The Five: Reasons I won't be watching The Prisoner TV remake
TV Squad reported earlier this year about a British television remake of The Prisoner, but the word is now official that a US partner - AMC - will co-produce. A US television premiere is currently scheduled for January 2008. Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins, Memento) is doing a film version of the series, which doesn't bother me nearly as much as news of the television outing. Nolan is visionary enough to give us something more than a remake or a simple update, and moving to the shorter film format means that we won't have to relive any of the episodes McGoohan wasn't all that keen on making in the first place - "Living in Harmony," anyone?
For those of you not familiar with the show (we reviewed it episode-for-episode earlier this year in Retro Squad), it was a 1967 British series created by George Markstein and its star Patrick McGoohan. The premise is relatively simple - a spy resigns from his post. The next day, he wakes up in "The Village." He and all of The Village's inhabitants are identified by number instead of name and are under constant surveillance. Our hero is identified as "Number Six" and spends the entirety of the series trying to figure out where he is, why he's there, how to escape and who Number One is. For viewers, unraveling the mysteries of The Village and the meaning of the show's rich symbolism has always been the fun part. Will it be as much fun when the AMC/Granada/Sky One production premieres in 2008? Heck no, and here's why:
1. "I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered. My life is my own."
Part of the struggle The Prisoner examined was one of the individual vs. society, identity, existential crisis, the power of surveillance, etc. I'm not trying to be entirely cynical here, but our world today is, in part, the nightmare world envisioned by The Prisoner. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that in McGoohan's eyes, we've all been "pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed and numbered" - and to top it all off, we've been flattered into complicity (see Time magazine). Will the prisoner realize he's in a prison if it doesn't look all that different than the outside world? Maybe the snappy, mod clothing and obsession with chess will tip him off.
2. No weather balloons
The Prisoner remake will probably have a budget and computer effects and none of the clunky, DIY mess that made the original Prisoner so charming. The Prisoner, whether it was intentional or not, had a style that can't be replicated.
3. No Danger Man
Plenty of Prisoner fans believe that Number 6 is John Drake, the British government spy played by Patrick McGoohan in the UK series Danger Man, which was called Secret Agent Man in the US. Number 6 is referred to as "John" in a couple of episodes, which is part of what got the rumors going. It also gave The Prisoner a rich backstory. The show played almost as sequel to the equally compelling, if less enigmatic, spy hit.
4. Lost ruined everything.
Because of serialized network programming, we all want the answers. No one is satisfied with loose threads and feeling like they're being emotionally blackmailed by a network that wants to beat a dead horse for advertising dollars. The beauty of The Prisoner lies in the fact that its central questions remain largely unanswered even today. Who is Number One? Well, you're shown - sort of. Does he ever get out of The Village? I don't know. Kinda. Who the heck is running this place? Good question. The show holds up to any number of interpretations - it's a psychological mind game; it's an allegory for the condition of modern man; it's an existential crisis writ large on an international stage; it's a spy thriller; it's McGoohan's middle finger to the man; etc. Will today's viewers settle for that much ambiguity?
5. No McGoohan
McGoohan was the evil genius behind the show. Without his vision and angry, self-righteous performance, it's just not The Prisoner to me.
Be seeing you.