Judge Clark Douglas is an invisible man. It's just that there is always this tall guy with glasses who is also named Clark Douglas standing behind him.
CIA Agent: "Tell me where you're hiding this Invisible Man. We need access to him."
The Official: "An Invisible Man? We have an Invisible Man working for us? I haven't seen him."
This Sci-Fi Channel original series, which began airing in 2000 and ended after its second season in 2002, had some diehard fans, but not enough of them to keep the show from getting pulled. The first season has finally made its way to DVD. With the endless wave of superhero-related things in the cinema and on television, it's a good time to revisit the series.
Facts of the Case
Darien Fawkes (Vincent Ventresca, Madison) is a professional thief. Unfortunately for him, he's not a very good thief. He gets captured time after time, and finally he is sentenced to life in prison. The end.
Well, not really. Darien is given a second chance at life when his brother pays him a visit, offering him a deal. If Darien will agree to participate as a test subject in a secret government project, he will get a full pardon. Darien agrees, but isn't too thrilled when he discovers that he is going to have to undergo a very risky surgery. The operation involves planting a "Quicksilver" gland in Darien's brain, which will give Darien the ability to become invisible. However, there's a catch: Darien can only spend a certain amount of time being invisible. After a while, he will enter "Quicksilver madness," a condition which causes Darien to go crazy and try to kill and/or rape people.
The only way Darien can prevent Quicksilver madness is to get a shot of antidote on a regular basis. This presents Darien's new problem: a secret government agency is the only group with access to the antidote. So, they arrange a deal with Darien. He works for them as a secret agent, and they provide him with medical care for his complicated new condition. The one providing the shots is a lady simply named The Keeper (Shannon Kenny, 7th Heaven). The one calling the shots is named The Official (Eddie Jones, Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman). The one taking a lot of shots…oh, this is silly. Darien's partner is a grumpy guy named Bobby Hobbs (Paul Ben-Victor, The Wire). These three, and a whole lot of other people, have one person on their mind at all times: The Invisible Man.
The Invisible Man: The Complete First Season has 23 episodes spread across five discs, as follows:
• "The Catevari": Darien is assigned to protect a senator from a man who is truly lethal to the touch, but his Quicksilver madness is both a blessing and a curse in subduing the "ultimate warrior."
• "Ralph": Invisibility has its uses when Darien takes on the role of an "invisible friend" for a little girl who has witnessed a horrific murder.
• "Tiresias": A phony spiritualist has his clients killing themselves in order to avoid their doomed destinies, but Darien thinks there might be more to the prophecies than meets the eye.
• "The Devil You Know": A hostile takeover of the Agency puts the Official behind bars for murder, and Darien is faced with a life-or-death decision with a new boss he can't completely trust.
• "Liberty and Larceny": Darien's criminal past comes to haunt him when he comes face-to-face with a brilliant safecracker who needs his assistance for one last treacherous job.
• "The Value of Secrets": The theft of a quantum physics experiment has Darien thrown for a loop when he meets the gorgeous scientist who just wants to continue her vital research on alternate universes.
• "Separation Anxiety": Old relationships are put to the test when Hobbes suspects that his ex-wife may be marrying a dangerous weapons thief, and it's up to Darien to set the truth straight.
• "The Other Invisible Man": The past rises up with a vengeance when Darien sees the specter of another man who underwent the invisibility experiment before him—with deadly consequences.
• "Reunion": Darien learns that his brother Kevin may still be alive and returns to their hometown to find him—and the truth about what really happened.
• "Cat and Mouse": Unable to create their own methods for achieving invisibility, the Chinese government schemes to steal the secret of the Quicksilver formula.
• "Beholder": Hobbes and Darien confront a ghoulish hit man who blinds any witnesses to the killings as a way of protecting his identity.
• "Flowers for Hobbes": After he is accidentally injected with a retrovirus, Hobbes' intelligence level skyrockets—but at what cost?
• "Perchance to Dream": Brilliant but corrupt computer whizzes are turning unsuspecting victims into ruthless assassins, but this case is personal, as it involves The Keeper.
• "Frozen in Time": The inventor of the quantum computer tells Darien that renowned scientists have been disappearing without a trace—and she believes she's next!
• "Diseased": The partners take on their nemesis, Arnaud, who has a new ruthless plan to steal the Quicksilver gland from Darien's brain.
• "Money for Nothing (Part 1)": South of the border is where the Official, the Keeper, Hobbes, and Darien plan to take down Arnaud's casino, but their plan goes awry when the Invisible Man makes five million dollars disappear.
• "Money for Nothing (Part 2)": The adventure continues as Quicksilver madness overtakes Darien.
• "It's a Small World": Responding to a security leak, the Chrysalis organization implants a bug into Darien and is able to monitor his every move.
There are a lot of superhero movies these days, and some superhero television shows as well. By this point, the average viewer knows all the clichés, formulas, and standard checkpoints of superhero outings. The bad news is that The Invisible Man follows the very plotlines and formulas we expect it to take. The good news is that the show adheres to convention in a very polished, engaging, humorous, and (sometimes) smart manner. Much like the recent CW show Reaper, The Invisible Man presents us with a hero that blends the expected brooding and sulking with caustic humor.
Though one might be tempted to call star Vincent Ventresca a poor man's mix of Conan O'Brien and Ioan Gruffud (and believe me, I would never stoop to such statements), he really does manage to create an interesting lead character. However, the primary reason the show works so well is the very fine supporting cast. Paul Ben-Victor is quite funny and likeable as Darien's balding, ever-underappreciated partner, and Shannon Kenny is nothing short of charming as The Keeper. Many of my favorite moments in the show involved the playful dialogue scenes between Eddie Jones and Mike McCafferty (who plays The Official's right hand man, named Eberts).
The special effects and action sequences are handled with surprisingly slick and professional expertise, particularly considering that this show didn't have the budget that a network show might have had. The series originally aired on the Sci-Fi Channel, and as such, The Invisible Man almost always attempts to provide as reasonable a scientific explanation as possible for all the ridiculously silly things that happen over the course of the show. It never takes itself too seriously, but at the same time, it does attempt to seem as credible as possible for a show called The Invisible Man.
In addition, when the show is at its very best, it is quite thought-provoking. One of my favorite episodes is "Flowers for Hobbes," which imagines what it might be like if someone were to have essentially unlimited intelligence. If ignorance is bliss, then what is having a supreme deal of knowledge? Would having the ability to know all the secrets of the world be something far too depressing for the human mind to handle? It's some rather compelling stuff, and such conversation-inspiring episodes appear on a pretty regular basis.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
On the other hand, there are certainly more than a few weak episodes here. Most of the shows centered on Darien's Quicksilver madness tend to be either dull or preposterous. The primary villain of the series, a smarmy fellow named Arnaud, lacks the compelling qualities required of a recurring character, and the very odd power given to another "mutant" character seems to be one of the worst ideas in the history of expensive government experiments. Even the worst episodes are watchable, but there are a few moments that may make you cringe. The most egregious moment is an episode with a "fan-selected" ending, giving the show a very unfortunate Choose Your Own Adventure vibe.
Also, I should make special mention of the music in the show. It's absolutely atrocious. The screeching techno theme has got to be one of the most irritating television themes ever written, and the equally techno-driven episode scores by Kevin Kiner add no dramatic aid to the proceedings. Each episode would probably be a good 10% better if it had been scored in a more effective dramatic manner by someone like, say, Michael Giacchino (you may be familiar with his work on Alias and Lost). Oh, well. If you like your shows to be scored with a mix of loud drum machines and grating screeching noises, here you go.
Video quality is not wonderful on the show, it look like it could easily be a decade older than it is. Picture is pretty flat, and there are some minor scratches here and there. Additionally, with almost four hours of content on each disc, compression is an issue. Sound is okay, the Dolby Digital 2.0 track works just fine. Extras are pretty slim, as well. There's a commentary on the pilot episode featuring series creator Matt Greenberg, Director Breck Eisner, and star Vincent Ventresca. It's a pretty engaging track, talking about the ideas behind the creation of the show. Another ten-minute interview with Greenberg offers more of the same. Strangely, a "bonus episode" from Season Two is also included, called "Legends." Are they not planning to release Season Two on DVD? If so, why bother including this episode here? I won't complain about it, but it does seem quite peculiar, and will be rather pointless once the second (and sadly, final) season of the show is released.
Despite some flaws, this is a solid show that's well worth checking out. Compared to the generally humorless and self-important material in this vein out there these days (see Bionic Woman), this feels like a breath of fresh air.
The prosecution's key witness vanished into thin air, so I have no choice but to declare The Invisible Man not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
• Pilot Commentary
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