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The Five: Reasons I won't be watching The Prisoner TV remake

by Julia Ward, posted Dec 20th 2006 2:27PM
The Prisoner Patrick McGoohanI'm not the kind of person who gets her panties in a twist over a favorite book being brought to the screen, a movie being turned into a television series or Shakespeare getting a modern revamp. Different mediums. Different stories. Different times. In the hands of the right artist, you get an equally exciting cultural product to hug, love, squeeze and call "George." Even crappy re-tellings don't have to denigrate the original. They're not necessary - High Fidelity didn't need to be a Broadway musical; Gus Van Sant didn't need to remake Psycho shot-for-shot; and no one needs to see The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. But, for the most part, these things come and go. They haven't bothered me any... until now.

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.

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I dunno, while I don't mind that the show lacked answers, I hated the last few episodes. And my understanding is that McGoohan got complete creative control when the co-creator left halfway through, and that he's the one that steered it in the more... trippy direction what with the masks and judge guy and shouting and Beatles and Dem Bones and all that (which kinda reminded me of Antonioni's "classic" film Blowup, which I also hated).

I did dig the bubble, and McGoohan's performance was great, and that town where they shot the thing was a great setting. But the show had its flaws. And while a remake will introduce new ones, I think if they do it right and are true to the spirit of the early episodes, it can be pretty good.

December 21 2006 at 10:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have vague memories of watching an episode of the original show late at night when I was a kid so obviously I don't have the connection that you have. Still, I think it might be good with a producer who can show reverence to the original. Russel T. Davies, who was reverent when he continued the Doctor Who series, would be an awesome choice for producer.

December 21 2006 at 3:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You people need to get over your obsession with having every mystery and plot point explained to you. Life's not that way. Shi--, er... stuff just happens sometimes and no one is ever privy to why. I'm sure I'll be shot for saying such but I honestly hope Lost doesn't reveal everything by the end of the series. If only so that the four-toed-statue can remain the Colossus of Springfield.

December 20 2006 at 6:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

How closed-minded are you, Julia? You've already decided not to like a show that hasn't even started shooting yet? Why not at least wait for some sort of teaser promo for crying out loud?

I'm a huge fan of the original, and I'll be checking out the new series. THEN I'll make a judgment.

By the way, number one on your list is honestly quite interesting. It would be an interesting take on the original to put a man in our "open" society and follow his life. He'd be a prisoner of our "pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed and numbered" world.

December 20 2006 at 4:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Michael C

I've never seen The Prisoner, but you've totally sold me on the original show, I really want to see that now. Thanks

December 20 2006 at 3:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bruce Johnson

Just so that you know it didn't go to waste, nice Bugs Bunny reference. ;)

December 20 2006 at 3:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"And you."

December 20 2006 at 3:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Nearly all the aspects that made the original show work for me -- McGoohan, the Village itself (Portmerion in Wales), the creativity of the zero-budget effects, and the political statement about the loss of personal freedom and the Big Brother state -- will not be in the remakes. Yet I will probably give both the new series and the movie a try. "Nowhere Man", the 1995 TV series, proved you could update "The Prisoner" in the modern world, with some creativity (although even that was essentially before the Internet). And, as has been pointed out, the current "Battlestar Galactica" proves that remakes can work. Although it's far easier to remake a mediocre thing into a great thing than to remake a great thing into another great thing.

December 20 2006 at 3:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'd have to agree with Akbar because of the BSG remake. Before the new BSG I was just damned sure this new one was going to suck, but thankfully I, and all the other detractors, were proven wrong in a big way.

There is a huge ball of doubt still in the pit of my stomach, though, filled with thoughts like, "Maybe BSG was a fluke" and such. Let's just say I'm not holding out hope for a masterpiece, but I don't think it's going to be a train wreck. Nothing personal, Julia, but I hope you and that ball of doubt in my belly are wrong about this remake being not very good.

December 20 2006 at 2:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
The Jeremy

As much as I like Eccleston, I want to see Pierce Brosnan in the role. Then those of us fans still unhappy with how Brosnan was fired from the 007 role can imagine that it is Bond that is imprisoned in the Village.

That's the only way to top the assumed connection with *Danger Man* (*Secret Agent Man*) from the original show...

December 20 2006 at 2:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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