Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Middleman, "The Clotharian Contamination Protocol": Welcome to the party, pal!

Spoilers for the season's penultimate episode of "The Middleman" coming up just as soon as I confess that I did, once upon a time, own "The Return of Bruno" on cassette...

When a show has as many unstable elements as "Middleman," you have to get the mixture just right. Add too much of any one ingredient, and you won't get the tricky reaction you were hoping for, as happened with last week's puppet episode. (Then again, I seem to have been one of the few dissenters on that one, so what the hell do I know?)

It's hard for me to quantify exactly why "The Clotharian Contamination Protocol" worked when last week's didn't (yeah, I know, I only get paid to explain things like that), but it simply did. The pop culture references (starting with a subtle "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" riff that then morphed into a far more overt "Die Hard" homage, with a splash of "Charlie's Angels" with the design of Ida's brain) all flowed well, the emotional moments like Wendy's good-bye to Middleman were lovely, and the callbacks to previous episodes (their knowledge that Ida can die and be resurrected easily, Tyler's job interview shot in the same style as Wendy's Middleman audition) gave it all some added resonance. This one, I liked a lot, and it makes me even sadder that next week will most likely be the last "Middleman" ever.

Some other random thoughts:

• Middleman dressing down the NASA employees and Wendy's admiration of same was great, but what made the scene really funny was Middleman's response to Wendy's suggestion that they always pose as NASA guys: "It's thinking like that that led to drug-resistant malaria."

• Given how closely Tyler's audition mirrored Wendy's, and that Tyler almost wound up becoming the new Middleman-in-training (which I guess makes him the Guy Gardner of Middle-world), should we assume that Manservant Neville (played by the always hammy/creepy Mark Sheppard) is running some kind of evil version of O2STK? And that they'll figure heavily into next week's evil parallel universe storyline?

• "It's coming in hotter than the Devil's wedding tackle!" may be one of my favorite lines in the run of the show.

• Why is Lacey wanted in three states?

• Am I the only one who wanted to sick the Interidroid on whichever ABC Family exec thought it would be a brilliant idea to have a "Samurai Girl" banner ad cover up one-third of the screen at the exact moment the show was doing one of its more elaborate chyron gags? Urge to kill... rising...

• Also, was I the only one who, when Dubby suggested the building was designed by TV writers, immediately thought of Sigourney Weaver screaming "This episode was badly-written! Whoever wrote this episode should die!" while running through the "Galaxy Quest" chompers?

• Speaking of "Die Hard," let me remind you that anytime is the right time to enjoy another listen to Guyz Nite's ode to the hijinx at Nakatomi Plaza.

What did everybody else think?

19 comments:

Bobman said...

Wow, next week is the last ep? That's a damn shame. This show is so freakin' clever, it kills me. Watching it, aside from being generally fun, is also like a game trying to recognize as many little references as possible.


Also, I didn't notice any banner ads covering up a clever chyron, but there was one unfortunate banner ad during a certain gratuitous underwear scene....

David J. Loehr said...

Loved this one. And don't worry, while I enjoyed the various parts of the vampire puppet one--especially the bat puppet--I didn't think it held together, especially compared to the "Smile Time" episode of Angel.

Anyway. This episode. I especially liked the nod of naming the NASA man "Mr. Lethbridge-Stewart," which was the name of the Brigadier in charge of UNIT, the group that the Third Doctor worked with waaaay back in Doctor Who continuity. This kind of event would have been right up their alley. It immediately made me wonder if, like MM and Dubby, they weren't really from NASA either...

And yes, Manservant Neville is straight from the comic book version, and you're correct to be suspicious.

pgillan said...

I've been sort of lukewarm about this show since the beginning, but I thought the last few episodes have been particularly strong. If there's one positive in all this, it's that the creators really got a chance work out the kinks and figure things out. Has there been any word on whether or not the studio is planning to release the show on DVD before they have to make a decision on the next season? Strong sales have helped some shows in the past.

Also, it looks like the actor who played Manservant Neville is having a little moment, what with his extended run on BSG and In Plain Sight a few weeks ago. It's this sort of thing that makes me think I watch too much TV.

Finally, is it my imagination, or do Green Lantern and Back to the Future seem to come up a lot around here?

Toby said...

I think another reference to 'Doctor Who' was to the Treaty of Perpugilliam, mentioned by the Maximum Aldwin of Clothar. Perpugilliam Brown was a Companion to the Fifth and Sixth Doctors.

LoopyChew said...

Ah, Mark Sheppard. While you're Manservant Neville here, and you've played many other characters since I've first met you, you'll always be Badger to me.

This episode killed. I enjoyed last week's episode, but this one was much more solidly put together.

Am I the only one disappointed that the Max Aldwin (which HAS to be a reference to something, even if Javi says otherwise) didn't mention that his plan was sheer elegance in its simplicity?

Brian said...

I believe another old-school Doctor Who reference was Tyler saying he went to MacCrimmon college - Jamie MacCrimmon was one of the Second Doctor's companions.

I'm also bummed that next week may well be it for this show. This is one of the rare hours of television that I don't record and watch later in the week, and it gives me something to look forward to on Mondays.

anon said...

Loopy Chew,

Do you mean "Maximum Aldwin" specifically, or "High Aldwin" as well? Because the latter is a Willow reference, and I'd be amazed if some other movie had a Maximum Aldwin.

-----

Mark Sheppard's been creeping me out since he appeared in The X-Files. It was interesting to learn from the MiddleBlog that the character of Manservant Neville was actually based on Sheppard.

Anon

pdf said...

Although it's obvious that Manservant Neville will be the villain of the next episode, I felt like the whole recruting-of-Tyler plot dragged. Maybe it's because I came to this show around episode three or four, so I didn't see Wendy's recruitment and thus the callbacks to it meant nothing to me. I also felt the whole dying-message thing was too heavy-handed. But the Ida-within-Ida was hilarious. And the Clotharian's hatred of cooking competition shows was entirely understandable.

So it goes said...

Lacey is most likely wanted in three states due to her proclivity for dramatic protest activities, Dubby is her bail buddy after all.

Tracey said...

LOTS of classic Doctor Who name checks in this episode. In addition to the ones already mentioned (Lethbridge-Stuart aka Brigadier; MacCrimmon aka Jamie; Treaty of Perry Perpigillium for Perpigillium "Perry" Brown), MM and WW used the names Benton and Herriot -- for UNIT Sergeant Benton and companion Zoe Herriot. That's all I caught; there may be more.

Best. Episode. Ever. It's really a shame that this show is probably not going to be picked up, because really, everything in this episode worked for me. The Die Hard suspense; job testing for Tyler (they dragged out the will-he-or-won't-he too long, but I loved the sequence where he finds the flaws in the board); the kinder, gentler Ida in her brain; High -- er, Maximum Aldwin complaining about Earth TV broadcasts and voyerism. Everything.

OK: I can tell that there are people here who have read the comic and know where this is going, so I'm probably going to embarass myself by speculating, but here it goes (and please don't spoil the next episode by correcting me):

I found myself bouncing back and forth between whether Fatboy Industries is the evil nemesis of O2STK, or it is actually O2STK central. I was leaning a bit toward the latter because when Ida made coffee for WW in an early ep, is was in a Fatboy cup, which suggested to me that Ida might also be a Fatboy product. I admit, though, the name of the "uMaster" device that has taken over the world like the iPod struck me as a bit threatening. Anybody seen the new Doctor Who's first Cybermen episode?

I also suspect that Manservant is an alien. Two reasons: first, he spoke of his uMaster being owned by "1 out of 25 humans." Not "people"; "humans." Odd phrasing. Second, his name reminded me of "Ford Prefect," something that might seem like a good idea to an alien with a superficial knowledge of Earth but would never be given by any sane Earth parent.

Tracey said...

Oh, and I forgot to mention: in the Code 47 where he's speaking in a foreign language (Spanish): I think the first part of it is "be careful with the leg of the iguana"; I didn't quite catch the second half of it, though the last word sounded like a Spanish version of the English word "bifurcated" (which would make sense, him gesturing two fingers splitting)

Anonymous said...

"Cuidado con la pata de la iguana.
Tiene dedos bifurcados."

Watch out for the iguana's leg. It has bifurcated toes.

R.A. Porter said...

When Badger offers you a job, think long and hard about whether to take it. If you decide the answer is yes, think some more.

Kensington said...

I heard one more Dr Who namecheck -- a reference to "Zygons", which were monsters that the Tom Baker Doctor encountered back in 1976. In context, the reference seemed to have something to do with the robot.

Karen said...

Oh, this was a lovely episode. Really lovely. Just....lovely. It'll be sick if this show isn't renewed.

Alan, reading your blog for so long much have synched our brainwaves, because I, too, was shocked by the banner ad covering the chyron AND I also immediately thought of Sigourney Weaver in Galaxy Quest. But, while the Devil's wedding tackle line was, indeed, classic, my personal favorite was, "I'll be shredded"--"Like a White House phone log."

It was bliss to see Badger/Romo Lampkin again but, even without the callbacks to Wendy's audition, it was clear that Fatboy Industries was Up To No Good. No one who dresses like Tyler in the final scene, with the earpiece phone (what the hell are those things called, other than pretentious?), can possibly be on the side of good.

Interesting that Dubbie thinks of the Middleman as a father, while Lacey, her peer, uh, doesn't. Dubbie's live Code 47 did have me choked up, though, not least because of how beautifully Keeslar played the MIddleman's reaction to it. Someone once said that the key to great acting is the ability to listen, and by that score he's a really talented actor.

Matthew L said...

I picked up the "Lethbridge-Stewart" reference, the "Zygons" reference, and the "Peri Perpegilliam" references, but it seems there were a whole heap of other Who references I missed. (I will admit that it was Lethbridge-Stewart that alerted me to the Who references, by which point the Benton/Herriot reference had already gone.)

Other bits I loved - the fact that the Nakatomi Protocol code played Ode To Joy, "Die Hard in a building", the fact that he did keep talking about the ST:TMP idea as a viable premise, the coundown to the "not-quite-so-inevitable explosion", Tyler's final test, and the complete lack of any indication what the uMaster actually does.

And, because I'm a couple of weeks behind In Plain Sight, I literally finished watching Mark Sheppard's appearance on that show, turned that episode off, and turned this episode on. First scene, we see Manservant Neville, and I found myself asking "Didn't we see him ten minutes ago"? (Although I did wish that whole scene had played out in the background, rather than constantly forcing us to notice it.

dez said...

^I thought it was pretty funny that Wendy completely missed what was going on until the hot dog vendor started paying attention to it. Tyler left her side, but she was busy talking she barely noticed.

This show is so awesome! I hate to think that next week's ep is a series, not a season, finale :(

David J. Loehr said...

If you want a key to ALL the pop culture references in this week's episode, click here for the most recent entry on Middleblog, which is really Javier's. Past posts include pop culture rundowns for all of the earlier episodes.

For the record, I did notice the other Who references, I just liked the implications of the Lethbridge-Stewart one...

Nostalgic said...

It really is a shame that this show is sinking into the ether. Although it has some snappy dialogue and many a pop culture reference, it has not slipped into the tired irony and pop culture retreads that characterized the downward spiral of Veronica Mars and some of the worse Buffy episodes. Perhaps it is the inherent silliness of the concept that guards against that failure. Sigh. This show will be missed, and I doubt we'll see Ms. Morales in glasses again anytime soon.