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Apocrypha Entertainment Presents:









THE MIDDLEMAN DVD/FAREWELL REQUIEM

“It had a rather elegiac quality.” Those were the words of MIDDLEMAN creator Javier Grillo-Marxuach as he spoke to the press about the cast table read of the show’s unproduced thirteenth episode at this year’s SDCC. Javi and the cast gathered on stage in front of thousands of Middlefans to celebrate their beloved cult hit and to gently remind folks that the show’s brilliant 12-episode run was now available on DVD. But it seemed to serve almost another purpose, as the frenzy worked up by the brilliant performances by the actors also gave the atmosphere something of an evangelic quality as well. The performers had a pulpit, and by the time the hour was done, they had devotees ready to testify.

THE MIDDLEMAN (played by the brilliantly deadpan and unfairly handsome Matt Keeslar) is an agent of O2STK (Organization Too Secret To Know), fighting real-life comicbook-style villainy. In the course of one of his cases, he meets Wendy Watson (Natalie Morales, delivering a witty and charming star-making turn) a young artist working a string of dead-end temp jobs. Impressed by her ability to remain calm under pressure, The Middleman brings Wendy into the fold as his new partner. Aided and abetted by cranky robot Ida (veteran character actress Mary-Pat Gleason), they battle trout-craving zombies, alien dictators, mud monsters, vampiric puppets, cursed musical instruments and a host of other wonderfully strange foes. The primary cast is rounded out by Brit Morgan (playing Wendy’s roommate Lacey, who develops a strong attraction to Wendy’s boss), Jake Smollett (the girls’ neighbor, Noser, a musician), and occasional players Brendan Hines, Mark Sheppard, and Elaine Hendrix (who was the only one to not appear at the SDCC reading).

The show saw a strange path take it to air. Grillo-Marxuach, a veteran TV scribe (LOST, CHARMED, many others) wrote THE MIDDLEMAN as a pilot script over ten years ago and was unable to sell it to a network. Flash forward a few years, and Javi joined artist Les McClane to turn the script into a comicbook, publishing it through Viper Comics. The success of the comic, along with its two sequels, saw Hollywood interest re-kindled, and ABC Family brought the show onboard after a well-received pilot episode was created.

But for the show to succeed, it had to have the right cast, and Grillo-Marxuach really scored in that respect. First came casting the perfect Middleman. “Matt owned this part. He did THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO and played a character that was struggling with mental illness but who was nevertheless very solid and straightforward and spoke from his heart. I saw him do a speech in that movie about LADY AND THE TRAMP and I said ‘This guy’s the Middleman.’ And the more I said it, finally someone said ‘why don’t you just call Matt Keeslar’s agent and see if he’ll do the show?’ So Matt and I met, and he read it and he really responded to the material. That was that.” Keeslar himself was impressed. “I was totally sold on it from the very beginning and never had any reservations.” Indeed, if you look at the comicbook Middleman, the resemblance to Keeslar is there from the beginning. But that was not how things worked out when it came to his lead heroine, which was something of a surprise for Grillo-Marxuach.

“With Natalie, comicbook Wendy was originally a white girl from Iowa. I was going to have it be that, but ABC Family were the ones that came to me and said they wanted her to be Latina. And I said ‘Absolutely not!’ They said ‘why? You’re Puerto Rican, don’t you want this?’ And I told them ‘no. I don’t want her to break into Spanish spontaneously or other stereotypical things.’ So the deal we made was that I wouldn’t change any of the script. Being Puerto Rican and someone that talks like Wendy Watson, that was important. At that point, Natalie just came in and owned it. She was someone that came in and auditioned as one of maybe a hundred, and she just owned it. It’s a great story.”

Morales concurred. “For me, it was exactly like Javi said. What he didn’t want is what I don’t want to do. I’m very proud of the fact that I’m Cuban. But I think there’s a huge sort of stereotype that happens in TV and movies. One of my favorite TV shows is DEXTER, and what I can’t stand is when the characters repeat themselves in Spanish- our people don’t talk like that! It irks me. So I loved the idea that Wendy just happened to be Latin and she was just like every other person. Javi fought for that and it worked.”



The DVD set, produced by the folks at
The Shout Factory is one of the best packages I’ve had the pleasure to watch in recent memory. Not only are all twelve episodes presented in sparkling quality, but the amount of bonus features is very impressive. It starts with a booklet that contains an essay from Grillo-Marxuach, art from the comics, and art from advertisements seen in the series. Four episodes contain commentary from Grillo-Marxuach, cast members, and series writers. The disc packaging displays some of the fake IDs used by Middleman and Wendy during their investigations. There are web featurettes; all 14 of Javi’s weekly internet podcasts where he answered viewer questions and showed off behind-the-scenes materials; a gag reel; deleted scenes; a hilarious short piece on using the classic sound effect known as “The Wilhelm scream”; alternate title sequences; a cast table read of the twelfth episode; fake PSAs made by Keeslar and Morales; and most interestingly, audition footage of Morales, Morgan, and Smollett. Morales’ footage is really amazing- watching it, you can see just how committed she was to getting the part of Wendy and exactly why no one else was going to beat her out for it.

Unfortunately for the show and its rabid fanbase, their loyalty wasn’t enough to forced ABC Family to reward the show with a second season. Fans of genre television programs know this story well; a brilliantly written and acted television program struck down before its time. Grillo-Marxuach understands the fans’ pain- it’s also his own. But he also has a more zen-like approach to how the process played itself out. He also knows that there will be constant questions about whether or not strong DVD sales might resurrect the show, much as they did for Joss Whedon’s FIREFLY. To that, he can only shrug his shoulders and take a deep breath.

“We made 12 lovingly hand-crafted episodes, and if enough people buy the DVDs and ABC Family comes to us for a TV movie, we would be happy to do it. We’re certainly open to it. But we don’t want to be at a convention in Nebraska in thirty years saying ‘we still want to make the Middleman movie’ either. You want to do it right. So if this is the end of the line, this is the end of the line and we will have done it in a way that we’re proud of. This cast and the crew and the writers did that best that we could with the most integrity we could- and it turns out you can have integrity in Hollywood. A lot of people don’t believe that, but it’s actually true. And we did a show that we’re genuinely proud of. Matt and Natalie came in daily and did this difficult dialogue and worked very hard to make the best show they could. Whatever happens in the future, it has to be something that we know we can make even better than what we already have.”

Grillo-Marxuach continued, “That’s one of the reasons we thought the (SDCC) table read would be a good idea- it was something special, something different, with the added value of it being something the fans would not have gotten anywhere else.” Keeslar and Morales agreed. “It was a great punctuation mark for the show,” the Middleman himself said, though Morales was a bit more emotional about it. “I got a little sad at the end.” Watching the cast gather in a large group hug after the read was complete, you couldn’t help but suspect that she wasn’t the only one. As Javi said- it had an elegiac quality to it.

One of the best things about THE MIDDLEMAN is that it is a show that truly anyone can enjoy. It has a positive quality, lacking in the darkness that permeates much of pop culture these days, making it good programming for kids. However, it also has good, grown-up characters with grown-up lives that adults can enjoy watching. It has action, comedy, drama, romance, zippy dialogue, great performances… the show is one of those rare beasts that can truly boast that it has it all. So while it may be too late to catch it on broadcast, it isn’t too late to grab the DVDs and see for yourself why THE MIDDLEMAN is one of those programs that’s going to last and last a good, long time, gaining fans along the way. Trust me- on this one, there is no Middleground.

Marc Mason  

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