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?