Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Middleman, "The Manicoid Teleportation Conundrum": How's that workin' out for ya?

Brief spoilers for the latest episode of "The Middleman" coming up just as soon as I match up all my pairs of Middle-socks...

Of the four episodes they've done so far, this was definitely the weakest. A Dr. Phil parody seems both too current (Wendy's world is supposed to be modern, but Middle-world so far has been quite retro) and too easy. (Plus, I made the mistake of watching the previews last week, which gave away that Dr. Gill was the bad guy, and that he'd wind up trying to psychoanalyze Wendy in the middle of a shoot-out. Add ABC Family to the list of channels where I will now refuse to watch any previews.)

Still, props for the steady stream of random "Back to the Future" trilogy references (the fake bomb was at the Twin Pines Mall, and cover identities included Doc Brown, Biff's old west ancestor, and Mary Steenburgen's character from BttF 3), plus the hilarious sequence where the Middleman tried to defend Dubby's fitness at the exact moment we could see her on the monitor beating holy hell out of the robot. It's an old joke, but a well-executed one. I also liked the makeup design for the aliens, which managed to straddle the line between something obviously not right and something that could have been actual plastic surgery gone awry. (If you've ever seen a picture of scary cat lady Jocelyn Wildenstein -- and I would strongly advise against clicking through to that link if you've recently eaten or are planning to eat -- you know any sick thing is possible.)

We've been talking for a few weeks now about whether the show can maintain the tone and the level of demented genius we've gotten through the first three episodes. I'd say there were enough funny and tonally-correct things in this one to consider it a slight misstep and not the first sign that the series isn't sustainable in the long term. But we'll see.

What did everybody else think?

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

I can't believe you're actually dedicating a column to this show every week. Slow summer, huh?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Slow summer, good show. Based on the first few episodes, I'd be writing about this thing in-season.

Speaker said...

Got the google alert from NJ.com first, so hope you don't mind me re-posting my comment from there:

"Just a bit of FYI/Trivia - this episode was actually the 2nd filmed, but was pushed back and tailored to air 4th for some reason. The rest of the eps are airing in production order, but the fact that the characters were written pre-development from the preceding episodes may be why it seemed weaker."

Amy said...

I am loving this show for sure (despite last night seeming like a downslide). Love the tone, characters, chemistry of all the actors (not romantically, just how they interact). I love the art design of the sets and also of the actual art that WW paints. I love the subtitles! And I love the concept.....

....but that is the one thing that bothers me a little.

I believed the concept to be that their job was to cover -up comic book style crimes to keep regular people from knowing what kind of world they live it. It seems to me that they actually fight the crime now, not cover it up....I mean sometime they will make up some stories when they arrive on scene, but I feel like either I am wrong about the concept or they are getting away from it??

Thoughts?

R.A. Porter said...

It was the weakest overall, but still managed to hit most of its marks for me. Besides, any show hip enough to have a battle at Vasquez Rocks gets extra points in my book.

TheWife *despises* this show, which is rough. I thought last night, with its much easier to catch BTTF references would have at least gotten a chuckle out of her. Nope. I guess this one's polarizing on the comic geek/non-comic geek axis.

Figgsrock2 said...

Alan,

Is it just me, or did it seem like this ep. should have been second in the run? There was an awful lot of explaining of Middle-gadgets that we'd see before (i.e. the Middle-car), and the ex-boyfriend thing seems like it would have been better served after the pilot.

I know they did a reference to her flying the plane in the previous ep, but that seemed tacked on.

Figgsrock2 said...

Oops, I just read what Speaker wrote, so my suspicions were correct.

Eric said...

I thought that location looked familiar. And I'm glad to have a name for it, rather than calling it "That place where they filmed a bunch of Star Trek fights that Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey referenced."

It's a "Hey, It's That Place!" Are there any others?

Anyway, I also thought that this was the weakest episode so far, but I still think the quality is sustainable throughout the series.

Middleman will pair nicely with Eureka when it comes back in a few weeks.

Devin McCullen said...

A "Hey, it's that place?" Hmm. Does it count if you know it's in a particular city, but don't really know what it is? I suspect that the Washington Square Arch would fill that for NY, for people outside the area. And there's probably some intersections in Toronto that we don't realize we've seen a lot.

Karen said...

Yeah, my brain went straight to Jocelyn Wildenstein from the first close-up of the shipping lady, and since I DO know what she looks like AND I'm eating at the moment, I won't click through.

Tracey said...

This was definitely weaker than the last two we've seen. I'm relieved to hear that this was the second one filmed, because it means that the show is continuing its upward trend. There was a lot of good stuff in this one, but it was nearly drowned in that whole Wendy-must-cry-over-Ben subplot that made me want to vomit.

Ben was barely a blip on the radar in the first episode, a marginally relevant character who hasn't even been mentioned in the last two episodes. I didn't buy that Wendy would be crying over the breakup at this point (though maybe pissed about the online video). It was just irritating to watch her friends encourage her to cry. I realize that this was a setup for the Dr. Phil -- er, Dr. Gil -- bit at the end, but even as I watched that Dr. Gil stuff, I found myself thinking, "oh, please, let her be faking this..." Which she was, but once I've started to think that way, I've stepped outside the narrative, and that's never a good thing.

They used a few of the tropes from the first episode, and since this was intended to be second, it suggests that they meant to use these things all the time and moved away from them: the montage of B&W images of Wendy; the country music song (same song, even, although it was a good way to make it clear that it was Middleman)

And how can Wendy be painting pictures of the things she's supposed to be covering up???

OK, now the good stuff: Love the idea that aliens hide out in posh neighborhoods because they look like people with too much plastic surgery. It reminded me of the oft-heard comments that Joan Rivers "doesn't look human" anymore. And of course, it reminds me of the Cat Lady, who I've seen on The Soup many times.

Love the idea that sensitive guy Dr. Gil is a hunter who has to hide it because his Oprah audience wouldn't approve. Really, really love the idea that he's seeking revenge for aliens killing his father ... by crashing their ship on top of him when the father shot them down for no reason (hey, it's his 2nd Amendment right!) Did you catch the crawl at the end, where the news is talking about Dr. Gil being trampled by rhinos? "Closed casket funeral is planned."

I like the tour of the Middlefacilities, which certainly seems like a second-ep thing but was good to get.

Love those BttF references. Lyon Estates, Twin Pines Mall, Dr. Emmett Brown, Hill Valley, Eastwood Ravine, Buford Tannen, Clara Clayton, Agent Strickland, and Dr. Gil's TV station, KBTTF! Do we count the fact that the Middlemobile, like the upgraded time machine at the end of the first movie, runs on garbage? (yes, I am a geek) But the plethora of specifically BttF references made the other references seem ... a bit out of place. Yippee-kai-yay MF (from Die Hard) leaps out at me. The spaceship from The Day the Earth Stood Still. And was the Department of Fish and Wildlife a deliberate reference to The Invisible Man?

OK, I'll shut up now and let other people comment. hee hee.

barefootjim said...

I'm glad that my suspicion that they may have been running them out of order was borne out, despite the "flying the middlejet to Yucatan" misdirection.

I wonder if they ran it out of order because it was obviously a weaker episode, and they didn't the potential audience to be turned off, or it just seemed like a weaker episode because the character arcs were weird.

I'm guessing it was the former, so ABC Family gets a mulligan for something that normally sets me off (Firefly, anyone?), as long as it doesn't happen again.

Especially if they fix it for the DVD.

Kensington said...

Okay, well I'm glad to hear that a lot of people thought this was a weaker episode, because it was my first, and I was...unimpressed.

I didn't think it was bad. Matt Keeslar has a nice energy, and his chemistry with Natalie Morales is enjoyable, and I think now that I'll give it at least another chance. Based on this episode, I'd have to relegate it to background noise at best, I think.

ant said...

Is anyone else having trouble with the ABC Family feed? I've had digital static each time I've tivo-ed it, but this time the picture went out every 10 seconds. At least it was the weak episode . . .

Tracey said...

@ant: I had problems DVR'ing the Luchadores episode, but haven't had trouble since then. There was copyright protection on it that blocked my DVR, and all I got was commercials!

FYI: Is it just me, or is Donatella Versace a Manicoid? See:
http://totallylookslike.com/2008/07/17/donatella-versace/