Sunday, August 03, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: The Invaders Are Here!

The Invaders is a TV sci-fi offering from before the era when the genre garnered mainstream acceptance. Thus, it often felt like we were hearing about the titular aliens more than we were actually seeing them. Produced by Quinn Martin, the TV impresario behind The Fugitive, Invaders was meant to emulate that series' "quest" sensibility, albeit in support of thwarting otherworldly baddies as opposed to finding a one-armed. To that end, creator Larry Cohen, taking a cue from films such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, came up with the idea of a secret invasion orchestrated by human-looking aliens, with everyman architect David Vincent (Roy Thinnes) the only one who knows they're here. Here's the intro:

The Invaders began airing on ABC in January of 1967, mere months before The Fugitive was to air its record-setting final episode. In what would turn out to be an inverse of that show's man-on-the-run premise, The Invaders had the ever-harried David Vincent tracking the aliens, identifiable by their bent pinkie fingers (seriously), from episode-to-episode, all the while trying to enlist supporters in his cause along the way, but usually being derided as a kook. This being the '60s, and TV budgets being what they were, we didn't often get to see the alien technology save for a stock flying saucer effect here or there, but this actually helped amp up the "They are among us!" paranoia.

Unfortunately, viewers didn't have quite the same degree of patience for David Vincent's quest that they had for Dr. Richard Kimble's, whether as a result of the subject matter or because Thinnes wasn't quite as relatable a lead as David Janssen. Regardless, The Invaders enjoyed a two-season run on the alphabet net, with a total of 43 episodes airing, before it was done in by low ratings. This despite the fact that it had nurtured a pretty dedicated cult audience of the kind that would later benefit similar skeins like The X-Files many decades later. In fact, X-Files ended up playing something of a supporting role in a brief Invaders revival in the mid-1990s.

With The X-Files' brand of paranoia-vision paying ratings dividends, Fox TV was looking to expand their presence in the genre, and they did so by commissioning a two-part miniseries that sequelized the original, picking up a quarter-century after it left off (albeit without the involvement of Cohen or any of the other creatives involved with Invaders '67). This mini, which aired over two nights in Novemer of 1995, starred Scott Bakula (marking time between the end of one sci-fi project and the start of another) as an ex-con named Nolan Wood, an ex-con who, like David Vincent before him, becomes aware of the alien conspiracy -- a very slow conspiracy given how many years have passed and how little they've actually done.

For all of its other legitimate failings (budget failings, circular stories, an essentially un-resolvable premise), the original series at least boasted a sort of straight-ahead simplicity that made it somewhat engrossing episodically. The mini, produced by Forever Knight's James Parriot, lacked even that, getting lost in the weeds of an overly complicated storyline that was so busy laying out its uninteresting mythology that it forgot to be compelling on its own. Bakula was, naturally, a solid lead, but the lone highlight of the project was likely the brief, three minute cameo by Roy Thinnes, reprising his role as David Vincent, who makes contact with Bakula and essentially hands off the "alien hunter" torch. Check it out:

(In another bit of homage, Thinnes would go on to play a key role several seasons later on an episode of The X-Files.)

Fox's Invaders was meant as a backdoor pilot, but nothing materialized. There continue to be rumors today that it'll be turned into a big budget feature, but honestly, I don't see that happening. At this point, the subject of alien invasions has been plumbed so many different ways that the only thing The Invaders has going for it is name recognition, and let's be honest, there ain't much of that left. The show retains a loyal core of fans to this day, but given how little play it gets these days, I doubt that core is very big. Even when I was a kid, I had to track down reruns at crazy times like 4 in the morning. Still, it's available on DVD in its entirety, and it certainly has its appeal as a non-invasive throwback to a simpler time.

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