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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: The Middleman – “The Flying Fish Zombification”


“The Flying Fish Zombification”

Season One, Episode Five

Airdate: July 14rh, 2008

Of the shows that aired this past summer, there were a number which could have made their way into the time capsule: the second season of Burn Notice was entertaining, In Plain Sight kept my attention most of the time, and I thought that Secret Diary of a Call Girl had one really fascinating story that I just wish they hadn’t rinsed and repeated again and again.

But they all felt like old ideas, well executed but ultimately feeling like a pitch where two other shows are combined with a “meets” in the middle. But you can’t do that with The Middleman, a show which defies all attempts at genre definition or, more importantly, shoe-horning. While its rapid fire dialogue in its pilot brought Gilmore Girls comparisons to the surface, and its almost nostalgic treatment of super villains and threats to humanity hearkens back to older examples, the show set its own course for a show that didn’t fit into any box.

Unfortunately, it didn’t fit into any demographics either: the show never took off with ABC Family’s targeted young female audience, leaving its future seriously in doubt. But I believe that it needs to be remembered, and as a result place an episode into the Time Capsule to help spread the word.

Picking “The Flying Fish Zombification” isn’t just because of its great name (all of the episodes have those), but rather because I feel like the show’s wit and creativity emerges in both the A and B stories. Wendy (Natalie Morales) being trapped between her normal life and her work as a Middleman is one of the show’s central ideas, but never before was it more entertaining than when Dubby was caught between fighting with The Middleman (Matt Keeslar) to stop zombie-creating fish being used to create an exclamatory soft drink and the genius that is Art Crawl. The former was just plain fun to watch, while the latter gave the show’s fans their battle cry and introduced us to the wonderment that is Noser’s version of “Stump the Band.”

This is a smart and intelligent show that deserves a better fate than a quick and dirty DVD release to recoup costs: even if they have no plans to bring the show back, the creative vision of Javier Grillo-Marxuach deserves a proper sendoff and a DVD that reflects the show’s unique place in 2008’s television landscape.

For now, a spot in the Time Capsule will have to do.

Related Posts at Cultural Learnings

[For more details on the Cultural Learnings 2008 Television Time Capsule, click here!]

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Screw the Stigmas: Why The Middleman is Worth Saving

Why The Middleman is Worth Saving

In the world of television, it’s not a question of judging a book by its cover; rather, it’s about judging a show by its network.

For How I Met Your Mother, the “CBS is for lame people” stigma amongst some younger viewers keeps them from giving the show a decent shot, and in the process a show that should have been a big success from the beginning took three seasons and stuntcasting to guarantee itself a fourth. The show should have been 30 Rock before there was 30 Rock, and yet still quite a few people who would love this show are staying away.

And this summer, another example has popped up which is even more apparent. When The Middleman debuted back in June, I called it “a science fiction comedy with plenty to enjoy.” Since that point, I’ve grown to love the show, even those elements that I wasn’t so keen on in the pilot. The show has gone to great strides to build great characters and craft strong stories which serve their purpose, all with an added dose of pop culture humour to add to the show’s general charm.

But, a lot of people haven’t seen that. When someone posted about the show’s debut on a popular message board, these are amongst the first responses:

“You piqued my interest until I heard ABC Family.”

“No wonder I couldn’t find the show anywhere last night. ABC Family huh? Probably pass.”

And therein lies The Middleman’s problem: it’s not that ABC Family is a bad network, as Javier Grillo-Marxuach (Formerly an executive producer on Lost) has nothing but good things to say about the show’s treatment on the network side of the equation. Rather, they are a network with absolutely zero cache with the genre audience that the show is appealing towards. In fact, I’d say that they have negative interest: these people are not just unlikely to watch a show on ABC Family, but they are likely to actively avoid such a show thanks to its network affiliation. This means that any attempt to increase the show’s audience, which is miniscule if stable thanks to such issues, is going to take a whole lot of convincing to an audience that has never given the network a fair chance.

But that doesn’t mean that people aren’t trying, and it certainly doesn’t mean that anyone reading this who has yet to sample The Middleman shouldn’t immediately do so by searching through their on-screen guide, unblocking ABC Family, and opening your mind to a new kind of summer show – or, even better, buy it on iTunes, so you can bypass the stigma altogether.

Because this is a show that needs, and deserves, the viewers.

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