A lot of television has come and gone. Some deserving shows don’t make it past a first season, while others stuck around but never quite carved their name into pop culture. What’s still close to your heart but meets with a blank stare when you mention it?
In 2000, what was then known as the Sci Fi Channel began airing a show called The Invisible Man, about a jailed thief who gets a second chance after he’s implanted with a gland that allows him to turn invisible. The show was my favorite kind of property: smart, self-aware, by equal turns funny and dramatic.
What really elevated The Invisible Man was the chemistry that the cast had together, along with a willingness—six years before the advent of Twitter—to engage with their ardent fans online. As stars Vincent Ventresca and Paul Ben-Victor explained:
Ben-Victor: [Fans] were just a strong element, like a third voice to the show. And Monday morning, we’d show up and we’d want to know what the ratings were, of course, but almost more important was what was the feedback from the fans.
Ventresca: We were sort of doing the show and the fans really sort of took to it, and then all of a sudden there was someone to make the show for. And that was cool. You’re right, it was sort of in between doing a play and a big TV show, sort of a niche, sort of cult following that really their encouragement, and their love for it was sort of contagious and it filtered down to us and all of a sudden we were invested in it more.
Instant fan clubs sprang up on message boards and forums, helping to popularize the show and leading brigades to renew it and then rally for its wider release. I-Man ended after two seasons and seemed to have been the victim of internal network politics; at the time many fans felt that the show, which was hugely popular among women, was canceled because it wasn’t capturing the desired male demographic.
The premise was original, once that initial debt is paid to H.G. Wells, and surprisingly advanced for the Sci Fi Channel in those days:
The plot revolves around Darien Fawkes (Ventresca), a thief facing life imprisonment who is recruited by a spy agency that is constantly short on funds, and given the power of invisibility via implantation of a special “Quicksilver gland” in his head.
[…] However, the Quicksilver gland was sabotaged at its creation by scientist Arnaud DeFehrn to release a neurotoxin that accumulates in the bloodstream and causes intense pain, followed by antisocial behavior and psychosis. The host requires regular doses of “counteragent” to keep him sane and healthy, which is controlled by the government agency.
[…] The series’ plot deals with a variety of adult themes such as freedom of choice, determinism, and state bureaucracy.
The snarky, flighty Darien is given a paranoid, wisecracking, dyed-in-the-wool government agent, Bobby Hobbes (Ben-Victor), as his partner, and the two eventually become best friends in my favorite agent pair-up since Mulder and Scully. The rest of the supporting cast is strong, and the recurring characters are memorable.
This is the sort of show that would, I think, do very well these days, but came into being at the wrong time in television. Now you can watch the whole thing over on Hulu, a privilege I would have paid a lot of money for back in 2000.
Save for fans who were part of those save-the-show campaigns 16 years ago like me—and maybe a few new folks who have found the series on streaming platforms—it seems like no one remembers The Invisible Man, and that’s a damned shame. Thinking about I-Man made me curious about what other brilliant bits of television are lost to time. Just as I’d be thrilled if you decided to spend your weekend watching I-Man, I’d love to take a look at your favorites that slipped away.
Which hidden gems should be uncovered? Is there a show that you still don’t stop thinking about, even if you wonder if you’re the only one who remembers it? Tell us all about it in the comments. Make it live again.
(image: The Sci Fi Channel/Syfy/NBCU)
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