Friday, July 1, 2011

The Middleman and the History of Television

Okay, so I'm not really going to give you the history of television. I mean, how boring, right? Actually, I'm not sure if that would be boring or not seeing as how I know absolutely nothing about the history of that most predominant of items in homes. Did you know that on average there are more television sets per household than there are people? How scary is that? And that doesn't include computers which can serve a similar function. It's no wonder, though, that what we watch, how much we watch, has such a huge influence on the way we write. But that's another story.

TV wasn't a huge thing for me when I was kid. Except on Saturday mornings. I wouldn't do anything without my Saturday morning cartoons.The rest of the time, I was more interested in playing. And by playing, I mean playing outside. TV was only for when there was absolutely nothing else to do. The problem was that, as I got older, the times when there was nothing to do became more and more frequent. By the time I was in middle school, I ruled the television set from the time I got home until the news came on at 10. That was my cue to shuffle off to bed and read for a couple or few hours.

All of that changed my freshman year of high school. There's a story that goes with that (I have stories that go with pretty darn near everything), but, near the end of my freshman year, I discovered there was life outside of TV, and I gave it up. Not that I made any kind of declaration, "I'm giving up TV!" or anything like that, but I just lost interest in it, and I've never gone back. Which is not to say that I never watched TV again, but it's never dictated my schedule to me again. There was a period during college when my best friend and I were addicted to Stand Up Stand UP, Whose Line Is It Anyway? and a couple of other shows like that on the newly formed The Comedy Channel (yes, it wasn't Comedy Central, yet, in those days) which was difficult because neither of us had a TV, at the time, so we snatched viewings at my parents' house (a couple of times a week when we were there) or wherever we could.

You have to remember, this was before DVDs and the wide proliferation of TV shows available for purchase. If you wanted to watch something, you pretty much had to be there at the designated time slot on  the designated day. Or, you know, know how to program a VCR for which you had to take advanced courses in college to be able to do. Fortunately, at the time, I invested in those courses. Which are totally useless today. At any rate, it took an extra effort for any show to catch my eye in the first place, and it had to be pretty spectacular for me to bother myself with recording it. Like I said, I no longer bent to the whims of television schedules.

I bet you're wondering what kind of shows I would go out of my way to record, aren't you? I bet you're thinking that if I would go to such lengths as to program the VCR to record them that they must have been pretty spectacular. Are you getting your pad of paper and a pen to make notes about the incredibly sophisticated and deep viewing I'm about to lay out before you? Are you ready for it? The list isn't very long. In fact, there are only three shows that ever demanded such loyalty from me. Are you ready? They're Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (which I misplaced my dedication to after the second season), The Flash, and Animaniacs. Yes, I'm serious. Best cartoon ever. EVER!

The Flash was the first series that I loved that just didn't make it however much it deserved to. But a higher profile show keep using up all its blue screen time and forced delay after delay upon it so that it couldn't maintain its viewers because new episodes came out only about once every three weeks. However, Mark Hamill's two episodes as the Trickster are incredible, and it's unfortunate that the show couldn't sustain an audience.

Eventually, I moved out to CA and got married. At this point, my wife and I actually did make a premeditated decision that we weren't going to have TV in our house. It's one of those things that, if it's available, it's hard to control. It starts with just one show. I had avoided watching TV up to that point by never being home (or shut up in my room painting), but you can't really run a marriage that way, so we chose no TV.

For a long time, that really meant no TV. At all. The television set was, basically, a miniature movie screen in our house, because that's all it was ever used for. Later, there was the DVD player, and, later still, Buffy. And that's how we watch television. We hear that something is really good, so we decide we'll try it out. That's extremely easy to do these days with Netflix

My wife and I don't have enough shows to keep us viewing all year long (or even most of the year long), so, between DVD releases of the shows we follow, we try out new things. One of the disappointing things we've learned is that we tend toward shows that, for whatever reason, didn't make it. Like The Flash. And Deadwood (which may be my wife's favorite show ever). Firefly. The one we just discovered, and we knew it had been cancelled before we watched any of it, is The Middleman.

I don't have a good way of describing The Middleman in any concise sort of way. Yeah, I hear you thinking. Why would I bother with concise? When am I ever concise? Maybe, one of these days, I'll explore the genius of Kevin Smith, and, then, you will understand. Or, probably, not. Yes, I've always been this way.

The Middleman is about this super hero guy called the Middleman and his Middleman in training, who happens to be female. They work for an organization they refer to as O2STK (Organization Too Secret To Know), and that's just the tip of the awesome that is this show. The fact that the villains are continually saying, "My plan is sheer elegance in its simplicity," as they monologue about their convoluted schemes to take over the world (or destroy it) is frosting goodness.

It's a tongue-in-cheek look at pop culture that pokes fun at it while simultaneously celebrating it. The far too few episodes tend to revolve around a specific theme and are full of references to the pop culture landmarks that inspired them. However, don't mistake my praise for the show as being any kind of suggestion that you should rush out and watch it. In all likelihood, you shouldn't. By the second episode, I was fully aware of why Middleman got cancelled.

It's not that it's too intelligent for the average viewer, although it is. Despite it's campy appearance (yes, it does wear camp clothes, dressing itself up to resemble the Batman series of the 60s with such things as the Middlemobile), it is, in many ways, too sophisticated for the average viewer. If you can't catch the subtleties, you'll just think it's silly. To make matters worse, if you're not pretty well grounded in your pop culture lore, the vast majority of the jokes will go right over your head. There's nothing worse than a joke you don't get in a show meant to be funny. And, if it's meant to be funny, and you're only getting every 3rd or 4th joke, you tend to, well, think it's not funny. It's like being the person in the room staring at Monty Python and the Holy Grail with a glazed expression while everyone else laughs uncontrollably.

So... it's not a show I can actually recommend, but I liked it so much, I needed to write about it. The sad part is that it did have some really interesting sub-plots developing, and we'll never know what was to come of them. The only real reason I could suggest watching it is if you really wanted to know how off center I am. Either you'd get the show, and say "oh, wow, this is great," in which case you would be revealed to be off center, too, or you'd make the yuck face and think (or, maybe, even say out loud), "He likes this? What's wrong with him?"

Of course, Middleman did get a fairly good critical reaction. Like Arrested Development. But, when everything comes down to how much money it can generate, the bits on either end of the bell curve (the great and the horrible) become indistinguishable to the profit gurus. Which is just too bad, because everything becomes the same old bland mass market crap. Whit rice, white bread, and white TV. Read anything you want into that statement. I'm sure you won't be wrong.


  1. I am a television zombie. I watch so much tv I truly am embarrassed about it. I have never seen middlemen. Animaniacs was my daughter's favorite cartoon. The Holy Grail is hilarious and I really liked this post.

  2. Hello Andrew, I gave you a blog award today and there are no strings attached. :)) Those are always best methinks.

  3. I LOVED Lois and Clark. Seriously.

    The past year I've watched way too much tv- more than in the previous decades combined (that's what being too sick to move gets you- ugh) most of the time I actually listened to it because I couldn't see at the time but still. Most of it just drives me mad. I drove my daughter crazy because I insisted we keep only one family tv in the house. I hear she has her own flat screen in her room at her Dad's now. . .

    Far as shows I've loved, I of course could still watch reruns of Star Trek TOS, TNG and DS9 every day and never get sick of them (and I did a lot of that too last year.)

    I'm catching up on Doctor Who backwards (starting with the 10th Doctor...I miss you David!!!) and enjoying it though I've got a ton of Doctors to go.

    I have to say though as far as mad crazy loyalty as a viewer, my vote still goes to The Muppet Show and Mystery Science Theater 3000. Gosh, I wanted to write for that show...

    Too bad my first husband let my life-sized, working Bots that I built melt in the car on a hot summer day when we moved... :~(

    Sorry that was all random. I'm way too tired to be blog commenting LOL.

    Enjoyed the post a lot!


  4. Ah, TV. I've spent some months doing little besides watching it, then others where I forget I have one. It used to be a vehicle used only to deliver Star Trek to me, but over the years I've used it for several other things.

    In the end, I'm for keeping it. But when my cable box went out several weeks ago I didn't bother to fix it until today (I just had to unplug it and then plug it back in - that fixes more electronic issues that anything I know of).

    I only got did that because my housesitter complained about it when they had to come by to take care of the dog.

    Netflix rules my world now. I love it. But it also means that I can watch so much TV that I never had a chance to before. I've been watching The IT Crowd most recently. Goofy British comedy. Good stuff.

  5. I think the only thing I set my VCR to record was X-Files. Loved that show (until there was no David Duchovny). My husband and I also tend toward shows that don't make it. I guess that solves the problem of sitting in front of the TV too much. We'll usually wait and rent a season of a new show if it interests us so we can watch it straight through or give it up.

  6. Jennifer: Speaking of zombies, there is a really funny zombie episode of Middleman. Not your conventional zombie type thing, though.

    Michael: I did pop over and take a look a the award. It's been a really busy week, though, so I haven't had a chance to respond, yet.

    bru: working Bots? That you will have to explain!
    Star Wars always completely over-shadowed Star Trek for me.

    Rusty: I've been eyeing The IT Crowd, but I haven't worked into it. For British TV, of late, it's been Primeval and Sherlock (awesome show!) and Jekyll (also awesome!).

    Shannon: I wasn't ever able to get into X-Files. Of course, that was back in the day when I was really watching absolutely nothing. Of course, it didn't help that my greatest exposure to it was during season 2.
    That's how we watch TV, too. It's both a curse and a blessing. As in we're sooo tired of waiting for the next season of Bones and Castle on dvd.

  7. Yes, once you're into a show it takes soooo looooong for the new season to come out. It would almost be easier to wait until a show had done its full stint then rent all the seasons in order, but by then the show wouldn't necessarily be valid anymore.

  8. Shannon: I do, actually, do that sometimes. That's how I found Middleman. It was just one season (half a season, really), so I figured we could try it out. None of our actual shows were available, so it was a good filler. Of course, then we were sad that was all there was of it.