There's no question that ABC Family's "The Middleman" (8 tonight) is derivative, bringing to mind "Men in Black" with its plot and "Gilmore Girls" and "Juno" with its fast-talking, pop culture-referencing characters.
But the show takes these familiar pieces and fashions them into a highly watchable hour of entertaining, occasionally cheesy TV that's smart enough to engage adults but also enjoyable for kids and teens.
Based on a graphic novel by 1991 Carnegie Mellon University graduate Javier Grillo-Marxuach ("Medium," "Lost") and co-executive produced by Hans Beimler ("Star Trek: Deep Space Nine"), "The Middleman" follows the adventures of 22-year-old art school graduate Wendy Watson (Natalie Morales), who gets recruited by a wholesome, milk-chugging stranger who calls himself The Middleman (Matt Keeslar).
- When: 8 tonight, ABC Family.
- Starring: Matt Keeslar, Natalie Morales.
He wants Wendy to join him in protecting humanity from all variety of threats, including super-smart talking apes created by a pouty scientist, played by "24" regular Mary-Lynn Rajskub.
The banter between Wendy and Middleman is constant and consistently entertaining. In a nod to Agent Dale Cooper of "Twin Peaks," the clean-cut Middleman declares his glass of milk to be "darn fine cow squirt."
In her best imitation of the lead character in "Juno," the more hip Wendy demands, "Did you skinny dip in the stupidity pond?"
The fast, witty dialogue elevates "The Middleman" above other shows of its ilk, most notably Sci Fi Channel's "Eureka." Supporting characters also add some spice, including The Middleman's prune-faced robot assistant, Ida (Mary Pat Gleason), and Wendy's roommate (Brit Morgan) -- they share an illegal sublet -- and their guitar-strumming neighbor, Noser (Jake Smollett).
The plot of tonight's premiere is silly and campy, but because "The Middleman" is based on a comic book, that's not altogether out of place. Whether this tone wears well over time remains to be seen, but in its first outing "The Middleman" rises above the middle-of-the-pack of scripted cable shows.