The Invisible Man (2000): Season 1
At one time or another most people have wondered what it would be like to have the ability to turn invisible. Well, at least most boys entering puberty have wondered about this. To go anywhere undetected is has been a popular theme of literature, cinema and television for many decades. There was H.G. Well’s definitive novel ‘The Invisible Man’ way back in 1897 to characters in NBC’s hit series ‘Heroes’ there have been people granted this power. Most of the more modern incarnations of this theme have been naturally tried to spy thrillers. A spy that could become invisible would be a major asset to any covert organization in the world. Most productions that take on this theme are serious in nature. They have a seasoned spy able to turn invisible to get the information and save the day. Back in 2000 the Sci-Fi Channel came up with a radically different approach. They took the basics for any invisible man story and gave it a few twists. This resulted in a fun series that had its tongue planted firmly in its cheek. It drew on elements of such a wide variety of sources like the buddy cop, anti hero and bad boy turned to good. Mixing it all together they came up with one of the most refreshing and light hearted series on the network. As with so many series with potential it died before it had a real chance after only two seasons. Add this to other innovative series like ‘Dead Like Me’ and ‘Carnival’ that faced an unwarranted cancellation. Now thanks to the folks over at Universal the first season is on DVD.
One of the big technical problems of any invisible man story is how to get the protagonist invisible. Most of the time they have a solution or radiation that makes the body of the person transparent. This does allow for some cool special effects like watching the layers of the body fading away. It also gives the running problem on naked invisible people running around. Since this series was on the Sci-Fi channel which includes a lot of aficionados of the general the transparent body method has a major drawback. If your eyes are transparent you can’t see. In this series the methodology is a bit more ‘realistic’ or at least acceptable to this fan base. Here the invisible man, Darien Fawkes (Vincent Ventresca) is a petty crook and three time loser. Rather than face a lifetime in jail he accepts an offer from is genius scientist brother, Kevin (David Burke), to volunteer for a top secret project. He becomes part of the Quicksilver project. This entails surgically implanting an artificial gland in his brain that excretes a substance called quicksilver. This substance exudes out of Darien’s pours and quickly covering his body and clothing. Quicksilver is able to almost perfectly bend light around him rendering him invisible. He can still be detected by infrared which can pick up his body heat. During the first episode enemy agents wanting to acquire the technology kill Darien’s brother.
Darien finds himself inducted into government service. He is to work for a covert segment of the government on any assignment they see fit. His boss, the Official (Eddie Jones) is a typical mid-level bureaucrat who demands complete loyalty from his staff and the immediate execution of his orders. His secretary is a man named Albert Eberts (Michael McCafferty) who has the perchance of giving overly long, detailed accounts of any situation. Since Darien is a career criminal and unfamiliar with covert operations it was decided that he needed a partner to baby sit him especially in the field. Robert Hobbes (Paul Ben-Victor) is selected for the ongoing assignment. Hobbs has been with the agency for a long time and resents his low pay grade and having the worse possible assignments. He also has a thing for firearms, something Darien is not comfortable with. One of the side effects of the quicksilver gland is toxins build up in Darien’s body. If he doesn’t receive an injection of a counter agent every few days he slips into violence and will die soon after. His medical condition is the responsibility of the Keeper (Shannon Kenny). Initially Darien doesn’t even know her real name. Since she is young and very good looking there is a mutual attraction between the two.
Darien is not happy with his current situation. He is always looking for a safe method to remove the gland from his brain. At it stands such an operation would prove fatal. Stuck between a rock and a hard place Darien does his best to work his assignments. Darien does work hard at controlling the use of the gland. In short order he can control the quicksilver to the point where he can make a single hand invisible. He also finds a way to flow the quicksilver over objects making them invisible. After a while the quicksilver oxidizes and flaks off. When the substance is pouring over Darien it initially looks silverfish until it completely surrounds him and turns invisible. The agency that Darien works for is so secret its budget has to be hidden in another government agency. In the first season the agency with enough of a surplus to run the shop is the Department of Fish and Game. When Darien and Hobbs show up at a crime scene flashing badges from DFG is far from impressive.
Most of the episodes are self contained but there are always some elements that fit into the overall season arc. For example Darien has to find who stole a new quantum computer. Darien’s enthusiasm for the mission is increased greatly when he finds out the computer may be vital to removing the gland. While there is a lot of animosity in the group initially over the course of time they meld together as a caring team. In one episode the Official is removed from office and arrested. Darien and the others have to work together to clear his name and get him reinstated. Along the way Darien gets to use his abilities to impersonate a little girl’s imaginary friend, a ghost and other odd persona. He also discovers that he was the second invisible man. The first one has turned rouge and it is up to Darien to stop him.
This series was great fun and better than any other incarnation of this theme. The humor was such a part of the series that it took it out of the usual pseudo serious tone of sci-fi. Darien is a great variation of the invisible character. He is a reluctant hero that is trapped by the gland in his head. If he doesn’t play along with the agency he will go mad, kill people and then die. He also has the quest to find his brother’s killer as part of his motivation. Although he has great power he is a regular guy who made a lot of mistakes in his life. He is haunted by his past as thief and con man so there is a redemption aspect to the plot as well. In this season the writers avoid the usual pitfall encountered when you have a handsome leading man opposite a beautiful actress. Romance would kill a series fast; it is a common cause of ‘jump the shark’ syndrome. Here there is a playful flirtation between Darien and the Keeper that gives the right sexual tension without ruining things. The buddy cop elements work great here. You have the usual two men forced to be partners that have to build a friendship to work properly. Hobbs hates it that an ex-con is considered such an asset while his years of service are largely overlooked.
Universal Studios has been releasing television season sets since the beginning of the DVD format. By this time they pretty much have it down to a science. The series is presented in anamorphic 1.78:1 video and Dolby Stereo audio. The pilot episode contains two commentary tracks. The first features the series creator/executive producer and writer Matt Greenberg, episode director Breck Eisner and Vincent Ventresca. There is an interview with Matt Greenberg and for a little sneak look an episode from season two. This is a fun series and is already missed.