Ok before I roll into thoughts on the first episode and the series I'm just going to quickly express two rather random thoughts that don't really deserve posts of their own.
1. As awesome as it was to see Michael K. Williams in The Incredible Hulk movie. What on earth did that three second cameo achieve? Outside of fans of The Wire MKW isn't really a big star yet, so why do it?
2. What's happened to the camera lighting in many modern American TV shows? More and more women are being lit in a way that makes them look like they have soft 5 o'clock shadow. It's really unattractive.
The Middleman is based on the comic book series of the same name. It's about a superhero called The Middleman and his sidekick (and main star) Wendy Watson. As you can see from the picture they're a fairly attractive pair played by Natalie Morales and Matt Keeslar.
The show is pretty much offbeat humour, pop culture references and bad puns all the way. The first episode deals with Wendy joining the Middleman as his assistant and them discovering why a lot of mobsters are being killed.
The rest of this is going to be spoiler heavy.
The show is rather whimsical in the same way as Pushing Daisies, it has that similar otherworldy/fairy tale feel to it and a lot of the same lame duck acting that occurs in PD. Fortunately this time there's no irritating narrator to make the experience less enjoyable and Natalie, Mary Pat Gleason, Jake Smollett and Brit Morgan are all quite charismatic on screen. But Matt's 'The Middleman' character is a real plank of wood and as charismatic as scenery. I suspect this is intentional as there is one good moment where he steps outside of this persona in the gorilla enclosure (it involves the best joke in the episode imo), but for the most part his lines feel forced and irritating. Hopefully this will evolve or go away as time presses on but we'll have to wait and see.
Natalie is very good as WW, which is a good thing because much of the acting burden seems to be on her to perform and carry the weight of the show. It also helps that she's exceptionally easy on the eye and has good screen presence.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the guest stars for the episode, the mobsters in one of the initial scenes are so bad at delivering their lines (I hope it was not intentionally done as it didn't work) that it was a blessing when they were killed by a shadowy figure in a pinstriped suit with a tommy gun. But the gorilla was pretty poor and Mary Lynn Rajskub was also very weak as the evil scientist Dr. Gibbs.
The plot for the rest of the episode is all rather obvious, it deliberately follows stereotypes and uses predictable narrative plus twists to resolve everything. Honestly, the show needs to step up and improve beyond it's pilot episode if it wants to be a success. It has potential to be quirky, offbeat and enjoyable but it needs to feel more natural and not rely on spewing out bad puns while using quotes from movies in order to cover up a poor story.
I'm going to give it a chance, it might grow on me a little like Pushing Daisies did. Mostly I think it has potential because Natalie plus the supporting cast were consistently good in the episode. With a stronger performance from Matt, less men in gorilla suits (which never look good) and a decent story the show could go places.