EmptyAirdate: 8-9 p.m. Monday, June 16 (ABC Family)
As part of its newfound push to become a major player in original programming, ABC Family trots out this way offbeat, occasionally lame but not uncharming piece of merriment that lets it all fly in the quest to bring a graphic novel to television life.
If the transition feels fairly seamless, that might be because it was shepherded every step by the guy who penned the Viper Comics Graphic Novels on which this is based, Javier Grillo-Marxuach, who created, exec produced and wrote the teleplay for the first of 13 hourlong segments. It’s the kind of creative control one gets on ABC Family that you might not find on, say, ABC.
Grillo-Marxuach inflects the “Middleman” opener with a breezy feel and rat-a-tat-tat pace that feels instantly comfy, a little bit like a poor man’s “Moonlighting” meets a poor man’s “The Naked Gun” and a healthy budget for special effects. But the feeling is that it will need more than mere cartoonish mayhem to keep ‘em coming back week after week.
The show stars relative newcomers Matt Keeslar and Natalie Morales as our squabbling couple. He’s a mysterious, handsome, wholesome, gun-wielding stranger who speaks in that halting, not-quite-of-this-planet fashion. Call him the Middleman. She’s Wendy, a wisecracking art school student struggling to survive in a series of dead-end jobs -- and who lives in an illegal sublet to boot.
She’s working as a temp in a local lab when a science experiment implodes and to the rescue is the guy with no name. Together, they form the unlikeliest of partnerships, he a milk-drinking but smooth weasel, she a cynical but unflappable babe. It’s a team that could work only in TV, and at that only barely.
So anyway, once joined (reluctantly on both parts), they set off fighting comic book-style criminals, he as Wendy’s boss, she as the incredulous undercover assistant now living a double life. They also have helping out a robot assistant (Mary Pat Gleason) with a major cranky streak. The premiere is packed with as many sight gags as plot points -- from gangster gorillas to tentacled monsters to various otherworldly life forms. The creatures are essentially designed as bowling pins for our protagonists to knock over with a well-placed shot and a quip, and Keeslar and Morales’ interaction is nothing if not playful and lively. But you’re left not really knowing if you want to come return and spend a whole lot more time with this quarrelsome twosome.
Production: Grillo-Marxauch Design Bureau and ABC Family. Cast: Matt Keeslar, Natalie Morales, Mary Pat Gleason, Brit Morgan, Jake Smollett. Executive producers: Javier Grillo-Marxuach, John Ziffren. Writer-creator-based on the graphic novels by: Javier Grillo-Marxuach. Director: Jeremiah Chechik.