Follow TV Tropes


Series / Gemini Man

Go To
Turn invisible now. Please.
"Special Federal Agent Sam Casey was assigned to Operation Royce Explorer, to retrieve an unidentified satellite from the ocean floor. During the course of the salvage operation, the submerged satellite exploded. The radiation from the blast left Casey alive but invisible. The Intersect Radiation Lab fitted him with a 'DNA Stabilizer'. This enables Casey to both become invisible and to materialize. The complete details are Top Secret: File #487384."
Opening Narration to Riding With Death

Gemini Man, based VERY loosely on H. G. Wells' The Invisible Man, is a 1976 TV series produced by Harve Bennett and Steven Bochco which follows the adventures of government operative Sam Casey, who works for a CIA-like agency known as INTERSECT. After a radiation accident in the pilot episode, he was rendered invisible, but was supplied with a watch-style device called a "DNA Stabilizer" that allows him to control the invisibility — with the catch that he can only stay invisible for 15 minutes per day or else he'll die. The series premiered on NBC as part of the Fall 1976 lineup (following a two-hour pilot which aired on May 10 of the same year), but was dropped from the schedule after only five of eleven completed episodes were aired. The series was a bit more successful in Europe, particularly in the U.K., where the entire 11-episode run was aired and even had an annual published.

Most mid-'70s action series with a lifespan that short would quickly fade into obscurity. However, a TV movie compiled from two episodes of the show entitled Riding with Death was released five years later and continued to run on television for many years. The episodes used were the series premiere "Smithereens" along with "Buffalo Bill Rides Again", the latter of which didn't air in the US network run, and are linked via the common themes of vehicles Made of Explodium and country singer Jim Stafford. The movie itself was featured on a 1997 episode of ''Mystery Science Theater 3000',' introducing it to another generation and ensuring it maintained its notoriety.

For the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of Riding With Death, please go to the episode recap page.

Not to be confused with the 2019 film or the Mega Man 3 Robot Master.

The show makes use of many tropes common among action/adventure fare of the era, among them:

  • Accent Upon The Wrong Syllable: In part one of the Compilation Movie, Dr. Hale utters out "This can't BEEE! You're DEAAAAAD!"
    Mike Nelson: (as Sam) No, I'm NOOOOOOOT!
  • Adventure Towns: We don't remember their names, and neither will you.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: the DNA Stabilizer, an LCD wristwatch Casey uses to become visible again.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Apparently people have an invisibility gene. Who knew?
    • Riding With Death would have us believe men could grow extremely bushy mustaches in a month.
  • Artistic License – Cars: Casey's truck is sabotaged by the nefarious "Carl" cutting one of the brake lines, which leaves him unable to stop the truck or slow it down. Tractor-trailers use a pneumatic brake system, which —unlike hydraulic systems on passenger vehicles— uses compressed air to force open brakes that are normally clamped tightly onto the wheels under powerful spring tension, and you apply the brake by letting off some of that air pressure. In reality, cutting an air hose wouldn't keep Casey from stopping his rig; it would keep him from going by locking up the wheels.
  • Artistic License – Geography: The show states that Sam has thirteen hours to get to Long Beach, California. Establishing shots would place INTERSECT headquarters in Torrance, California. They're twenty minutes apart in good traffic, and even in the worst California highway traffic, it might take him an hour. However, later in the episode (first half of the movie), Doctor Hale mentions they're passing through Cedarville. Cedarville, California is in Northern California. Granted, there is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it line establishing that they have to go out of their way to pick up some extra equipment in another town, but even so it still doesn't make sense, since Cedarville is 11 hours from Long Beach...
  • Bald of Evil: Dr. Hale, the patent paper-wielding villain.
  • Bar Brawl: A rather incompetently-staged one in "Buffalo Bill Rides Again", which Sam secretly helps Buffalo win; for bonus points, it's also instigated by some stereotypical loudmouthed rednecks with strong Deep South twangs. Considering this is supposed to be taking place in Ontario, and it's implied that they're local boys, not out-of-towners, how they picked up these accents is anyone's guess.
  • Blessed with Suck: If Casey stays invisible too long, he dies or gets stuck that way. He can monitor how long he's been invisible with a display on top of his DNA stabilizer. The stabilizer turns invisible, too...
    • Dialogue from Abby (who's some gal) in the pilot establishes that if Sam is invisible for longer than fifteen minutes per day, he'll lose consciousness, then disintegrate.
  • Compilation Movie: A clumsily-done example, to be sure. You'd think having an invisible character would make ADR dirt simple, but noooooooooooo.
    • What makes it hysterical is that Casey claims that Driscoll grew a thick, bushy mustache in a single month!
    • At the end of the first half of the movie, after Casey turns invisible in a purportedly comedic moment, Driscoll has a poorly and obviously dubbed in line, "You're as elusive as Robert Denby!" This serves as a link to the villain of Part Two. After arresting Denby, there's an awkwardly crowbarred-in callback to Dr. Hale, the villain of the first half.
    • Abby has absolutely no purpose in the second half of the film (since she wasn't in that episode) but to forge some sort of link to the first half and not make it look like she just disappeared we occasionally see her watching the action on a monitor via some stock footage, mumbling some pablum.
    • Buffalo keeps telling Sam about his racing plans in Ontario in ADR. Even Sam tells him to knock it off and focus on the life-threatening situation in front of them.
    • The original 1976 version of Riding with Death was significantly longer, including an extended sequence from the Pilot rather than the flashbacks clunkily shoehorned into the later version,note  along with some inserts and ADR narration that made some effort to plug up the aforementioned continuity errors. For whatever reason the movie was reedited for its video release, making it even clunkier than it already was.
  • Convection, Schmonvection: Immediately after Sam is done using a blowtorch to cut a hole in the metal wall to free Abby, she puts her hand out and touches the rim of the hole he just made...which should still be burning hot from the blowtorch. She instead decides not react at all.
  • Crystal Clear Picture: The monitor Abby uses to keep tabs on Casey in the second half of Riding with Death has a better resolution than the rest of the two-parter.
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: Dr. Hale's supposed gasoline additive is actually a explosive three times more powerful than nitroglycerin and can be made from common chemicals. He concocts an elaborate scheme to defraud the government rather than just selling his new, cheap, explosive that is vastly more powerful than nitroglycerin. Of course, this makes perfect sense when you inevitably realize as the movie goes on that Dr. Hale is kind of an idiot. Also, said tripolodine isn't all that powerful anyway.
  • Distressed Damsel: Abby in the first half of the movie.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Averted for the most part. Casey sensibly drives the speed limit even before he learns about the explosive properties of his cargo. He's a bit of a spaz behind the wheel of a racecar, though.
  • Fashion Dissonance: Bell-bottoms and seventies hair abound, but Casey wears a jacket so bad it's a good thing he can turn invisible.
  • Femme Fatale: Cupcake, believe it or not.
  • Fictional Counterpart: The "International Oil Cartel" is a clear replacement for the Middle-Eastern oil cartel OPEC.
  • Flanderization: Buffalo Bill isn't so bad in his first appearance in “Smithereens” where he's clearly Southern, but it's downplayed and he’s shown to be rather intelligent and helpful to Sam during multiple occasions. By his second appearance in “Buffalo Bill Rides Again” he seems to have devolved to a Jeff Foxworthy level caricature and has also become an incompetent moron that blows Sam's secret almost immediately after learning it. This is much more jarring in the compilation film because he seems to undergo a complete personality change in the second half of the film.
  • Flashback with the Other Darrin: Averted in the Riding With Death version. The first half of the "movie" used a clip from the pilot episode to establish the origin of Sam Casey's powers and made no attempt to cover up the fact that Driscoll was being played by another actor in those scenes.
    • Even more perplexing, Richard Dysart gets higher billing than William Sylvester in the opening credits.
  • Form-Fitting Wardrobe: Abby and Casey.
  • Framed for Heroism: Casey often uses his invisibility to help others accomplish certain tasks or feats. Like helping Buffalo Bill win a bar fight using a huge whiffing air-punch that would make a pro wrestler roll his eyes in disgust.
  • Homage: Ben removing his head bandages was one to the original 1933 The Invisible Man film.
  • I Resemble That Remark!: The title character in "Buffalo Bill Rides Again" responds to a weak redneck joke by running across a bar and trying to pummel the guy who made it. Just like a redneck would do.
  • An Insert
    • When making Riding With Death, they needed something to tie the two episodes together — so they overdubbed some dialogue in both episodes to tie them together, added some footage they had of Abby watching a viewscreen which featured the events of the second episode. Occasionally Footage-Abby would chime in with overdubbed dialogue, quite possibly taken from yet a third (fourth?) episode.
    Footage-Abby: Go get 'em, Sam! Give it the old college try!
    • There's also a flashback during the first half of the movie that is actually a clip from the pilot episode. The flashback has no relevance within the actual plot other than to clumsily shoehorn exposition regarding the origins of Sam Casey's powers.
  • Informed Attribute:
    • Even though Tripolodine is allegedly much more powerful than nitroglycerin and capable of "blowing the whole town to smithereens," the explosion from the semi carrying it could only "maybe singe the side of a bed n' breakfast." That said, the jar of tripolodine exploded in a room made of armor plating.
    • Casey himself allegedly graduated from Harvard...
  • Inspector Javert: Whiny scientist Eliot thinks Leonard Driscoll is one of these, because of his devotion to busting The Elusive Robert Denby. He's wrong.
    • Driscoll thinks of himself as Sherlock Holmes and Denby as Moriarty, and states Holmes always got his man. But apparently Driscoll never read any of those books since Holmes never tried and convicted Moriarty. Rather, they perished together in a fall.
  • Inspired by…: H. G. Wells The Invisible Man. Very, very, very loosely.
  • Invisibility: But remember, if Casey spends more than fifteen minutes invisible, he stays that way FOREVER! Or dies. Sources conflict. Maybe he dies and nobody can find the body.
  • Jive Turkey: Casey.
    You got any idea who those turkeys were?
  • Large Ham: Driscoll.
    • Jim Stafford is made of ham.
  • Law Enforcement, Inc.: Intersect.
  • Live-Action Escort Mission: Though the treacherous Dr. Hale is trying to be The Load and get Casey killed.
  • Lying to the Perp: Casey does this to determine whether Dr. Hale is really inside his truck or not.
    Casey: Sorry about that last bump, Doctor.
    Abby: What bump?
  • Made of Explodium:
    • Tripolodine, which inevitably degrades until mere drops of it form an explosive violent enough to knock papers off of a desk. The riffers at MST3K question the Informed Attribute of tripolodine, stating they weren't sure that would have taken out the whole town. Maybe singe the side of a bed-and-breakfast inn.
    • Deuterium from Buffalo Bill Rides Again, which is inert until detonated by a specific radio frequency. Robert Denby is able to elude Driscoll and INTERSECT by hiding the material in vehicles. At the end of the episode, Casey and Bill have to drive a Deuterium-laced race car to a safe location before Denby can reach the trigger frequency.
  • Magical Security Cam: So in Riding with Death Abby's watching the second episode the second half on the movie on a monitor that can apparently follow Casey or other random characters around, pick up important aspects of the story, switch angles, and film inside buildings and race cars. Are there invisible camera fairies flitting about? Are they watching you? Right now?
  • Magic Brakes: Actually averted. Though the sinister mechanic Carl sabotages the brakes of the semi, the movie acknowledges this isn't a huge problem. The huge problem would be the series of vicious switchbacks and hairpin curves Casey is bearing down on at high-speed (although see Artistic License – Cars above for how they still got it wrong).
  • Misapplied Phlebotinum: Why did everyone totally give up on Tripolidine? Sure it doesn't really boost mileage, but what military wouldn't want such a potent explosive?
    • Given the effects we see (which might just be a case of Special Effects Failure), the military likely wouldn't be interested in such an unstable yet relatively low-yield explosive.
  • Neutral Female: Abby. But she's some gal!
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Cupcake had succeeded in convincing Buffalo Bill that Sam was out to betray him when Denby's men jumped Sam. This caused Bill to believe that someone really was out to wreck the Baxter Special, and Bill's jumping into the fight gave Sam enough trust in Bill to confide in him that he was really a secret agent.
  • Nitro Express: The premiere features the hero driving a semi across the country to deliver a fuel additive, along with its creator. Halfway through, it is revealed the creator is pulling a Face Heel Turn: After finding that Tripoline inevitably breaks down into an unstable explosive, he decides to embezzle ten million dollars from his research firm and then use the substance to fake his own death when some random pothole the truck runs over sets off the bottle.
  • No New Fashions in the Future: Set in the '80s, it is painfully obvious the wardrobe is from the '70s.
  • Outdated Outfit: Even by the terms of the '70s, Casey's hideous jacket was dated.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Buffalo Bill. Like most comic relief, he will make you wince every time he opens his mouth.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: Sam offers to recover the money lost by Hale's failed project and embezzlement by using his invisibility powers to rob a bank. Subverted in that Driscoll does actually call Sam out on the idea, and in any case Sam is just using the idea to bribe some vacation time out of his boss; Abby, on the other hand, completely buys into it and merrily plays along.
  • Pull the Thread: At one point Sam calls Dr. Hale to apologize for a bump in the road that didn't actually happen. When Hale plays along and acts like it did, it reveals that he's not in the truck at all.
  • Put on a Bus: Abby's character was absent for the last two episodes. Riding With Death clumsily deals with that.
  • Re-Cut: There are actually two versions of the Riding With Death "movie". One version (the one shown on Mystery Science Theater 3000) takes care of Sam's backstory via some opening narration and a couple of flashback scenes later on. Another version opens with a condensed version of the origin of Sam's invisibility, followed by the rest of the "movie".
  • Recycled Premise: The previous season had seen a highly hyped series with David McCallum that simply was titled The Invisible Man using the premise of an invisible government agent with an unstable invisibility condition that could potentially kill him. The show tanked in the ratings and its effects cost too much but the network liked the idea enough to go ahead and remake it the very next season with a cheaper cast and cheaper effects and even used the same creative team.
  • Red Scare: Turns out Denby had his bomb-car outfitted in East Berlin.
  • Rummage Sale Reject: Sam's denim jacket. Gaze upon the page pic and despair!
  • Scullery Maid: One of these helps Sam save the day in "Escape Hatch", and gives British Pamela Franklin a rare chance to play her own nationality on American TV...
  • Second Episode Substitute: Richard Dysart played Casey's superior Driscoll in the show's pilot, but was replaced by William Sylvester in the actual series. The Riding with Death version uses footage from the pilot in one flashback which had Dysart as Driscoll.
  • The '70s: And how. In fact, it was in 1976 when truckers and CB radios were a popular fad, with C.W. McCoy's "Convoy" being a #1 hit, and the kid's board game "10-4 Good Buddy" released as well. Additionally, tripolodine is pitched as a solution to the oil shortage, and the reference to unfriendly oil-producing nations evokes the frosty state of Americans relations with Iran in the late '70s.
  • Springtime for Hitler: The inventor of the faulty fuel additive in Riding With Death planned to fake his own death while Casey was driving the truck he was supposedly hidden in.
  • Stock Footage: The part of Intersect's mainframe will be played by "Guardian" from Colossus: The Forbin Project.
    • "I'm running a film now of a previous pilot ejection."
    • Riding with Death features spliced-in footage from the pilot in order to show Casey's origin story.
  • Superhero: Casey, theoretically anyway.
  • Surgical Impersonation: The plot of the episode "Sam Casey, Sam Casey" involves an assassin surgically altered to look like Casey being sent to assassinate Driscoll. Notably, neither he nor the people who sent him know about the real Casey's condition, allowing Casey to turn invisible to prove his identity.
  • Syndication Title: The only themes tying the two episodes together were vehicles, deadly explosions, and an annoying country musician, and apparently "Riding With Death While Yodeling" tested poorly.
  • This Cannot Be!: "This can't BE?! You're DEAD?!"
  • Title Drop: The first episode, “Smithereens,” is named from a line delivered by Abby where she tries to warn Leonard of the explosive nature of the tripolodine and declares “Sam’s gonna be blown to smithereens!”
  • Totally Radical: Sam Casey is full of The '70s slang — most memorably, the use of 'turkey' as an insult. During "Smithereens" (the first "half" of Riding With Death), Sam goes double duty with tons of trucker CB lingo.
  • Traitor Shot: Of Karl the mechanic after we see the brakes on Casey's truck cut.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Gemini Man was set in the far-flung future of 1983, but it's hard to tell considering how much the show's atmosphere conjures up the era when it was made.
  • Visible Invisibility: Casey's awfully clumsy when he's invisible...
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Driscoll's exasperation at Sam's proposal to rob a bank.
  • Word Salad Title: "Gemini" ostensibly refers to the 'dual' nature of the hero (as visible and invisible), but that's rreeeeeaaaaalllllyy stretching the definition of the word.

Alternative Title(s): Riding With Death