Sunday, January 13, 2013

Better Off Forgotten

I was around 10 years old when The Invisible Man ran briefly on NBC. I saw them first-run and loved the show. And then it was cancelled and disappeared into the ether.

I remembered it all these years, hoping it would come back on the old Sci Fi channel or TVLand or something, the way obscure tv shows occasionally do. It hasn't. Then I recently saw that it came out on DVD. I was floored. Was it as good as I remembered, or was going to be Temperature's Rising?

Netflix didn't have it (not on my by-mail option) so I went ahead and bought it. It's the full series, eleven episodes (ten plus the pilot movie) and — ugh. It wasn't Temperature's Rising, but was a lot less than what I had expected.

The story line is this: Dr. Dan Weston and his wife Dr. Kate Weston work for a DARPA-like think-tank, and their project is invisibility. Dr. Weston is brilliant but of course this is entertainment, so Weston decides to skip all those pesky intermediate steps and ethics and tries it on himself, and of course, even though it worked fine on rats and bunnies, for some reason it's permament on him.

Long story short (i.e. most of the pilot), the think tank makes a deal with the Westons: they gets to continue to use the lab to research a reversal for Dan's invisibility, and they pay off the time by doing freelance jobs by people who need special services. Weston's invisiblity is secret, so the work falls under an aegis called The Klae Resource (Klae being the name of the think-tank). So people hire the use of The Klae Resource without really knowing what it is.

It's a decent-enough premise for an action/adventure show. But—damn, it's not what I remembered. Now I'm old enough to see the obvious plot holes; the razor-think characters; villians who desparately need a long handle-bar moustache to twirl.

I feel betrayed by my memory and I'm angry at the show for not being better. I don't think that's unreasonable: so many of the episodes just look lazy, as if they'd put all their energy into the special effects (which are often clever) and had nothing left for the scripts.

Worst of all are the three main characters. They're cyphers: they have no backstory outside what we see on the show; they have no real flaws or features that make them interesting. Dr. Weston is almost entirely humorless and colorless (pun not intended but I'll take it); Walter Carlson, except for a single episode when he's actually given something to do, could have been performed perfectly well by a garden gnome. Only Melinda Fee gets to show any real range of emotion and given interesting things to do, and yet her character is as unknown and malleable as any.

Cyphers worked fine for Mission: Impossible where the characters (except for Peter Lupus) played parts every week. But M:I made up for it with intricate plots. The Invisible Man's plots are typically weak, bordering on lame. A couple are decent but most are tiresome retreads of the spy genre: contact the prisoner, break the defector out, steal the McGuffin.

It's not dumb like color Lost in Spaces were dumb, but it was amazing the thought, or lack thereof, that went into some of the stories. The one that really made my jaw drop: a US senator visits a psychic for seances to contact his dead wife. A government agency hires The Klae Resource to put an end to it because the senator is possibly being manipulated by the psychic to vote against a particular bill. So basically, the government is hiring The Klae Resource because a Senator is voting the wrong way.

Nobody sees any problem with this. Carlson and the Westons both want the bill passed.

After the first or second episode, it appears everyone and his dog knows about The Klae Resource even if they don't know what it is, and even that little secret leaks out at an alarming rate. If they show had gone on another year, The Klae Resource might have been parodied on Saturday Night Live.

It could have been better; it should have been better. It couldn't have been that difficult.

So I can't relieve my childhood love of this show. I'm too old to enjoy the stories, but I'm old enough now to appreciate Melinda Fee.

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