More Than the Middleman

You may recognize his name from the credits of Lost’s first and second seasons, or he may be familiar to you as the man behind The Middleman. You might know the name Javier Grillo-Marxuach from his work on Medium, Jake 2.0, Boomtown, or even The Pretender. Chances are, you don’t know how to pronounce it. (It’s ‘ha-vee-air gree-joe marks-watch,’ according to the writer/executive producer’s Web site.)

No matter how you know the name, I bet you’re wondering: what’s he been up to lately?

In 2008, ABC Family cancelled the geek-fueled funfest that was The Middleman after only 12 episodes, and the name Javier Grillo-Marxuach hasn’t been seen on TV since (excluding reruns of Charmed on TNT). I recently got the chance to catch up with Javi (as he’s known to practically everyone), and find out what projects are in the works, whether he’ll ever continue The Middleman in comic form, and what it’s like to be both a professional and “a dyed-in-the-wool fan.”

Concept Art for Ramiel: Wrath of God // (c) Steve Gendron

Though he’s not currently on the writing staff of a TV show, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been keeping busy. His comic collaboration with artist Steve Gendron, published by Ape Entertainment, is expected to debut at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con International. Ramiel: Wrath of God is actually based on a pilot script written by Javi in 1996.

“It’s about a fallen angel who becomes a superhero, essentially,” says Javi, who has been rewriting the script on and off since it was nearly made into a TV movie for the SciFi Channel. Before the rights went to NBC Universal, the original series pilot script for Ramiel was purchased by the WB. Unfortunately, complete rewrites by executive producers brought in to work on the project, and miscommunication with the network meant that the window to shoot the pilot passed, and Javi “literally got written out of a greenlight.”

When the SciFi movie script was deemed ‘too dark’ and the shoot was scrapped, the rights remained with NBC, who recently released them to Javi on the condition that they get first look at the comic, and if the comic is successful, they have the option to develop it as a series.

If that happens, it won’t be the first time Javi has taken the road less travelled to a greenlight. Like Ramiel, The Middleman started its life as a pilot script and was made into a series of graphic novels before finding its way back to the small screen. But even if Ramiel ends up on television, Javi wants to make it clear that the comic is a story-telling entity in its own right.

“When you do comics, you want to do things that you’ve done, that you love, that maybe didn’t find an audience elsewhere, but what you don’t want to do is something that’s just a glorified pitch [for a television series],” he says. “I think comic readers know when they’re reading something that’s half-baked.”

And though the unproduced thirteenth episode of The Middleman was realized in graphic novel form for the sake of wrapping up storylines, Javi has no plans to revisit the Middleverse (though he did reveal on his tumblr account that Wendy Watson’s father is a Middleman, and the Middleman organization is akin to the Green Lantern Corps.) He likens continuation of the story to the Star Wars Expanded Universe, which he feels took away from the audience’s imagination by eventually providing an explanation for everything.

“When Star Wars came out in ’77,” he explains, “C3PO has a line where he says, ‘We’re going to be sent to the Spice Mines of Kessel.’ And I remember thinking, oh my god – spice can be mined? By whom? And why is it so terrible there? I think it would smell nice.”

Of course, today, one quick Google search will tell you that the Spice Mines of Kessel are part of a Galactic Empire slave camp populated by energy spiders. Unlike George Lucas, Javi doesn’t want to keep Middlefans from dreaming up their own ideas to fill in the blanks. (Hear that, fan ficcers?)

He adds, “It’s such a piece of my soul, that I think it would be worse if it became so transcendantly popular that it stopped being this cool little indie thing. Of course, that’s what I tell myself every night as I weep over not being a millionaire.”

At least he has work to keep himself occupied. In addition to Ramiel, Javi has written a pilot script for Sony based on the graphic novel Thirteen Steps by authors Phil Hester and Chuck Saterlee, and artist Kevin Mellon. The studio will be shopping it to networks later in the year. Described as ‘a twelve-step program for vampires, werewolves, and zombies,’ Javi promises it’s darker than the premise might make it sound. He’s also at work on a project Too Secret to Speak Of, and apparently, just by mentioning it I am at risk of being eliminated, so I await the arrival of G-Men at my front door. (The only information he was able to part with is that it involves bringing the work of a big-name Author to television.)

Javier Grillo-Marxuach from a parallel universe with 5th Doctor Peter Davison

If he’s not writing, chances are you’ll find him on the convention scene. What makes Javi such a great person to chat with is that he’s incredibly warm, a proud geek, and will hold his own on any nerdy topic from The Umbrella Academy to Star Trek (“It’s not an interview with me unless Chakotay comes up.”) Last week he was a guest of C2E2, Chicago’s Comic and Entertainment Expo – a highlight of which was the Middleman cast reunion. And in addition to this year’s Comic-Con, he is also scheduled as a guest at Geek Girl Con in Seattle, October 8 & 9, for a panel titled, “Geek Girls in Popular Culture.”

Of course, Javi’s a fan of another show featuring a mysterious man with no name and a young female sidekick; he recently attended Gallifrey One, a stateside Doctor Who convention – and he went in costume.

In cosplaying as the Master, the Doctor’s nemesis, Javi made it his mission to take a photo with people cosplaying as each incarnation of the Doctor. But the best part, he says, was that Peter Davison, the 5th Doctor, took one look at him in the green room and burst into hysterical laughter before posing for a photo.

“The idea that I have a photo of myself with Peter Davison, and I’m dressed up as the Master, is not something I ever imagined would happen,” Javi says, “but you just take risks sometimes in life.”

It seems that, so far, those risks have paid off, and I look forward to whatever comes next from the mind of Javier Grillo-Marxuach.

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