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The Middleman: A Beginning on ABC Family

(editor's note: This article also appears at Moronlife.com)

One thing that has always fascinated me about theater, and later, video production, was the actual PRODUCTION process. It’s one of those things that, as a child, you imagine is filled with secrecy in order to protect ritual and magic -- but later you realize that it’s actually filled with secrecy to protect job security and keep spoilers off the internet. But such is life.

In the Television Production world, one brave man has opened wide the doors of his magic shop, revealing the nitty-gritty details of the creation of a television show from the ground up. Some may call him the Masked Magician of Television. Others may call him a rogue or rapscallion. Others may read these sentences and wonder exactly what I’m talking about, and what I’m talking about is Javier Grillo-Marxuach, creator of The Middleman.

Back in 2005, I got to meet Javier, obtained an autographed copy of his comic book, The Middleman, and posted a review of the comic at MoronLife.com. Since then, I’ve been following Javier on his blog, where he talked of his work as Supervising Producer on Lost, then his work on Medium, his previous work on Charmed, SeaQuest and The Pretender, but then suddenly he went dark for a while. When he returned, he announced to all that his comic book, The Middleman, which had started out its life as a TV pilot script before becoming a three volume comic book series, was getting produced as a pilot.

From that point forward, the blogosphere got first hand notes from Javi (as his minions call him) about everything that goes into putting together a pilot: casting, production locations, animatronic apes, costumes and camera locations, set construction, props, office shenanigans... he blogged it all. Even through the writers strike, there were updates on how nothing could get updated during the writers strike.

And now the pilot has been picked up, they’re shooting the first six episodes, and the premiere on ABC Family is just around the corner.

In the words of Javi himself, The Middleman is “...an over-the-top, sixteen-car-pileup-sugar-popped-cereal-bowl of a series that’s not afraid to be everything your mother warned you about television: a cartoonishly extreme, randomly fantastic, special-effects laden, three-fisted walking-and-talking toy-line advertisement of an action-adventure-sci-fi comic book in which the fabric of reality barely survives in the end, and the journey invariably reveals a completely surreal strangeness behind everything we hold to be true.”

“There’s a combination of weirdness, but also kind of earnestness to the show. The show is very unabashed and it’s very much what it is and the characters don’t really apologize for being who they are, and they talk the way they talk because that’s the way that I would like reality to be. So it’s really about those two qualities, this sort of earnestness and weirdness, and if I were to throw a third one in it would be optimism, that I think make up what the show is about.”

“I think, tonally, Middleman is different from a lot of science fiction shows that exist today because it is so lighthearted and it is so optimistic, rather than being as tragic as so many shows are right now.”

The Middleman tells the story of twenty-something, struggling artist Wendy Watson who bounces from temp job to temp job, until one day she is confronted by “the surreal, ironic world of the Middleman -- where she faces eccentric villains, Chinese-Mexican martial arts masters, and a cranky robot librarian.” And for those concerned that we’ll be visited with more of “BSG Number Six” or “Small Wonder Vicki” need not worry.

“...we have this character, Ida, who is played by Mary Pat Gleason, who is spectacular and a tremendously sort or prolific actor. She’s one of those people that the moment you see her you recognize from any number of things that she’s been in and this sort of range of roles. Yes, I don’t think she’s like any other robot on TV right now, I can tell you that. And if you’ve read the comic book you know that she is sort of Wendy’s foil and a tremendously sort of salty character who really makes our lives very difficult. So this isn’t C3PO and it sure as hell isn’t Grace Park.”

“I think this is a lighthearted show, I think it’s an optimistic show, I think it’s a show that is sort of unabashed about itself and it doesn’t make apologies for being – you know, a show that isn’t tragic, isn’t dark, isn’t reflecting that kind of a reality. And I think that ABC Family was sort of the right network at the right time for it as well.”

“Also, when you’re looking at a show that’s this – you know, in addition to being a sci-fi show, it’s a sci-fi show where everybody talks funny, in this sort of patter kind of banter thing; it’s a show that’s very self-consciously weird. We have a kind of tentacled butt monster in the first show and we’ve got gangster apes and we’ve got fish zombies and fashion models who are succubi. It’s not your traditional monster-of-the-week show.”

“I think if you look at Buffy and Angel and Galactica, they’re very dark shows that really sort of follow the very dark ramifications of kind of sacrificing your own welfare in order to be a hero. And especially if you look at sort of the end of Angel; you know, Angel was sort of a perennially tortured character who ultimately, with his minions, they go off into this sort of ongoing fight against evil, that’s what they have.”

“With The Middleman, the point of view is a little bit lighter. In a way, I think it’s a reflection of the demographic that it’s pitched at. There’s a third kind of let’s accentuate the positive in the show and see what happens.”

“When I wrote this, there were a lot of shows on the air, again, from X-Files to Buffy to Charmed (which I had worked on). The God’s honest original inspiration for it was I wanted to do a show where I didn’t have to explain how people got their cases every week, because it had become so Draconian to explain how a chef, a woman who worked in an auction house, and a sort of free spirit – these are the Halliwell sisters on Charmed – were constantly running into these demons. I really wanted a show where you didn’t know who the people worked for; it didn’t matter, they would get a call and they would just go investigate something without having to explain how it happened.”

“Out of that came the idea of this guy who doesn’t know who he works for, but his job is to solve exotic problems. And originally the concept that I’d hatched for the series was that it was all just … pulp. I mean it was just balls out weird, nothing was explained. He fought gorillas, he fought monsters, he did this, he did that.”

“And the discussion that I’ve had with Matt Keeslar continuously through this process is that Middleman is not a freak of nature, Middleman is not an alien who somehow behaves this way, and Middleman is not a guy doing an impersonation of Robert Stack in The Untouchables. The Middleman is a guy who is a former Navy SEAL, who decided at some point in his life that this is how he was going to live, and that he was going to drink milk, not use profanity, live a straight-edged life. And lo and behold, the perfect job with no gray areas presented [it]self at his doorstep, and now he can kind of live freely this way and wear an Eisenhower jacket and be this persona that he wants to be.”

A persona who fights tentacled butt monsters.

“You know, ABC Family standards and practices will kill me for saying it’s a butt monster, because it was in the comic book, and in the TV show we kind of tweaked that a little bit to better – what’s the word I’m looking for – to better exemplify the family in ABC Family. So it’s more like a multi-glutial, multi-limbed fleshy beast.”

You can catch the multi-glutial, multi-limbed fleshy beast and The Middleman on ABC Family starting June 16 at 8:00 PM (7:00 Central).

You can also read an interview with Middleman star Matt Keeslar, concerning his upcoming Warner Home Video release Jekyll.

Clay Robeson

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