Invisible characters are the great paradox of TV shows. On the one hand, what is cooler than an invisible character when it comes to special effects? Things moving through the air seemingly by themselves? And yet, pulling off all those special effects with any degree of believability can be practically impossible. Television has committed itself to invisible heroes as the lead character of a show many times over the decade, but none of them have managed any staying power. Which isn’t the same thing as saying that they weren’t memorable during their short stay.
Captain Video and His Video Rangers
On this science-fiction show geared directly to young kids, one of Captain Video’s most powerful weapons was the Cloak of Invisibility. And you thought J.K. Rowling had come up with just one single original idea in those Harry Potter books of her! Afraid not.
The Invisible Man (1958)
This British version of “The Invisible Man” managed to sneak its way onto the CBS schedule despite the fact that the actor actually playing the title character was as invisible as his character. The key to making a show about an invisible man, of course, is making him visible when you need him. This has traditionally been accomplished by wrapping the character in bandages and so it was with Dr. Peter Brady. He was either just a disembodied voice or a guy wrapped in bandages so in effect, the actor was an invisible entity. Thinking this would be a great gimmick for the show, Dr. Peter Brady was listed in the credits as “Anonymous.” He was eventually revealed to be an actor named Johnny Scripps. The whole concept of who played “The Invisible Man” turned out to be a bit more interesting than most of the plots of the show itself.
The Invisible Man (1975)
NBC tried their hand at bringing an invisible character to life in the mid-70s but still turned to England for inspiration. By which I mean that David McCallum attempted to become the Man from Invisibility Land with yet another story about the government recruiting “The Invisible Man” for their own espionage purposes. Dr. Daniel Westin had developed a means of making himself invisible and the government desperately wanted him to do their dirty work. Which he was against, so committed the formula for turning invisible to memory and destroyed his lab. Unfortunately, his little trick for coming back to visibility failed and so he finds himself stuck in the world of the unseen. Then he goes to work for Big Business. Because, you know, Big Business is so much more ethical than Big Government.
Around roughly the same time that Dr. Westin’s experiment in applied invisibility in the corporate world was going off the air, “Gemini Man” was bringing TV a new take on invisible characters. Sam Casey had gone invisible following a diving accident involving radiation. His life was saved, but he could only remain visible thanks to a fancy little gadget that everybody assumed was just the world’s clunkiest wristwatch. Fortunately for the government agency with which Sam Casey was already employed, INTERSECT, the device also allowed Sam to go back to being invisible for up to fifteen minutes during any 24 hour period. If Sam tried to get that 16th minute of invisibility out of the day, he would die. Why, exactly, a sixteenth minute of invisibility during a 24 hour period would cause death was never fully explained. Not that it mattered, since “Gemini Man” was itself invisible a little over a month after it premiered. Just like Sam Casey, however, it suddenly became visible again. In the form of a TV-movie called “Riding with Death” which was actually just two utterly unrelated episodes tied together. Catch it ripped to shred on “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”
The Invisible Man (2000)
Every fifteen or twenty years or so, a network tries again to make a show about not just an invisible man but “The Invisible Man.” In the time it would take to explain how the title character became invisible, you could probably learn how to play the instrument you most think you could never possibly learn to play. Seriously, there are Shakespearean comedies that are less confusing than just the freaking premise of the first version of “The Invisible Man” of the 21st century. If the whole show hadn’t been an utter goof, one might have thought that this why this invisible man went invisible so fast.