The Middleman is set in a satirical sci-fi universe full of comic book bad guys. Wendy is living a marginal life as an artist/temp when an ugly creature breaks out of a laboratory and grabs her with its tentacles. She calmly stabs it with a letter opener, and her sangfroid captures the attention of the Middleman (Matt Keeslar). He’s a wholesome hero type whose job is not only to save the world, but also to prevent the world from learning that supernatural phenomena exist. He convinces Wendy to be his sidekick over the objections of his cranky robot assistant.
Wendy and the Middleman are an instant odd-couple classic. Where she’s wised-up and sarcastic, he’s a square-jawed square in the Clark Kent mode. He says things like “dog diggity” and “dag-nabit,” often while chugging a glass of milk. Creator Javier Grillo-Marxuach, who adapted the series from his graphic novels, has a ball spoofing spy movies, superhero comics, Planet of the Apes, The Godfather, Andy Warhol, The Avengers and animal-rights groups — and that’s just in the first episode.
Is there any way I’m going to miss episode two? Not a gosh-darn chance in heck.
Wednesday, 9:30 p.m. (NBC)
NBC declares that this “thrilling new series immerses today’s top stars in the breathtaking world of the circus.” Would you really call Stacey Dash, Christopher Knight, Antonio Sabato Jr. and Wee Man Acuna “today’s top stars”? It kind of makes you wonder if the network is also stretching things with the words “thrilling” and “breathtaking.”
The Bill Engvall Show
Thursday, 9 p.m. (TBS)
I dissed this sitcom last year based on the mediocre premiere. I didn’t watch it again ‘till now, and what do you know — I’m smiling.
The Bill Engvall Show is unabashedly old school, with a laugh track, simple sets and a setup-punchline rhythm. The plots look for humor in the minutiae of suburban family life: a cell phone that gets bad reception, children who refuse to clean the garage. A million sitcoms have worked similar territory, but this one succeeds thanks to a great ensemble. Over the past year, something clicked among the actors, all of whom (even the kids) know how to put over the jokes. Engvall is amiable in the Father Knows Worst role, and Nancy Travis complements him beautifully as the Sarcastic Wife.
I’d call Engvall to congratulate him if I could get reception on my damn cell phone.
AFI’s 10 Top 10
Tuesday, 8 p.m. (CBS)
Every summer, the American Film Institute tries to find a new way to list America’s greatest movies: by focusing on actors, genres, etc. The problem is, America’s greatest movies don’t change all that much, so every year we hear about the same ones in a slightly different way.
This time, the AFI gives us the top 10 films in 10 different genres. Think it might just be a big night for Citizen Kane and Casablanca … again?