In the first episode of The Middleman, this might be the most charming thing I’ve ever seen. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to start The Middleman.
Holy shit, that was a surprise.
This will be a short experience, taking just over two weeks, but in case this brings in new readers, let’s set the ground rules!
1) Please do not spoil me. Mark Watches works as an attempt to watch an entire series in airing order without any knowledge of the show. This means that while you are welcome to discuss the whole thing in the comments, anything that even hints at any plot or development from an episode I have not seen is a spoiler. You will be asked to cypher all spoilers in rot13. Please treat other commenters who are newbies to The Middleman the same way you would treat me as well. This is also important: If you are going to recommend this review project to anyone else, PLEASE TELL THEM I CANNOT BE SPOILED. It’s become a problem as of late that as I am getting more popular, folks are leaving that detail out and risk having newbies spoil me because they don’t know not to. Thank you!
2) Please listen to my moderators. They enforce my rules for community participation, which can seem more complex than most sites. I would recommend reading my Site Rules and my FAQ if you’re going to comment for the first time.
3) Each video that accompanies the review costs $0.99 a piece, and can be downloaded 10 times. The first episode of The Middleman is available for free until the end of the show (on May 1) so that y’all may pass it along to your friends and get a taste for how my video commentary works, but essentially, you’re watching me experience the show unspoiled for the first time. I yell a lot, generally speaking. Anyway, if you can support me, feel free to purchase the videos. If you’re interested in them, but perhaps cannot afford the cost, I would suggest visiting the Black Market over on Mark Spoils to see if there are any extra copies that people have!
LET’S DO THIS.
- There’s something unbearably endearing about how The Middleman gets right to it. The first scene is a chaotic mess less than sixty seconds after it starts, but it also needs to be in order to demonstrate one of the most important character traits of Wendy Watson: she does not give a shit. And it’s not that she doesn’t care about the world around her. She simply can’t be bothered to freak out about the “hentai-style” monster that just burst out of the lab behind her. And for me, I felt like that was a joke that only those of us who have done temp work can understand. Shit happens. There was a whole period of my life where I worked at five companies in an eight-month stretch, and you just have to accept that you’re going to see things you’ll never see again.
- And for Wendy, it’s par for the course, except this time, she’s suspected as being the cause of the fire that broke out at A.N.D. Laboratories.
- BECAUSE OF THE MIDDLEMAN
- does a thing?
- actually I DO UNDERSTAND THIS. He’s kind of like a… supervillain janitor. Sort of? He cleans up the mess that supervillains make! Which is so fascinating and hilarious that I can’t wait to see how this is going to work. Javier Grillo-Marxuach accepts that the world in comic books – of superheros and absurdist foes – truly exists. Then how come we don’t actually know about it? Because someone has to hide it. That person is The Middleman, a nameless employee who works for the Jolly Fats Wehawkin Temp Agency (not really), who is chosen by the previous Middleman. There’s only one at any given time, they all work with Ida, a robotic being who is full of ire and makes me so happy, and they have access to TONS OF COOL GADGETS.
- And yet, while the show is deeply sincere, it doesn’t avoid poking fun at tropes and expectations every few seconds. There are so many gags and visual jokes in this first episode, and I know I missed a ton of them. One of the things I picked up on was the fact that the show barely tries to create believable situations. The absurdity of the villains and the characters (aside from Wendy) is part of the shows charm. Somehow, the show blurs the lines between parody and pastiche; it’s both a criticism of the genre while celebrating it, too! I mean, THE MAFIOSO IN THIS EPISODE ARE SO CARTOONISH. So are the gorillas, and so is Dr. Gibbs.
- At the same time, the four main characters that this pilot introduces us to are deeply human. Wendy is an artist who just wants to be able to support herself while exploring her knack for abstract art. Then there’s her sincere roommate, Lacey, who also has developed a crush on The Middleman. I like that she’s a joke and a part of the story, too! Plus, having been vegan for a long time, I met SO MANY PEOPLE JUST LIKE HER. She’s barely a parody, oh my god.
- AND THEN BEN. Y’all, he might be the most spot-on portrayal of entitled white men I have ever seen. He is like HALF OF THE PEOPLE I KNEW IN COLLEGE, who had lived lives of privilege and prosperity and were suddenly forced to interact with poor brown queer dudes like me and realize with crushing existential dread that there are other people not at all like them. And they often reacted just as Ben does here, which is to manufacture pain and drama in an attempt to put themselves on the same level as people who have suffered at an institutional level.
- This is how it feels. I CHEERED WHEN WENDY KICKED BEN’S ASS. BLESS HER.
- Did y’all realize that the actor who plays Noser is Jurnee Smollett’s brother???? omg GO WATCH FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS IT’S LITERALLY ONE OF THE GREATEST SHOWS IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE.
- Ida!!! High five to the costume designers for giving her a look straight out of a 50s sitcom. It’s incredible.
- And then we’ve got the Middleman himself. I like that while he seems stoically plain at first, there’s actually a whole lot of depth to him. It’s clear that he really was just a normal person before he was recruited into one of the strangest jobs imaginable. But I love that he’s got this ever-present enthusiasm to him. He’s excited to go on new cases; he’s eager to talk about comics with Wendy; and he’s fucking hilarious.
- Oh god, the wordplay. The alliteration. THE FAST-PACED DIALOGUE.
- Actually, my favorite running joke so far is the captions. I’ve never seen a show make fun of their own captions and scene titles like this show does.
- GOD, THE STORY HERE IS SO RIDICULOUS. I mean, that’s part of why this is so fun. Mind-control apes obsessed with Scarface? It’s so fucking bad that it’s extremely good. It’s a joke that relies on the familiarity of comic book tropes, sure. There’s definitely a few references here that I didn’t understand. But I loved that this ape-caper (aper????) was so absurd right from the start. Like, why was Spanky leaving banana peels wherever he went? WHO CARES IT’S ALL RIDICULOUS.
- How are they going to find Spanky in a zoo? Just look for the man in a gorilla suit. DUH.
- Can I also request to meet Wendy’s mom? She sounds fun.
- So, what sort of things do I look for in a new show? I don’t know that I have certain qualifications, especially since I’m consuming so much television from various genres, but I definitely want to be entertained. I always come back to the characterization, and that’s something that is a must for me. I have to care about these people, or, at the very least, I have to care what happens to them. It’s why I’m thankful that this show centers on Wendy because she’s easily the most interesting person here. Plus, it’s a geek-centric story about a woman of color, which is rare enough as it is. Natalie Morales plays Wendy as a woman who is a bit burnt out on the world, which I think is part of the reason Wendy reacts as she does to… hentai-thingy. Whatever that creature was. Anyway, I feel like Wendy has taken a lot of shit from the world (which is why I want to know more of her backstory) and she just is done with it all. She wants to paint. She wants to feel rewarded. She wants meaning.
- It makes sense, then, that after her break-up with Ben, she’d seek out The Middleman, particularly since he’s offered her something that is, frankly, different from the rest of the mediocre world she’s experienced. And the end of this episode shows us that after spending a couple days with The Middleman on his wacky cases, she’s actually more creative and inspired than she’s been in a long time.
- Consider me intrigued. This was a bizarre pilot, but I mean that in a good way. It’s certainly rough around the edges, but like I said, it’s part of the charm. It doesn’t look like anything I’ve ever seen, and I’ve never come across a story like that. Yeah, I definitely need to see more.
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