In 1975, NBC released an Invisible Man series created by television legends Harve Bennett and Steven Bochco, sadly, poor ratings saw the end of that show after only one season, but apparently, the network had faith that a show about an invisible agent was a viable idea and that they just needed the right mix of action and adventure to make it work, so Bennett and Bochco were given another shot, thus the Gemini Man was born.
A year after NBC pulled the plug on the adventures of scientist Daniel Westin in The Invisible Man, creators of that show decided to do away with that whole namby-pamby scientist hero bit — who needs a hero that uses his brains along with his invisibility to thwart various villains? — so enters Sam Casey (Ben Murphy), an ex-intelligence field agent more comfortable in his faded denim jacket and jeans than he’d ever been in a lab coat, a man of action who solves most of his problems with a roundhouse kick or a right cross. The pilot episode introduced Casey as your standard “fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants” type hero, now working for a high-tech government think-tank called Intersect (International Security Techniques. When a salvage job to recover a downed Russian “weather” satellite leads to sabotage, Casey finds himself caught in a radioactive explosion that turns him invisible.
Note: At no point in this series is he ever called the Gemini Man, he’s not even given it as some kind of codename like Daniel Westin being called The Klae Resource in The Invisible Man, and what exactly does the zodiac symbol for twins have to do with invisibility anyway?
The producers of the Gemini Man were also given instructions to use a much more cost-effective form of invisibility for their protagonist; this time around, there would be no costly chroma key technique to be found here — that being the special effect technique which gave us those cool visuals of headless shirts floating around a room — because in this show, Sam Casey isn’t simply invisible, he actually generates a small field of invisibility that encompasses whatever clothes he is wearing as well. In the pilot episode, we learn from Intersect chief Leonard Driscoll (Richard Dysart), and scientist Abby Lawrence (Katherine Crawford), that the radiation distorted his molecular field structure, but with an atomic-powered wristwatch — designed by Abby and which works as a molecular stabilizer — he is able to turn on and off his invisibility with the mere press of a button.
Note: Like in The Invisible Man series, the role of the heroes’ boss gets an immediate cast change; Richard Dysart only appeared as Leonard Driscoll in the pilot, the part was then taken over by veteran television actor William Sylvester for the remaining episodes.
As with The Invisible Man series, the Gemini Man borrowed much of its plot structure from The Six Million Dollar Man, with Leonard Driscoll (William Sylvester) giving Sam Casey whatever super-secret mission he must undertake in that week’s particular episode. But where The Invisible Man utilized the husband and wife dynamic, in a very Nick and Nora Charles way, Gemini Man mostly had Casey working alone in the field, with Abby and Driscoll giving him technical support from the bowels of Intersect.
The show threw in a bit of extra tension by adding an interesting wrinkle to Sam Casey’s invisibility, that he could only be invisible for fifteen minutes per day, and if he remained invisible beyond that allotted time, he would die, as Abby explained to him, “You pass out, you fade away, and you never come back.” He can remain invisible for five seconds, a minute, or ten minutes, as long as it adds up to no more than fifteen per day.
Gemini Man only lasted eleven episodes, plus the pilot, with only five of those episodes even airing in the United States, which is a shame as the show was a lot of fun to watch. We got to see Sam Casey pitted against a variety of dastardly villains; a corrupt scientist (Alan Oppenheimer) conning Intersect with his supposed miracle fuel — 70s’ television shows always had a few episodes dealing with the energy crisis — Casey had to do battle with a look-a-like who had infiltrated Intersect to steal vital information, he worked undercover as a rookie to learn what a certain police officer (Richard Jaeckel ) had to do with a planned political assassination, and poor Sam even had to go on the run from his friends after being framed for killing a fellow Intersect agent. Best of all, however, was when he went up against a disgruntled mad scientist (Ross Martin ), who had built a robot with the power to level a skyscraper.
The charismatically engaging performance by Ben Murphy was easily the best part of the show, death-dealing robots aside, as Murphy gave the character of Sam Casey a nice surfer guy charm, mixed with just a dash of chauvinism, which somehow worked for this particular secret agent. This invisible man series was supposed to be more action-centric than the previous incarnation, and Sam Casey does kick a lot of butt while visible and invisible, but the key factor of its low-budget roots tended to rear its ugly head from time to time. This lack of funds led to such moments as Casey, having been tasked to put an African dictator back into power, wandering around an Africa that looked a lot like Bronson Canyon, and the tendency to recycle plots from The Invisible Man, which if you remember, had only aired a year earlier.
• In The Invisible Man episode “The Klae Resource” Daniel Westin had to uncover a plot that dealt with villains impersonating an oil tycoon, while the real man was kept locked away in his own hotel so that they could sell his new efficient fuel process to Middle Eastern concerns.
• In the Gemini Man episode “Escape Hatch,” a shipping tycoon is held hostage aboard her own ocean liner, while the villains have an impersonator offering to sell her fleet of super oil tankers to hostile foreign parties.
• In The Invisible Man episode “Barnard Wants Out,” Daniel Westin had to help a man re-defect back to West, but things were complicated by the fact that the man’s daughter had fallen in love with a villainous Russian officer.
• In the Gemini Man episode “Targets,” Sam Casey must help a woman re-defect to the West, but things are complicated by the fact that her daughter has a crush on her archery coach, who just so happens to be the head of the Secret Police.
That is pretty damn lazy, and from the likes of Harve Bennett and Steven Bochco, it’s even more surprising, but I guess back in the 70s they weren’t too worried about viewers remembering what they saw on television a whole year ago. Aside from dodgy writing, and a budget that seriously limited what action they could depict, the show was pretty darn solid, and it handled the concept of the “invisible agent” a little better than its predecessor, with Sam Casey more than willing to use his invisibility to kick some serious butt. Fans of the genre will find Gemini Man to be a harder show to track down, never having gotten a North American DVD release, but if you do manage to stumble across this particular sci-fi adventure show, it’s well worth the watch.
Note: Both Gemini Man and The Invisible Man credit their show as being “Based on a Novel by H.G. Wells” while almost nothing in these shows, aside from the obvious invisibility aspect, had anything to do with the plot or characters from H.G. Wells’ book.
Gemini Man (1976)
Show Rank - 6.5/10
That a network would cancel a show after only airing five episodes and exactly a show can be expected to find an audience in that time frame is beyond me, but because of this kind of dumb network decision, this little gem of a sci-fi adventure show faded into obscurity, which is a shame because it was a lot of fun.