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Series / The Middleman

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" 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. The season was originally intended to be thirteen episodes long, but was cut to twelve for budgetary reasons. 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. Later another graphic novel and table read was released for a crossover between the comic and television series that resolves the mystery of what happened to Wendy Watson's missing father in both dimensions.

This series provides examples of:

  • Absurd Brand Name: The energy drink "'!!!!'", which characters pronounce by doing jazz hands, stomping, and making an enthusiastic face.
  • Absurdly High-Stakes Game: Shabumi in "The Obsolescent Cryogenic Meltdown"
  • Action Girl: Wendy Watson, bien sur!
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot
    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.
  • Aliens Speaking English: Justified, they live on Earth after all.
  • The Alleged Car: Wendy's Hruck Bugbear AKA "the poor man's Yugo."
    The Middleman: Sweet mother of Preston Tucker! Did you pick him up in that?
    Wendy: Yes!
    The Middleman: You said you had a car!
  • Allergic to Love: The Middleman himself has a mild to moderate case.
  • Alliterative Name: true of not only the people in the show (as is proper in any Comic Books Homage), but the dialogue is also rife with alliteration.
    • The Fabulous Face, former Middle organization super villain.
    • Guy Goddard former Middleman.
    • The Middle Man
    • Wendy's ex boyfriend, Tommy Tam.
    • Wendy Watson
    • And as of the Comic-Con panel for the 13th episode: previous Middleman Raveena Rao, and Clarence Colton, the current Middleman's real name.
  • 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.
  • Alternate History: The Titanic figures in. And they did the research.
  • Alternate Universe: The twelfth episode involves one where FatBoy Industries has taken over the country.
  • Appearance Is in the Eye of the Beholder: The Middleman pretends the Underworld is this when he and Wendy visit; Wendy sees a soul-sucking office building, the Middleman claims he sees a vast overgrown field full of fierce beasts... before admitting he sees an office building as well.
    Wendy: (smiles) Wow. Somebody's funny in the Underworld.
  • 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?"
  • Artifact of Doom: The Cursed Tuba.
  • 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.
  • Brand X:
    • Tahiti Water is a Captain Ersatz of Fiji water.
    • !!!! is a dodge for those energy drinks in narrow cans like Red Bull, Monster, and Rockstar.
    • Wilderness Girls = Girl Scouts. Skinny Mints = Thin Mints. Bora Boras = Samoas
    • = MySpace, Facebook, YouTube
    • The uMaster = The iPod
  • Call-Back: All of The Middleman's "Code 47s" to Wendy in the case of his death are references to previous episodes
  • Calvinball: Shibumi. It apparently has rules, but they're apparently impossibly complex
  • Captain Obvious:
    • Don Calfari in the pilot.
      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.
    • The Middleman has shades of this occasionally.
      Middleman: Dubbie? It is I, the Middleman.
      Wendy: Really. Calling me on the Middlewatch, that only we have.
  • 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.
  • Cat Fight: Subverted, bigtime.
  • Catchphrase: Several:
    • "Oh phooey."
    • Also, "I'm just the middleman."
    • "You have to admit, my plan is sheer elegance in its simplicity."
      • "No!"
  • Celebrity Star: Boy Band Varsity Fanclub
    • Also, Kevin Sorbo as Middleman '69
  • Celestial Bureaucracy: The Underworld is a giant office building with files in the back room.
  • Chekhov M.I.A.: Wendy's father disappeared under mysterious circumstances.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The concussive stun field generator.
    • The rarely accurate Tarot card reader girl.
  • The Chew Toy: The Training Robot, who always ends up having its head knocked off.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Noser, who greets Dub-Dub each time she gets off the elevator with lyrics. She identifies them.
  • Decontamination Chamber: That's what you get for being made of meat.
  • Demonic Dummy: Little Vladdie, who is Vlad the Impaler's favorite ventriloquist dummy
  • Department of Redundancy Department: "An Upscale Shopping Center in an Upscale Part of Town."
    • "The Doomsday Armageddon Apocalypse"
  • "Die Hard" on an X: Repeatedly and forcefully lampshaded. Or, as the Middleman puts it, the HQ gets invaded three times a year.
  • 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.
  • The Dreaded: Noser's talent and reputation as a ventriloquist are so great that the mere mention of his name causes one contestant in a competition to drop out, leave and quite possibly quit competing all together.
  • 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.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The Middleman swearing in the first episode, a one-off joke that's completely inconsistent with his characterization from then on. The first episode being a near-perfect recreation of the original miniseries with virtually no changes made to the script, this was lifted directly from the page.
  • Every Episode Ending: Wendy and Lacey in their illegal sublet, bonding.
  • Evil Is Petty: A common theme. Many villains are engaging in nefarious acts for disproportionately small gains.
    The Middleman: All this, just to bring down a sorority? Why?
    Eleanor Draper: The Omegas are elitist, hedonistic...
    The Middleman: They wouldn't take you, would they?
    Eleanor Draper: I hate those exclusive sluts!
  • Extended Disarming: the Middleman makes liberal use of Hammerspace doing this in the first episode before going on to prove his badass is in full working order.
  • Eyepatch of Power: The altMiddleman has one... because Sensei Ping plucked out his eye.
  • 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
  • "Fantastic Voyage" Plot: Or, as they put it, Die Hard. In a robot.
  • For Halloween, I Am Going as Myself: Supernatural creatures picking jobs that no one would bat an eye at discovering them doing.
  • "Freaky Friday" Flip: In "The Ectoplasmic Panhellenic Investigation," a mad scientist in training switches minds with the Middleman.
  • Funny Background Event: The very first scene of the very first episode and at least Once an Episode thereafter. Dubbie's battle with the giant levitating fish is probably the best example.
  • Fun with Subtitles: In "The Sino-Mexican Revelation", Wendy shakes down a lucha martial artist for information; at first she talks to him in Spanish with helpful English subtitles... and when she slips and starts talking in English, the subtitles are in Spanish. Believe it or not this is also one of those gags that was replicated faithfully from the comic, though in a different scene.
  • Geeky Turn-On: Wendy and her boyfriend have sex for the first time after locating and playing the ultra-rare, super violent video game, Gut Wrencher 1, which is described as "the goriest side-scroller in history, banned in 17 countries, the only video game to be denounced by both Tipper Gore and the Dalai Lama". Wendy is especially excited because they are playing the arcade version (of which they only made 150 before it went set-top), which has "4 levels of sheer carnage" which the set-top version did not have. When they beat the 86th level of Blood Lust Catamite (though it took 18 dollars in quarters and Wendy's use of the Scud Missile), they finally resolve their up to this point UST.
  • 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.
  • Ghost in the Machine: The literal machine, as Ida's brain looks exactly like Ida.
  • 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.
  • Good News, Bad News: Taken to extremes.
    Ida: I've got good news, bad news, more bad news, and worse news.
  • 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.
  • Greasy Spoon: Batter of the Bulge Pancake House (home of the Luftwaffle, the Panzercake, and an un-named dish which references the invasion of Crete).
  • Hammerspace: The Middleman decides to walk into a situation unarmed, and spends several moments pulling increasingly improbable weapons and devices off his person, including an opened crossbow.
  • Imagine Spot: Wendy goes off into daydream land a couple times an episode when prompted by a situation that warrants her thinking something over.
  • Infinite Supplies: Lampshaded; The Middleman doesn't know where any of his stuff came from, it's just there.
    I got recruited the exact same way you did. When the last Middleman hired me, he never said (who he worked for) and I never asked. Ida was already there. So were all the weapons and gadgets and things. I don't know where they come from, they just do. Maybe Ida runs the show. Maybe it's "The Conspiracy." Maybe it's God. I'm just The Middleman.
  • Informed Ability: Noser's abilities with music and ventriloquism are supposed to be virtuoso level; we know this from the reactions of people around him rather than ever seeing him ply his craft.
    Tyler: That's the longest game of stump the band I've ever seen without hearing any music.
  • Insistent Terminology: The title cards always refer to Wendy's place as "The illegal sublet Wendy shares with another young, photogenic artist." The pirate themed bar has a similar insistent name.
  • Ironic Echo: approximately half of the snark, lending credence to Wendy's Photographic Memory.
  • It's Personal: Certain things make even MM break the rules.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Why Lacey decides to dump Tyler so he can date Wendy. Please note that the "beloved" in this example is Wendy, not Tyler
  • Jerkass:
    • Pip is usually described as a "malignant nematode", but the idea is the same.
    • Sensei Ping, as part of his hard-core training programme.
    • 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."
  • Lampshaded the Obscure Reference: Spoofed when Middleman '69, who has been in cryogenic stasis for the past for decades, makes a Star Trek reference and then apologizes for referencing an obscure short-lived TV series.
  • 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: Quite a few. Most notably...
    • You will use respect when addressing Sensei Ping!
    • Roxy Wasserman's fangs always have chewed scenery stuck between them. Just as it should be.
    • Kevin Sorbo. Natch.
    • Alt Middleman's actor really seems to relish going to the dark side.
    • Just for good measure: Pip.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia:
    • Of the two-day variety in Tyler's case.
    • In "The Vampiric Puppet Lamentation," the Middleman actually manages to utter the phrase "suffering from some sort of vampire-puppet-induced amnesia" with a straight face.
  • Literal Metaphor: More a case of confused slang terms.
    Wendy: Guy, what are you doing here?
    Guy: At present, I'm looking for some hooch.
    Wendy: You stay away from my roommate!
    Guy: I meant a drink.
  • Layman's Terms: MM explaining the H.E.Y.D.A.R. to Wendy.
  • Living Forever Is Awesome: Cecil Rogers.
    • "Did I mention how great the dating has been?"
  • No Name Given: The Middleman doesn't appear to go by any other name. Lacey, not knowing his name, refers to him as Sexy Bossman, to Dub-Dub's consternation.
    • In the comics, his first name is revealed as Clarence, during his funeral.
    • In the 13th episode, his name is revealed as Clarence Colton.
  • No Peripheral Vision: Subverted.
    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 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.
    • 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: Every Motive 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 replying "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.
    • The Funny Background Event
    • In the comic book every volume has the phrase "Giant Balls" in a different language (Italian in volume 1, Spanish in volume 2, French in volume 3).
  • Only One Name: Noser, one of the other young, photogenic artists who lives in the illegal sublet. He has never been addressed as anything else but that one name.
    • Although the Middleman always addresses him as Mister Noser.
  • Our Monsters Are Different
  • 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
  • Parental Abandonment:
    • 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.
  • Photographic Memory: One of Dub-Dub's talents... maybe
    Middleman: Photographic Memory?
    Wendy: Abstract Impressionist.
  • Pineal Weirdness: Apparently losing your pineal gland either lets you see ghosts or puts you in psychic contact with your Mirror Universe counterpart.
    • Or if you're a flying pike, your pineal gland gives the antidote for fish zombification.
  • Post-Kiss Catatonia: Pip, after Lacey kisses him.
  • The Power of Love: MM and Lacey
    • What might be a subversion, as they are taken hostage/over by demonic puppets, which turn into real people if married while on the arms of two people who are in true love.
  • Pretentious Latin Motto:
    • The Middleman organization's motto: Pugnantes Malos, ne hos Pugnetis: We Fight Evil So You Don't Have To
    • Pip used pretentious Latin in the gallery show he'd tried to pull off: Deus ex Pip.
      Pip: It's Latin for "The Machines of Pip."
      Lacey: That's not what it means.
  • Prophecy Twist: "Young Noser will be rent limb from limb to save you!"
  • Puppy-Dog Eyes: Lacey excels at them when she's not being smug.
  • Race Lift: Wendy was originally white in the comics but played by Natalie Morales who is Cuban-American.
  • Retirony: Cindy, who was two weeks away from retirement.
  • 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.
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: This show practically runs on it.
  • 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.
  • Theme Song: "Middleman!"
  • They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!:
    • Wendy has a problem of people going overly familiar with her. Despite this her roommate Lacey calls her Dub-Dub, The Middleman calls her Dubbie, and Tyler calls her Dubs. Cloudcuckoolander Noser always addresses her by her full name 'Wendy Watson'. Wendy's first episode soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend Ben seems to be just about the only one who ever just called her "Wendy".
    • The Middleman will call her "Wendy" when he's in great danger, or he's concerned for her safety.
  • Title In: Spoofed, playfully, and with increasing wackiness and tongue-in-cheekiness.
  • Training from Hell: Averted. MM warns Wendy that Sensei Ping's tutelage will be painful and cruel. Wendy loves every minute.
  • Trojan Prisoner: Wendy and Alt-Lacey try this to escape from Fatboy Industries after knocking out Alt-Wendy, who's in charge. It doesn't go well.
  • Truth Serums: One of the Middleman's gadgets works like a room-wide dispersal of such.