Monday, August 11, 2008

Middleman, "The Obsolescent Cryogenic Meltdown": International Guy of mystery

Spoilers for tonight's episode of "The Middleman" coming up just as soon as I find out what else Tipper Gore and the Dalai Lama have agreed about...

First of all, in case you missed them this morning, today's columnn was an ode to "The Middleman"/interview with Javier Grillo-Marxuach, and I paired it with a full transcript of my interview with Javier. In the course of our conversation, we touched on several notable moments in "The Obscolescent Cryogenic Meltdown," notably Middleman 69's line about not being a comical throwback to the Summer of Love (read: Austin Powers clone) and the show finally getting around to putting Wendy in the leather catsuit from the opening titles.

(Speaking of which, it's funny that they even attempted to put Natalie Morales into the Uma Thurman version of the Emma Peel costume, given that Uma's 6' tall and Natalie's quite wee. I imagine it bunched up in lots of places a leather catsuit's not supposed to bunch.)

Let's get the minor griping out of the way first. I found "Meltdown" a bit stronger in the first half, before Middleman '08 fires Middleman '69. The episode's second half had some inspired moments, like that impossible-to-decipher card game (it reminded me of a similar gag from the Atlantic City episode of "How I Met Your Mother," but it's a good enough joke to be worth telling twice) or Dubby complaining about not getting a wetsuit.(*) But overall, I think they used up most of the good culture clash material by the time Guy was forced into retirement, and towards the end, some of the jokes were reaches. (Guy not thinking that Wendy would recognize a "Star Trek" reference didn't fit the tone of any other joke involving the character.)

(*)Or, for that matter, Dubby complaining about the catsuit. Natalie Morales fans, tonight was your night! In other Dubby costuming news, I also like that, when given the chance to pick her own uniform, Wendy doesn't radically overhaul it, but simply swaps out Hitler's smoking jacket in favor of a snazzy vest and starts wearing the tie loose. She's paying homage to Middleman tradition while bringing her own sense of style to it, in the same way that Middleman '08 ditched the Sorbo blazer in favor of the Eisenhower jacket.

That said, I'm impressed that they were able to do this story in a way that really didn't evoke Austin Powers in any way. Guy's innate "Don Draper-ness" (as Javier put it) really did speak to what a cold bastard the Sean Connery Bond was (especially in the first three movies) and was well-played by Kevin Sorbo. Plus, it gave us a disturbingly schoolgirl side of Ida (on roller skates!), but in a way that didn't undermine our favorite robot. (Note that she sides with Middleman '08 in the end.)

Beyond that, I thought the Wendy/Tyler story worked very well throughout. Everything about The Batter of the Bulge Pancake House and their love of gory arcade games was genius, as was Middleman's reaction to seeing the surveillance-cam nookie. ("Story of O! Turn it off!") Even in this silly, fantastical world, Wendy is just enough of a real character to make you like her and root for her to get over her malfunctioning "mutant power," which she does in the end. I understand that Tyler's not a character from the comics, so the next three episodes hold out the distinct and unpredictable possibility that a heroine on a sci-fi/fantasy show might actually have a successful, functional, fulfilling love life for a little while, and that ain't such a bad thing?

What did everybody else think?


R.A. Porter said...

- That game was nothing like Barney's Atlantic City game. There were no jelly beans. :)

- I think another great example of that joke is Bamboozled! from Friends.

- I personally liked the Star Trek joke because I thought it worked on two levels, with Sorbo's Roddenberry background.

- Maybe I was just out of it, but I only noticed two mildly obscure pop culture jokes in the episode early on. Otherwise, this one seemed to play much straighter. Although I guess Wendy's bikini was a third joke, but they ruined it by saying it was Honey Ryder's bikini.*

*Please note. I did not think Natalie Morales in the bikini was a joke, merely the particular bikini and knife chosen.

Toby O'B said...

My favorite pop culture reference was the name of one of the card players - Count Manzeppi.

This was the name of Victor Buono's villain in two episodes of 'The Wild Wild West'.

R.A. Porter said...

See, I was out of it tonight. I'm guessing I missed at least a handful of other references just like that. The only spy show one I caught was Scott and Robinson of the Pentagon.

Figgsrock2 said...

I agree that the second half dragged, but I thought the best part of the ep was when Dubdub said, "There's something I really need to do right now," and she run over and hugs The Middleman. It was a really nice touch, and shows just another example of how these characters have grown.

I really am going to miss this show.

Brandon Nowalk said...

I haven't given in to cancellation rumors until today, and after another great episode, I'm really sad.

My favorite reference was 69's alias of Harry Lime from The Third Man, which I agree is less obscure than usual. And I loved the callback to the pilot where Wendy's casual cursing is bleeped, which my inner thirteen-year-old always finds hilarious (See Arrested Development).

I hope it's just me, but I'm worried Tyler's going to be a bad guy (in the sense of good guys vs. bad guys) in the end. He's too perfect right now, we learned about arch-nemeses in the Middleworld tonight, and the Middleman now has a Pavlovian response to stop looking after Wendy when Tyler's around.

P.S. Give Ida a spinoff!

Anonymous said...

Okay, I've seen my second show (saw the premiere eons ago) and I can see why this show is not working... I still blame ABC.

This is not a summer program. This is not a 10:00 show, which is too late for the audience it ought to target. And this is... well, I'll get to it.

Yeah, by moving MM to 10pm, ABC might have improved upon ratings by taking on some of the audiences at CW and FOX, but this show would work better as an 8:00 or 9:00 show. Plop it between that house show and Desperate on Sundays. Or throw it on at 8pm on Mondays on ABC. Remove whatever little innuendo is required and make it a little more jokey for kids and I completely see this working.

Maybe the creator doesn't want to go that way, but in it's current form, this show is going nowhere. Don't get me wrong, I like the show, but to me it's, well, if you'll pardon me, well, it's too middling. It feels like it's trying to be too much. It feels like there is too much compromise, which is odd since the creator says he's been given the room to be himself with the show.

It should make a decision and either skew adult or skew kid. And this show has skew kid all over it. Fortunately, this is one of those shows that can do skew kids and still retain a good chunk of the adults. I can see both boys and girls totally getting into this show, especially tweens, who still like their Wizards of Waverly but want some adult fare, too.

That's my three cents.

Eric said...

Think you missed some references?

You're probably right.

Amy said...

Eric! I've wanted to see a list like that since this show started. I feel like I usually only get 75% of the throw away lines and that definitely my boyfriend and I "get" different ones based on what we are nerds about. He gets more of the comic book / star wars type stuff, I'll pick up on 80s movies references for example.

I'm starting to wonder if this just should have been on Sci-fi since I feel that network would have given it some "cred" to people who would get all those jokes on first pass.

Pllllleeeaaaase let this show last.

R.A. Porter said...

@amy, trust me. You would not have wanted this show on SciFi. It would have been yanked week two in place of TAAWL (The All Albino Wrestling League.)

Anonymous said...

Hmn... I certainly appreciate the reference list, but I don't quite consider things like Tipper Gore to be a reference. That's just a real person, whose name is used in a normal context. And I don't quite consider "joke I didn't get to put in another show that wouldn't have been a reference there" to be a reference either, much as I loved Jake 2.0 and much as "The Good, the Bad and the Geeky" was one of my favorite episodes.

Unknown said...

Balthorium G was the active ingredient in the Russian doomsday device from Dr. Strangelove wasn't it?

Unknown said...

Oh, and Ida was 'Toaster' this week, I guess she was kind of Caprica 6 to 69's Gaius Baltar.

She's been Marvin, Threepio, what else?

And after watching the whole show and hearing it umpteen times, Balthorium G is definitely from Strangelove, and I don't think the Middle Organization can afford to have a mineshaft gap.

Anonymous said...

FYI: The Candle Copycat was played by Raviv "Ricky" Ullman, better known as Disney Channel's "Phil of the Future." Raviv is the name he was born with; I don't know if "Ricky" was a pre-existing nickname or if Disney just wanted something a little less ethnic-sounding. Certainly "Raviv" sounds a little too Arabic for a post-9/11 world, but it's actually Hebrew. I've heard that he's a cousin of Joe Lieberman, but I've never seen anybody link it up specifically.