Sunday, October 11, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: Nowhere Man Edition

In January 1995, the brand new UPN network launched to much ballyhoo on the back of the latest entry in TV's Star Trek franchise (back when, y'know, that was actually considered a ratings asset). However, other than Star Trek: Voyager (which quickly came back down to Earth), the netlet's inaugural season was otherwise comprised of a slate of truly terrible sitcoms that were axed instantly. For its sophomore year, they took a cue from Voyager's initial success to build a roster of fantasy-themed hour-longs.

Now, the majority of these were terrible, including the Leonard Nimoy-produced Deadly Games, but one series that actually managed to do something interesting was Nowhere Man, which premiered in August of 1995. Created by Lawrence Hertzog and starring Bruce Greenwood, the conspiracy thriller was very much in the vein of the then-surging The X-Files over on Fox. And while it didn't enjoy quite as long a lifespan (and afterlife) as the Mulder and Scully skein, it sure left a lasting impression on me. Here's the intro, including some helpful expository voiceover from Greenwood that graced each episode:

(By the way, that music is by Mark Snow, who also did the famous X-Files theme.)

As you can see from that, it's essentially The Prisoner meets The Fugitive, with our hero, photographer Thomas Veil finding himself on the run from a nameless/faceless organization after his life is "erased." No one remembers him, his wife doesn't acknowledge him, and it apparently has something to do with a photo he took depicting a military execution in a South American jungle. Each week, Veil would follow some new clue to some new town, all in attempt to piece together what had happened to his life.

Now, Nowhere Man was bogged down by a couple of markers of the time it was made and the network it was made for. Because of the need for potential syndication, it didn't lean too heavily on the serialization that a story like this demanded (and which probably would have helped make it much more buzzed-about had it aired today). Also, because it was on UPN, the budget wasn't particularly extravagant. None of that mattered though, because Hertzog (who passed away in '08) engineered such an engaging premise, and found such a compelling leading man in Bruce Greenwood to carry the show.

This was the first time I saw Greenwood in anything, and in the two decades since Nowhere Man premiered the guy has just never stopped working (including an appearance in this week's Truth), which certainly speaks to his considerable talents. Here, he was able to embody the exact mix of determination and incomprehension that the role required. Ultimately, while Nowhere Man became quite the beloved cult item, it wasn't able to expand UPN's ratings profile in a meaningful way, and thus got the axe after one season and twenty-five episodes.

Watched today, the execution does seem almost quaint in the post-9/11 age of surveillance and paranoia we live in now, but the questions it raises about the nature of identity, real or illusory, are profound and worthwhile at any time. So, did Veil end up solving the mystery of his identity at the end? Did the show actually wrap up? Well, yes and no. There's an ending, but whether it's a good ending, I'll leave to you to decide. Normally I'd clue you in on how things went down, but I actually think Nowhere Man is worth discovering and appreciating on your own.

Nowhere Man was released on DVD ten years ago, but it's since fallen out of print and is going for some steep aftermarket prices. However, you can watch it (for now) on YouTube. Check out the first episode below: 

One Year Ago in Nostalgia Theater: ExoSquad -- Warfare, Bigotry, and Genocide on Weekday Mornings

Two Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Beetlejuice -- The Ghost with the Most Gets (Re)-Animated

Three Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: The (Brief) Return of Masters of the Universe

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