I liked "The Invisibles." But I should've loved it.
All the right elements were in place: a terrific cast, clever characters, a solid backstory, a breezy premise. But creator William Ivory doesn't do enough in the right places, and does too much in the wrong ones, leaving us with a BBC series with plenty of charm but nothing special about the stories.
Anthony Head and Warren Clarke star as Maurice and Syd, two surviving members of the ace criminal trio nicknamed "the Invisibles." They were the best robbers in the UK, but they gave it up in the 70s, slipping away into obscurity. The thought of facing a life in retirement (along with Maurice's wife, played by Jenny Agutter) doesn't sit well with either of them, so when a chance to get back into the heist game arises, they jump.
What should follow are six airtight capers that juggle thrills and light comedy with a meditation on mortality. What does follow are six decent but somewhat underwhelming capers that toss us limp slapstick, overly repetitive themes, and mawkish melodrama about how getting old sucks. Call it "Mission: Most Definitely Possible." There's good material to be found in expert thieves taking on small-scale jobs, but this series doesn't look for it. Ivory underplays this notion too much; we get oversized characters in undersized adventures, and the difference is distracting.
The scripts spend too much time telling us just how great Maurice and Syd are, but do nothing to show it. In fact, the series goes out of its way to show us how not-so-great they are anymore, in which case, what's the point? Why spend a scene reinforcing the idea that as a safecracker, Maurice is "William Shakespeare, Bobby Moore, and the Beatles," only to then not give us any scenes where his talents are truly tested? (The closest we get is an episode where Maurice becomes obsessed with a safe he could never crack in his prime, but the payoff, while clever, does nothing to reward us for the wait. The remainder is a collection of ho-hum break-ins that never show us Maurice's greatness.)
Syd, meanwhile, is presented as too much of a bumbler to ever take seriously. He's supposed to be a wizard at security systems or something, but we never get to see him do much other than screw things up. He's the best there is?
It's not really supposed to matter, though, since the stories are all about the personal side of things. But even here, the scripts falter, relying often on the notion of a character being too distracted to do his job (even if it means going against what we already know about that character; the final episode forces Maurice into a nervous breakdown at a key moment, even if it never fits the part). Or maybe they're too busy thinking about giving up the job again, or griping about family, or anything else that'll get their minds elsewhere. We're supposed to be too busy laughing at all the bickering to care about the simplistic heists.
What rescues the series is a heavy dose of charm. Head and Clarke make a nice team, rising above the material, looking every bit like the old chums they're supposed to be. Head also works brilliantly with Agutter, whose give-and-take as the crooked husband and the wife who loves him even if she can't trust him makes for some quality moments. As pub owner/bruiser/potential new Invisible Hedley, Dean Lennox Kelly lends a much needed vitality to the screen, while Mina Anwar, as Hedley's loving wife, brings a certain sweetness.
And for the first couple episodes, it looks like all their talent will go to good use. The opener is a real cracker, tense and well-paced; the follow-up, in which an old cop blackmails the boys into a job, keeps the thrills moving solidly. But even here, the troubles begin to creep in: themes of aging and dying are given a ham-fisted treatment, while the treatment of a subplot about Maurice's daughter (Emily Head) not knowing what her dad did for a living comes off like a bad sitcom joke.
As the series progresses, the heists get less and less interesting, and the jokes about aging get more and more tiresome. The final episode threatens to undo the series completely - it's a shill number in which the gang pretends to be held hostage in Hedley's pub - and it only works on a "how will they get out of it?" level, lacking any character interest.
It's no surprise that the BBC recently announced it will not be bringing back "The Invisibles" for a second season. It's a fairly enjoyable show, sure, but that's thanks mostly to its cast. The writers struggle to fill the season with enough ideas, and wind up repeating tired ones. It's just enough for you to like it, kinda, sorta, but there's nothing here to love.
Acorn Media collects all six hour-long episodes in a two-disc set. The discs feature three episodes apiece and come in two keepcases which fit into a cardboard slipcover.
Video & Audio
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfers reveal a little too much interlacing, and the image is a pinch soft. Grain is minimal, however, and colors are bold and crisp.
The 5.1 surround soundtrack keeps dialogue squarely up front and does a fine job balancing music and effects. Optional English subtitles are provided.
Selected filmographies for the cast mark the lone bonus material. A batch of previews for other Acorn products plays as the first disc loads.
Fans of the heist genre will find enough to like here, but the stories are so flimsy and unimpressive that once through will be enough. Rent It.