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Middleman creator talks about the show's Comic-Con reunion -- and possible revival

by TV Squad Editors, posted Jul 25th 2009 2:00PM
The Middleman on ABC FamilyRecently, the cast of The Middleman, the comic book-based ABC Family show about a secret agent crime fighter 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 Laura Hudson from our sister site Comics Alliance 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.

We previewed this interview yesterday, but CA has kindly let us reprint the entire interview here. More after the jump.

Are you excited to get the gang back together for the big Comic-Con panel?

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. 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 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.

What were your major inspirations and influences for Middleman?

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 of 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 seven 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 doing this kind of work and say 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.

It's interesting you mention Star Trek and Tron, because both of them are currently being relaunched.

And people I know are working on them. Debbie and 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.

We've got a question for you from one of our @comicsalliance Twitter followers: Why does the Wilhelm scream appear in every episode?

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. 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. It almost became like a game between me and the post people, where they'd put the Wilhelm in the show and 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 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.

There's another running gag in every episode: the line "it's sheer elegance in its simplicity."

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 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.

When you first had the idea for Middleman, did you see it as a comic book, or a television show?

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 named Paul Dini who has worked on Batman: The Animated Series – and you know Paul, obviously, he's a comic book writer, too. He totally coached me and encouraged me to turn it into a comic book, and that's how we did it. So he's 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, and it wound up paving the way for it to become a TV show.

Having worked in both television and comics, what are the advantages of working in the comics medium?

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 shoot missiles out of their mouths. We probably would not have been able to do that on a TV project.

(Read more comics coverage at Comics Alliance)

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Alasdair Lumsden

I would love that show to come back. It was loveable, I really think that is the best way to descrbe it.

July 26 2009 at 1:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Did I miss news about a possible revival in that story? Or was it just a tease to torment my broken heart, still mourning not just the death of MM, but my absence from SDCC?

Just plumb cruel, really.

July 26 2009 at 11:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to moreartplease's comment

I think it might be the short reference to a graphic novel of the final episode.

July 28 2009 at 11:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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