“The Middleman” (2008)

During a summer that’s seen an effort of recycling everybody’s syndicated childhood programming — Get Smart , Speed Racer , live-action versions of ‘The Hulk’ and ‘Iron Man’ — some of the good stuff is getting lost over at ABC Family. “ The Middleman ” is Javier Grillo-Marxuach ‘s television adaptation of his eponymous series of graphic novels .

But The Middleman isn’t just some dime-store comic book property, it’s a fun, literate and self-conscious treatment of semi-secret agents, superheroes and villains, a pop-culture c onfiture that rivals anything Joss Whedon and the Gilmore Girls ever offered up in zither’s fast-paced talk-fests. While I’ve not read the comic book , it is said to be ingenious.

Grillo-Marxuach is also the creator and veteran producer of such shows as “Medium” (2005), “Lost” (2004), and the short-lived “Boomtown” (2002). Middleman is probably best characterized as a reprise of the original Patrick McNee iteration of The Avengers , but updated and self-deconstructing as Grillo-Marxuach and his team name drop cult memes as varied as Stuart Gordon and The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency without skipping a beat. Middleman is admirably tongue-in-cheek fare for an audience that can appreciate the absurdity of modern ‘reality’ television as well as the buddy-dramedy Secret Agent shows of yesteryear, from ‘Wild, Wild West’ to , yes, ‘Get Smart’.

Though the parent network, ABC has picked-up a few similarly quirk-filled shows during the past several years (‘ Dirty Sexy Money ‘, ‘Lost’ and ‘ Pushing Daisies ‘ come to mind) it has chosen to bury Middleman on ABC Family along with the provocative ‘Kyle XY’. One would think that clones, robots and The 700 Club wouldn’t mix well, yet ABC Family has chosen to program all of these shows on the same network.

Why ABC Family would relegate an ambitious new genre show to a para-religous network is anyone’s guess, but the results of moving an engaging, family-friendly show from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. on in the gulag of para-religious basic cable can only be interpreted as willful sabotage.

Fact of the matter is that the real audience for this show would be the comic-book savvy Buffistas, Browncoats and former Farscape fans, if not the fans of SciFi Channel’s ‘ Eureka ‘.

Middleman stars Matt Keeslar in the titular role as a gadget-wielding superhero of sorts who is out to defend the world from mad scientists, criminal organizations and rogue daytime television hosts with the assistance of his able lieutenant, Wendy Watson (Natalie Morales).

In the first episode, Wendy and the Middleman go up against a PG-rated tentacled Hentai monster and cybernetically enhanced apes, in that order. Subsequent episodes feature Lucha Libre Wresters, Prada-wearing Succubi, Jewelery-eating aliens and evil daytime talk-show hosts. The dialogue is fast and pithy.

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