogate her. This is especially funny as, while she's actually a hardened alien rebel commando, Cindy Marshall looks like a fourteen year old girl
Spicy Latina: Invoked by Middleman '69, who refers to Wendy as "a hot and spicy Spanish girl."
Stock Scream: The "Wilhelm" can be heard Once an Episode. Including the comic version of Episode 13, where it's rendered as "aaaah-aaaaargh!", with a note in the annotation explaining that's the best they could do.
Technical Pacifist: Wendy hates guns, but has a bit of a geeky affection for the sci-fi weapons the Middle organization uses. She also loves training with Sensei Ping, and she frequently protests the Middleman's tendencies toward violence. But she had no problem whatsoever beating a venomous Peruvian Pike to death.
Not to mention her childhood dream of killing a vampire.
They Call Me Mister Tibbs: Wendy has a problem of people going overly familiar with her. Her roommate Lacey calls her Dub-Dub, and The Middleman calls her Dubbie. Only Cloudcuckoolander Noser seems to address her only as 'Wendy Watson' and Wendy's then-boyfriend Ben seemed to call her by her normal full name or just "Wendy".
The Middleman will call her "Wendy" when he's in great danger, or he's concerned for her safety.
Understanding Boyfriend: For the brief time in the thirteenth episode when Tyler is aware of Wendy's job, the only thing about it that bothers him is the realization that his own job was just a means for Manservant Neville to get to her.
Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Cecil Rogers, who's immortal, refuses to go on boats of any kind. Admittedly, he has good cause—he's both a survivor of the Titanic and he points out that if he drowns he'll be stuck in a constant cycle of drowning and being revived for eternity. It turns out this was a lie later on when he shows up on the ship in question, revealing himself to be the episode's Big Bad
Will Not Tell a Lie: The Middleman, at least when he's not undercover. Hilariously used in the pilot: