‘Middleman’ Creator Talks about the Show’s Comic-Con Reunion — and Possible Revival
Yesterday, the cast of “The Middleman,” the comic book-based ABC Family show about secret agent crimefighter and his female sidekick, reunited at Comic-Con for a panel and a table reading of the unreleased final episode of the series, which is soon to be a comic. “Middleman” creator Javier Grillo-Marxuach talked to ComicsAlliance before the panel about how comics gave him the freedom to create Stormtroopers riding missile-equipped kangaroos, whether the show could ever come back to TV, and why “Batman: Streets of Gotham” writer Paul Dini is the godfather of it all.
ComicsAlliance: Are you excited to get the gang back together for the big Comic-Con panel?
Javier Grillo-Marxuach: I’m as excited as hell; I can’t wait. We just did a rehearsal of the read-through, and went through the script so everybody could get on the same page, and they slipped back into their roles seamlessly. It was kind of scary, actually, and I think they’re really happy to see each other and to bring a conclusion to it for our audience. This is my eleventh year going to Comic-Con either as a fan or a creator. Eleven years ago I was probably going more for the TV stuff, but most of what I do is now hang out in the small press aisle. Also, I like a lot of the stuff Top Shelf is doing. Really, I just like hanging out with my people. I go every Wednesday to the comic book store; I’m a nerd and I like being a nerd among nerds. And Comic-Con is kind of a massive tribute to the triumph of the nerd dollar.
CA: The full series DVD set of “Middleman” comes out on July 28th — is there any hope that if the DVDs sell well, “Middleman” might find its way back to production, like “Family Guy” or “Futurama”?
JGM: If we sell a lot of copies of the DVD, absolutely. What’s nice is that ABC Family not only supported the show for its whole run, but it also supported the DVD set, and the graphic novel we’re putting out of the season-ending 13th episode. We have a very supportive studio partner, so if the market says it wants more Middleman, then we’ll do it.
CA: What were your major inspirations and influences for “Middleman”?
JGM: First of all, I’m a huge “Doctor Who” freak, and you can see that influence all over “Middleman.” But Superman as a [comic] character and a movie character was tremendously formative to me. I think that kind forthright, square-jawed, “aw shucks” quality is present in the character, especially from Christopher Reeve’s interpretation of Superman. And of course, “Star Wars.” I was 7 years old when “Star Wars came out,” and it was the formative pop culture experience of my life, as it was for a lot of people my age. You can’t be a person my age and doing this kind of work and say that you’re not a part of the “Star Wars” generation, and specifically of the 1980s blockbuster generation. All through “The Middleman” you can see “Tron,” and “Star Trek: Wrath of Khan,” and looking forward you see “Ghostbusters,” “Back to the Future,” “Road Warrior,” “Poltergeist,” and “E.T.” My formative experience of pop culture was this amazing golden era of blockbusters.
CA: It’s interesting you mention “Star Trek” and “Tron,” because both of them are currently being relaunched.
JGM: And people I know are working on them. Debbie & Adam from “Lost” co-wrote the script for “Tron” and “Star Trek” of course is J.J. [Abrams] and the Bad Robot gang. George Lucas was riffing on movie serials of his youth when he did “Star Wars,” and he continues to do that with things like “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull.” And many of the people in my peer group of a similar age and similar influences like J.J. Abrams or Damon Lindelof or Kevin Smith are adding to popular culture while also paying homage. It’s kind of how it’s always been.
JGM: Well, it’s funny that we were just talking about the “Star Wars” influence. The Wilhelm is a stock sound effect that’s been around since the 50’s and ended up in sound libraries. It’s very distinctive, and it just kept being used, almost to the point that it became a joke. And in the “Star Wars” movies, every time a Stormtrooper dies you hear [imitates Wilhelm Scream]. So we were mixing the pilot, and it got put in the scene where the Middleman is beating up the monsters. And I remember saying, “Why does the monster sound like a dying Stormtrooper?” [laughs] I thought it was so funny that I decided we should put it in every episode of the show. It almost became like a game between me and the post people, where they’d put the Wilhelm in the show I’d try to find it. It became like “Where’s Waldo?” [laughs]
And the sad thing – the true tragedy of our not getting a second season is that there’s another scream called the Howie Scream, which is the scream from when Howie Long dies in “Broken Arrow.” It’s also known as the “youraagh.” Had we had the opportunity, I think that the Wilhelm would have been replaced by the Youraagh in the second season. The first season was “spot the Wilhelm,” and the second season would have been “spot the Howie.” The Howie is also about three times longer than the Wilhelm. It’s like, “Youraaaaagh!” So it would have been a challenge, but we were ready to take it to the next level.
CA: There’s another running gag in every episode: the line “it’s sheer elegance in its simplicity.”
JGM: Indeed. Indeed. [laughs] Well, a lot of shows are about how evil is this grand overwhelming thing that exists everywhere, but it’s also a reflection of your own inner demons, that monsters are always metaphors for the darkness of the soul. And I sort of beg to differ with that. My belief – the core philosophy about evil in “The Middleman” is that most of the evil of the is caused by uncreative people taking shortcuts that wind up being more complicated than they have to be in order to avoid doing hard work. So it kind of came out of that. We loved the line so much that it became a running gag, and it actually takes off in the final episode.
CA: When you first had the idea for “Middleman,” did you see it as a comic book, or a television show?
JGM: it was originally a television pilot that I wrote as a spec, but nobody seemed to like it that much and no one would buy it. So I went to work on other shows like “Lost,” and I met a writer a named Paul Dini who has worked on “Batman: The Animated Series” – and you know Paul, obviously, he’s a comic book writer too. And Paul totally coached me and encouraged me to turn it into a comic book, and that’s how we did it. So he’d kind of the godfather of “Middleman.” It wasn’t originally intended to be a comic book, but it turned out that comics were a great medium to get the story out there with real integrity, but then it wound up paving the way for it to become a TV show.
CA: Having worked in both television and comics, what are the advantages of working in the comics medium?
JGM: You’re not encumbered by budget in any way. In the graphic novel
of the final episode, we have a bunch of Stormtroopers riding kangaroos who have armor plating and shoots missiles out of their mouths. We probably would not have been able to been able to do that on a TV project.