In the 1960s and ‘70s, there was a trend among television shows: the lone man, traveling across America, either trying to clear his name or trying to expose some shadowy conspiracy, sometimes both. There was The Fugitive (Richard Kimball trying to clear his name), The Invaders (David Vincent trying to expose an alien invasion), The Incredible Hulk (David Banner trying to control his other side), Coronet Blue (Michael Alden, an amnesiac searching for clues to who he was), and more.
And in 1995, another show was created of this type, but this one was more in the vein of The Prisoner: in Nowhere Man, Thomas Veil wasn’t trying to clear his name, he was trying to prove he had a name and a life.
Nowhere Man aired from 1995 to 1996 on UPN. In fact, Nowhere Man was one of the first shows to air on UPN, which first started in January 16, 1995. Other shows at the time included Platypus Man (a sitcom starring Richard Jeni), Marker (starring Richard Greico), Legend (a western starring Richard Dean Anderson), and Star Trek: Voyager, which had been the very first program to air on the network and got a whopping 21.3 million viewers (it would never get that many viewers again). Voyager, in turned out, was the only program to survive UPN — all the rest would be canceled within the year. Which was a damn shame for Nowhere Man, since it is possibly one of the best shows that UPN ever produced and it made for some interesting and compelling television.
The show was created and written by Lawrence Hertzog, a writer who had written for Hart to Hart, Stingray, and SeaQuest 2032 and would go on to write for Profiler and La Femme Nikita. The first two episodes were directed by famed director Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and it shows, with some well-shot, well-directed, and well-acted scenes from Bruce Greenwood (Captain Pike from the new Star Trek) as the main character, Thomas Veil.
The first episode, “Absolute Zero,” was an extra-long 66 minute episode. (If you want, you can watch it here.) Here is my recap:
We start at an art gallery which is displaying various black and white photographs, mainly focusing on one photograph of a group of men being hanged called “Hidden Agenda,” while Thomas Veil (Bruce Greenwood), the photojournalist who took the pictures, attempts to mingle and fails. He talks to his friend Larry Levy and then, finally, he goes to his wife Alyson (Megan Gallagher, better known as Catherine Black from Millennium) and asks if they can leave.
They do and they go to a restaurant where they talk about Tom’s mother and how he was a disappointment to her. Then Tom goes to the bathroom to have a cigarette and when he comes back, his wife is gone and another couple is at their table. Nobody seems to recognize him.
Tom goes to his house, but not only does his wife not recognize him, but there’s another man there that claims to be her husband. Tom tries to get money from the ATM, but his card doesn’t work and when he goes back to the gallery, he finds that not only do his keys not work, the photograph “Hidden Agenda” is missing.
The next morning, Tom hides in Alyson’s car and attempts to get her to confess to knowing him, which she does while saying that “they” said that they would kill him if she didn’t. However, when a cop stops them, she claims not to know him and says that she lied, since she would have said anything for him to stop.
Tom is brought to the Callaway Mental Institution, where Dr. Bellamy questions him about his “paranoid delusions” while smoking a cigar. Tom tells him he’s not paranoid and gives him a list of people who know him, including Larry Levy and his own mother. That night, however, he is woken up by another patient, Eddie, who tells him that he doesn’t understand: everything that he has, they can take it away, until he is left with nothing, “absolute zero.” Eddie then tells Tom to ask Dr. Bellamy about “Dave Powers.”
The next day, Tom leads Dr. Bellamy to his gallery, but there’s a new receptionist who doesn’t know him and who says the photographer is away on assignment. Nothing is where it should be, according to Tom, until he remembers that he had hidden his negatives. That’s when Dr. Bellamy gets a phone call where he whispers about making the appointment for 10 PM, which makes Tom suspicious enough to tell him that the negatives were missing, too.
At the Callaway Mental Institution, Eddie plays table tennis with another patient, J.C., and then repeats Dr. Bellamy’s own words back to Tom. Then he tells Tom to ask about “Dave Powers” again. That night, Tom sneaks out of his room to see who Dr. Bellamy is meeting...and it turns out to be his own wife, Alyson. Before Tom can do anything, an orderly grabs and drugs him.
The next day, Tom rushes to Eddie’s room to figure out what’s going on, but Eddie is incoherent, his head bandaged. His chart says that he has had a pre-frontal lobotomy and then Tom sees the name on the chart: Dave “Eddie” Powers. Tom rushes back to his room.
When Dr. Bellamy visits Tom’s room, Tom grabs him and threatens to inject him with a needle he pulled off an orderly, then he forces Dr. Bellamy to lead him outside to his car and drives off back to his gallery. At the gallery, he switches out Bellamy’s photo ID for his own photo and then asks Bellamy who he is working for. Before he can get any answers, though, the orderlies who worked at the institution fire machine guns through the window and Bellamy dies. Tom barely escapes with the negatives before the entire gallery goes up in flames.
Smartly, Tom decides not to hang onto the negatives, but rather to make copies of them and mail a copy to himself in every major city, with the envelopes marked “Hold for Recipient.” (I’m not sure if that will work without a good address or if the USPS will simply mail it back “Return to Sender.”)
Tom continues to try to find someone that remembers him, starting with his friend Larry Levy. He visits Larry’s apartment, but it’s suspiciously empty, until he opens a closet and finds Larry’s dead body. Panicked, he calls his mother, but someone else answers the phone.
Tom gets a flight to Iowa, where his mother lives, and goes to his own childhood home. However, when he gets there, he finds a nurse who tells him that his mom had a stroke six days ago and is barely responsive. Tom tries to get her to talk to him, but all she can say is “Tom.” When a police officer arrives, he asks for Tom’s ID, but Tom can’t provide it. Then a reverend shows up, but not “Father Carney” (whom Tom knew), but rather “Father Ralph Thomas.” When asked what happened to Father Carney, Father Ralph says that he had a heart attack six weeks ago, but that Father Ralph has gotten to know his mother since then and she has never mentioned having a son. Tom tries to talk to his mother again and she says, “Tom, my son,” but then as soon as she sees him and Father Ralph, she says, “My son is dead, I have no son.” Tom rushes the police officer, grabbing his gun, and then runs away.
After his car breaks down on the road, Tom walks along the road. A nearby truck pulls over and offers him a lift, but then Tom sees the man pull out a cigar and do the same thing as Dr. Bellamy did with it. Tom pulls away and the truck leaves him behind to wait at an empty and lonely crossroads.
- The show got critical acclaim, but low ratings, so it was canceled after one season of twenty-five episodes. A DVD was released in 2005, but it’s out of print now and goes for quite a bit of money. (Luckily, I bought mine before it went out of print.)
- There is a question as to what is real and what is not in this episode. Similar to the recent Moon Knight series by Jeff Lemire, Thomas Veil finds himself in an old mental institution with evil orderlies and pre-frontal lobotomies. But like Marc Spector said, those types of places don’t exist anymore. Lobotomies rarely, if ever, happen these days (or in the ‘90s). In Marc Spector’s case, this means the mental institute might be a delusion created by the evil god Seth; in Thomas Veil’s case, the mental institution could have been created by the shadowy conspiracy. Or both men are mad and are hallucinating things around them.
- Ted Levine was a definite standout as Eddie, so much so that I wish he hadn’t been lobotomized so he could have appeared in more episodes. In any case, Bruce Greenwood is the only actor to appear in all the episodes, with Megan Gallagher coming in second with four episodes.
- Tobe Hooper’s film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre begins with a group of friends picking up a hitchhiker on a desert road. “Absolute Zero” ends with a hitchhiker, Thomas Veil, refusing to get in a car on a lonely road and being left alone. Coincidence? Probably.
- I like that Tom was smart enough to send himself the negatives in a bunch of major cities, but I’m still not sure if the post office will hold letters if they simply say “Hold for Recipient” on them.
- The show that apparently influenced Lawrence Hertzog the most was Coronet Blue, a 1967 show on CBS about an amnesiac who could only remember two words, “Coronet Blue.” Taking the name Michael Alden, he realized that he was targeted for assassination by mysterious people he called “Greybeards” and went on the run.
- The music for the show was done by Mark Snow, who was also the composer for The X-Files.
- The co-showrunner of the show was Joel Surnow, who went on to create La Femme Nikita and 24.