One of our favorite parts of superhero-adventure The Middleman is the on-again, off-again romance between the mysterious hero and Lacey, his sidekick's roommate. But Javier Grillo-Marxuach tells io9 he fought that storyline tooth and nail. So what happened? Spoilers ahead.
For those of you coming to this late, The Middleman was a graphic novel that spawned a television show on ABC Family last year. It followed the adventures of art student Wendy Watson, who takes a temp job that turns out to be an apprenticeship with the Middleman, a mysterious superhero who fights monsters and mad scientists. And the Middleman strikes up an awkward but really sweet flirtation with Wendy's roommate Lacey.
The Forbidden Romance Contingency: Show creator Javier Grillo-Marxuach says he balked at having any kind of romance between MM and Lacey. "I was only willing to make it a joke in the pilot," but insisted that would be the end of it. The pilot, incidentally, was 90 percent the same as the first issue of his graphic novel, laying out the characters as broad archetypes: the stoic, quirky hero, the snarky art student and her idealistic roommate.
But this is what happens when you develop a TV show, Grillo-Marxuach says. You bring that story that you created sitting in a room by yourself into a room full of other writers, and they start putting in their own ideas and influences. And you bring in actors like Natalie Morales (Wendy Watson), Matt Keeslar (The Middleman) and Brit Morgan (Lacey Thornfield) and they have bring their own stuff to the characters. One of the things that really jumps out at you, if you read the graphic novel (which you should) and then watch the TV series (which you most definitely should) is how much more complex and nuanced the characters become. Grillo-Marxuach says that's a result of working on the characters in a collaborative setting.
And Grillo-Marxuach says he has "boundaries" in his own writing ability, stuff he can't or doesn't do. So when the other writers on the show started pushing for Lacey and MM to go on a date, Grillo-Marxuach pushed back. "But the writers in the writer's room kept insisiting... It's weird to be a showrunner at loggerheads with the writing room." He objected for several reasons: "He's older than she is, he's Wendy's boss and an authority figure." But in the end, he gave in, and that led to some of the more poignant moments in the show, and deepened the characters immensely. "If it was just me writing this in my room by miself doing every episode you'd never have seen that," says Grillo-Marxuach. "I'm not a megalmanical show runner, and I like it when people make my work better."
The Superhero Comedy Initiative: We just sat down and watched most of the show's run once again on DVD — the DVD box set comes out July 28, incidentally — and it's striking how much the show feels like a straight-up comedy when you watch a bunch of episodes in a row. Grillo-Marxuach is happy for people to view The Middleman as a comedy. "It was always a comedy, in that it always riffs on popular culture, and it always had this very specific pattery way of talking."
"If you want to send a message to the world — and I don't know that the show was a big message show — it's better to do it by making people laugh than by being preachy," Grillo-Marxuach says. The Middleman "was always a very sweet-souled show, and it had a lot of heart. It has a lot of pity towards villains. It says that evil is little people doing a lot of work not to be good, even though being good is probably easier."
And as we talked about last summer at Comic Con, a big part of the show's lightness is in response to the fetishization of darkness in genre entertainment of the past 20 years, shows and movies which insist that life is hard and full of struggle, and heroism will destroy your life. In response, "an affirmation of the possibility of joy and accomplishment is very much what the show is all about. Of course, my show got canceled after 12 episodes, and The Dark Knight made $600 billion," notes Grillo-Marxuach.