The pilot for the TV adaptation of The Middleman aired last night, and if you missed it… well, that’s your own darn fault.
I mean really: ABC Family aired it twice back-to-back at 8 and 9, and as Kevin pointed out, you could even get the whole episode for free on iTunes last weekend. Fortunately for all you Johnnies-Come-Lately, you can still catch it on the ABC Family website. And you should catch it, because it’s totally awesome.
Long-time ISB readers might recall that I’m a big fan of the comic book series–and really, if you haven’t read it, then do yourself a favor and get the upcoming omnibus and prepare to have your mind blown–and with good reason. Not only is it sharply written by Javier Grillo-Marxuach and beautifully drawn by Les McClaine, it has virtually everything I want in a comic book.
For starters, it’s got characters that could easily become clichés, but don’t: The Hot Girl main character is more than just a hot girl, and the Mysterious Tough Guy lead is more than just a mysterious tough guy, and the supporting characters are a hoot. And then there’s the fun stuff, like monkey-related super-crime, kung-fu luchadores, and of course, Lacey’s Iguana Suit. It’s like it was made for me, and in fact, there’s a review of the third volume where the claim is made that The Middleman is not actually a comic book, but “a psychiatric thesis on the id of Chris Sims.”
So yeah. I’m kind of a fan.
And as a fan, I’m glad to report that for its first episode, at least, The Middleman has made the transition from incredibly enjoyable comic to incredibly enjoyable TV show pretty handily.
For that, I imagine the credit can be laid at the feet of Grillo-Marxuach, who’s an executive producer on the show and wrote the first episode, which is virtually a page-for-page, shot-for-shot adaptation of the first mini-series. And since that means that we get scenes like this directly translated to film…
…I’d say that’s a very good thing.
As for the changes, well, they’re mostly in the way the characters look. Foxy redhead Wendy Watson is now a foxy brunette played by Natalie Morales…
…with which I have absolutely no problem.
Slightly more jarring–for me at least–was the Middleman himself, as played by Matt Keeslar:
At first glance, he just didn’t quite look the part. There’s a note on Les McClaine’s concept sketches in the first trade where Grillo-Marxuach writes that the first design had “too much Steve McQueen, not enough Jonny Quest,” but with Keeslar, he struck me as the opposite. Rather than the rugged, stubble-sporting Man Of Action that towers over Wendy in the comics, he’s much more of a clean-cut everyman.
But like I said, that’s just at first glance. As the episode went on, Keeslar’s delivery just nailed the character in scene after scene–especially when he’s roughing up mobsters over a cool glass of milk–and by the time he’s rolling his eyes at a mad scientist’s plot to take over the Mafia with super-intelligent gorillas obsessed with Scarface, he totally won me over.
Acting-wise, they work well together. My biggest problem with the show–and this is a pretty minor quibble on my part–is that they talk fast. Really fast. Gilmore Girls fast. It’s a staccato pattern of one-liners that you see in a lot of places and while it’s not always my thing, there are definitely spots where it works here. I’d forgotten the “It’s bad apples like you…” joke and the way it comes off in the show just blindsided me with how funny it is. And even better is the scene where the Middleman lectures Wendy about her language: It’s one of my favorite bits from the comic, and it plays out on the screen almost exactly like I’d read it in the comic.
As for the production values, I’ve heard opinions on both sides of the fence, but I think it looks awesome. It’s certainly a lot better-looking than the first season of, say, Buffy (which, admittedly, was over ten years ago), and for a basic cable network like ABC Family, it looks a lot better than I thought it would.
Also, it has a gorilla in a tracksuit.
It’s good, fun stuff so far, and since they managed to knock out four issues of the comic in the span of an hour, I’m looking forward to seeing new adventures for some of my favorite characters mixed in with the ones we’ve already got in comics form.
Because seriously, if they show Sensei Ping and the Wu-Han Thumb of Death, this will be the greatest television show ever made.
As it stands, it’s definitely a 4.5 out of a possible 5 Sonny Hoopers.