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THE MIDDLEMAN (ABC Family)
(Mondays at 8:00/7:00c starting tonight)
The network's description: "Wendy Watson (Natalie Morales) is a 22-year-old art school graduate struggling to stay afloat at a series of dead-end temp jobs. Living with her best friend Lacey (Brit Morgan) in an illegal sublet, she bounces from one temp job to another while putting off her mother's daily inquiries to what she is going to do with her life. Wendy's situation takes a drastic turn during a routine temp assignment at a local laboratory, when she is thrown into the middle of a science experiment gone very wrong. If that weren't bizarre enough, who should show up to save the day, but a mysterious, handsome, gun-wielding stranger who introduces himself only as... The Middleman (Matt Keeslar)."
What works: Morales is likeable and cute and Keeslar's straight-laced Middleman has his entertaining moments but it's the supporting chops of Mary Pat Gleason that really stand out. The veteran character actress (if you don't know the name, you'll know her when you see her) brings her usual spunk and trademark scowl to her role as The Middleman's cranky robot, Ida. Morales and Keeslar also have the prerequisite bantering going for them and the fact that Keeslar seems so straight-laced is most fun when we see cracks in that armor. Also, with a dash of "Get Smart's" secret agency vibe and "Bond" gadgets, the show has the potential to make crime-fighting fun again. The dialogue isn't the sharpest but at times the smart-ass remarks come at the right time and make you smile (note: not laugh hysterically). And though the villains often fall on stereotypes (the mobsters in the pilot are a perfect example), I didn't expect to be so amused by a mind-controlled gorilla with a Jersey accent shooting at our crime fighters and leading a chase through the alleys of the city.
What doesn't: A lot, but the majority of it is fixable if ABC Family wants a long-running series. The biggest overall mistake is that Wendy (Morales) accepts everything too easily from the get-go. Though her unflappable-ness is one of the reasons she's picked to work with The Middleman, it immediately cuts out the chance of character development. The Middleman has none of that struggle and, at one point, Wendy, when deciding if she should join The Middleman, literally shrugs and says, "Why not?" For the viewer, it's tough being expected to cheer for someone who is so lackadaisical. Then there's the dialogue. The sarcastic, quick one-liners only work when they are actually clever and funny, which they are maybe a third of the time. I almost suspect there are notations in the script that merely instruct "INSERT SMART ASS REMARK HERE." Also, perhaps this is due to production costs but I missed seeing extras milling about to give the show some authenticity that it wasn't just happening on a Hollywood backlot. Whether inside or out, there was rarely anyone else seen except for the actors. And the special effects? Almost to the point of cheesy but I give them some cred for trying. Finally, why is the show called The Middleman when Wendy is clearly the main character and there's no directive that says she's actually working towards becoming a "Middleman" in her own right? If The Middleman himself is supposed to be the anchor of the series, I didn't see any of that in the pilot. Hopefully going forward some of these questions will be answered.
The bottom line: Definitely not must-see at this point but, hopefully, the show will find its footing post-pilot if they can bring more character arcs, sharper humor and compelling cases.