Tuesday, July 28, 2009
This November, AMC will present a reinvention of the 1967 British television series, The Prisoner, a show that should be familiar to long-time PBS viewers. AMC has only produced a handful of its own shows so far. The network’s original programming producer, Vlad Wolynetz said “a lot of other great TV companies build their models over time, gradually, find their voice. We had to clear our throat really quickly and scream it out loud. Prisoner was perfect for that.” Mad Men alone will entice people to give their other shows a chance.
The six-hour mini-series will try to recapture the essence of Patrick McGoohan’s 17 episode show. McGoohan, unsatisfied with the creative direction of his popular show Danger Man (Secret Agent Man in the U.S.), decided to write, direct, produce and star in a new show. It is a journey into the mind of a man with secrets. I don’t think that the show explicitly says that it’s the same character as Danger Man, but The Prisoner starts with a secret agent who angrily resigns. When he arrives home to pack his bags, he is abducted. He wakes up in a very modern apartment in The Village, a strange self-contained seaside town. It’s filled with signs bearing generic labels like store, hospital, and people who have numbers instead of names.
"Where am I?"
"In the Village."
"What do you want?"
"Whose side are you on?"
"That would be telling…. We want information. Information! INFORMATION!"
"You won't get it."
"By hook or by crook, we will."
"Who are you?"
"The new Number Two."
"Who is Number One?"
"You are Number Six."
"I am not a number — I am a free man!"
(Laughter from Number Two.)
A rotating cast of Number 2s ask our protagonist the same question over and over, “Why did you resign?” Number 6 comes to understand fairly quickly how important he is. Number 2 gets replaced regularly when he or she fails in breaking Number 6. He is strong, smart, fiery and will stop at nothing to escape.
The show is surreal and examines themes that were ground breaking for the time, paranoia, hypnosis, hallucinogenic drugs, mind control, dream manipulation… all things we would expect from recent prime time genre shows like X-Files, Lost, Fringe. Its strongest theme may be the battle between the rights and desires of the individual verses those of the community.
The original show has a devoted cult following. The producers of the new show, not unlike those for Battlestar Galactica or the upcoming V, decided not to do a strict remake. It is a reimagining, an updated homage. In the 2009 Comic-Con panel we discovered a number of details about what will be different. In all of the previous press, I had always heard that the mini-series would be 6 episodes. I was somewhat distressed to learn that 6 hours would be presented on 3 consecutive nights. Jim Caviezal who plays Number 6 said that the show is like a six-hour feature film with two intermissions. There is only one Number 2, played by Sir Ian McKellen. He has a wife and a son. Their storyline is a major departure. Another major character is Number 147 played by Lennie James. He is a local taxi driver who doesn’t question his place in the village, he doesn’t ask why. From what I’ve seen so far, Number 6 is the catalyst for all of their awakenings.
The original Village was filmed at a quirky Welsh seaside resort. The new Village is deep in the Namibian desert, a strange community of A-frame houses that according to the producers was built by Germans in 1910. The great expanses of desert and mountains that surround the houses make for a wonderful backdrop. The isolation is far more pronounced.
All in all, I am very excited about the new Prisoner. I think it will be a great show. My biggest concern is the performance of Jim Caviezal. McGoohan’s Number 6 is passionate and insightful. Caviezal’s performances often seem very even, very restrained. I hope that the new Number 6 will retain the energy of the original. But he said that he hasn’t even watched it. He said at Comic-Con, “I never want to be accused of copying anyone, especially Patrick McGoohan.” I’m pretty sure he won’t be driving a Lotus 7 in the opening sequence either…