Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Middleman – The Vampiric Puppet lamentation (TV Episode) – review

dvd setDirector: Sandy Smolan

First aired: 2008

Contains spoilers

The middleman was a short lived TV series that followed Wendy (Natalie Morales), a struggling artist who is recruited into a secret agency (O2STK or Organisation too Secret to Know) to train to be the next Middleman – a fixer of exotic problems. Wendy was recruited as she is cool under pressure and has a photographic memory. The current Middleman (Matt Keeslar, who was in vampire flick the Thirst) is an enigma in the show.

I have read comparisons of the show with Torchwood, and I have to say I found this much savvier, with plenty of pop culture references without becoming lost in the referential (as I felt Torchwood did). This is down to the fact that it was designed to be both referential and satirical, as series creator Javier Grillo-Marxuach wrote “I created a show by geeks for geeks – a nesting doll of influences, references and inside jokes wrapped in plots satirizing the sloth so often present in broadcast sci-fi: you know, the plots that EVERY sci-fi show on broadcast TV insists on trotting out as if they have never been done before.” As this is a vampire episode we get references to the Marv Wolfman’s Tomb of Dracula, Hammer films, Buffy and Blade - amongst many other pop culture references.

Wendy getting her Buffy onWendy is called in to work – whilst worried about friend and neighbour Noser (Jake Smollett), whom she has had a tarot warning about – as there is a danger of a vampire incursion. The last vampire was killed in the 19th Century but she is issued a stake (they must be made from pure Carpathian wood) as the private property of Vlad Ţepeş (Gideon Emery) is to go on sale and the worry is that any item could trigger a rebirth of vampirism. They pop quiz on vampires as they travel and we establish that they cannot be captured on film or in mirrors, that a bite gives them access to all the memories hopes and dreams of the victim (the O2STK have a serum to prevent turning) and there is something about soup that is never revealed to the audience.

The main lot at the auctionThey get to the auction and the auctioneer, Nicholas Pherides (Steve Valentine, who we previously saw in Crossing Jordan), begins with a door hinge. Incidentally Nikolas Pherides was the character played by Boris Karloff in Isle of the Dead, which was no coincidence I am sure. The last item (after a spoon fragment) was Little Vladdy – a Vlad the Impaler puppet.

possessed auctioneerIt seems that Vlad Ţepeş had two loves – drinking blood and puppet shows. Pherides puts the puppet on his arm and the puppet begins to speak of the eternal night of blood. Wendy and the Middleman realise that he is possessed and give chase when he runs. They corner him and approach, stakes at the ready. Now, vampire puppets are not unknown, but they are rare enough for this to be somewhat special. Nothing could prepare you however for the…

puppet CBS…Crap Bat Syndrome puppet. Yes, Little Vladdy transforms into a Crap Bat (actually, compared to many it looks rather good) and takes off to the skies, carrying Pherides off with him. Back at HQ they ponder why the puppet didn’t burn in the sun (which must be because he is made of wood). Schoolmarm-like robot Ida (Mary Pat Gleason) discovers old TV footage of Little Vladdy with a surviving owner (questions of how he was on TV aside…). They visit Renfield Rehnquist (Rob Nagle) – the Renfield is obvious but I suspect Rehnquist was after the vampire Renquist from Mick Farren’s Renquist quadrilogy – at the John Seward Home for the Criminally Insane. There they discover that Little Vladdy is searching for the puppet of Ţepeş bride Elizabeth Rousset (Sadie Stratton).

coming back to un-lifeIf Vladdy and Lizzie marry in puppet form, whilst controlling two people who truly love each other, they will come back to human vampire form and be able to call forth a plague of vampires. The Lizzie puppet is in the Middleman HQ but Vladdy doesn’t show up on security cameras, manages to bite the Middleman and is able to create vampire puppet minions – and there just happens to be a ventriloquist competition in town…

Wendy is in troubleI thoroughly enjoyed this episode. It was irreverent and yet, strangely reverent to the source material for that. It had a campy quality – helped by the Middleman’s persona – that harked back to more innocent TV days, yet with a knowingness that was modern. For instance, through the series they had swearing but silent on the soundtrack with a black bar over the mouth and rather than crass this became a campy signature within the show. The twist on vampirism was welcome, both funny and unusual enough to be worth watching. This is true family programming, fun for the kids and yet the referentials and mature nuances are great for the adults. Excellent stuff. 7 out of 10.

The episode’s imdb page is here.


Zahir al Daoud said...

I simply MUST see this!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Zahir - it is great fun and I found the whole series to be fun, I'd say it was worth your time tracking the box set down.