Television Review

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The Independent Culture
One wonders whether Neil Morrissey really thought things through when he was offered the role of The Vanishing Man. On the one hand he doesn't actually have to turn up for quite a lot of the scenes in which he appears - or rather doesn't appear- because his presence can be represented by floating coffee cups or just a wobbly point-of-view shot accompanied by heavy breathing and the odd sotto-voce mutter. It's sometimes said of actors that they merely phone a performance in, but there are quite a few sequences in which Morrissey could do exactly that, without any breach of professionalism. On the other hand the particular nature of his invisibility calls for sequences which must be unpleasant to film, to say the least. His character disappears only when he's wet through and obviously he must abandon all his clothes to achieve full transparency. This means that he can surreptitiously pursue a man breaking out of jail and hitch a ride on the roof rack of the getaway car. But as soon as he dries off he becomes visible again, however awkward the circumstances. This is exploited for its obvious comedy in the series - in a sequence shot from the inside of a lorry-driver's cab, the villain's overtaking Range-Rover first revealed Morrissey's bashful face, then his stark naked body, looking decidedly chilly in the windstream. Unless he was wearing some kind of posing pouch he was probably The Shrinking Man for a while too.

This is not a dignified way for a hero to appear, but then Nick Cameron is not the kind of hero for whom dignity comes naturally. He sports that nerds' fringe, for one thing, and delivers many of his lines in a sulky, small boy's whine. The announcements of his tasks are greeted not with the steely impassivity of Bond but with a vocal squirm of resentment: "That is in the top ten of bad ideas", he moans, when told he is to go undercover in a prison, "just below sunroofs for submarines". He has a scally Liverpudlian sidekick and a puppyish relationship with an attractive blonde, who for some reason doesn't mind having this arrested adolescent tugging pleadingly at her skirt all the time - even though she can never be entirely sure that he isn't creeping round her flat with all his clothes off. The plots themselves would not trouble the comprehension of a six year old and make unabashed use of such venerable devices as the bomb countdown timer.

In last night's episode it was halted in its tracks at seven seconds which, by an odd coincidence, was also the moment at which disaster was averted in Bugs, the BBC's Saturday evening competition for the big kids audience. In my youth seven seconds would have been thought a rather cissyish margin of safety. Any hero worth his or her salt would have used the extra five seconds for a last quick punch-up. Perhaps a new EEC tenterhook standard has been promulgated or maybe this is what passes for innovation in these things. There isn't much on show elsewhere - though there was a rather nice McGuffin, in the shape of two eagerly sought circuit boards, which proved to have no electronic purpose but to act as kind of diagrammatic treasure map. This little twist of misdirection was pleasing enough to make you overlook the fact that no map was necessary in the first place, since the man who had hidden the money was the one who was looking for it. It doesn't do to interrogate Bugs too closely, however, because if you do the only conclusion you can come to is that its team of young gadgeteers is irredeemably thick; sent to investigate an offshore installation they fail to pick up the signs of trouble, though they are lit up like Piccadilly Circus on Saturday night. "The transmitter's OK but we'll have to cobble together a signal generator!" someone gasped a bit later. There was no obvious reason why they shouldn't, since everything else had been, including the plot.