Beginning this Sunday night, AMC will be asking you to invest six hours of your television viewing time, over the course of three nights, in their remake of the iconic ’60s British drama, The Prisoner.
A man named Michael wakes up in a strange place known to its inhabitants as The Village. He has memories of his past life in New York City, but no idea of how he got to The Village. Everyone there has a number instead of a name, and our hero, played by Jim Caviezel, is referred to as 6. At first glance, The Village appears to be a bright cheerful place, with a few idiosyncrasies. The only television program seems to be a soap opera called The Wonkers, and the only food available comes in the form of wraps filled with various ingredients.
The man in charge of all of this is called 2, and he is played by the wonderful Ian McKellen. 2 appears to be some sort of benevolent monarch, but he is, in fact, a paranoid, scheming dictator, who employs “undercovers” to spy on the populace, and keeps his wife in a drug-induced dream state much of the time. The citizens who present the most danger for 2 are the “dreamers,” because they know that, despite 2’s insistence to the contrary, there is another world beyond The Village. 6 knows there is an outside world. He sees it in his dreams. He remembers living in it. He fights a running battle with 2 to retain his identity, proclaiming loudly that he is not a number.
Little by little, 6 begins to remember what led to his arrival at The Village. He recalls resigning from his job as an analyst who watched people on close circuit cameras and asked too many questions. Characters from his past and present blend together like something out of a (more) trippy Wizard of Oz. Things come to a head in the final moments of the series, but I found the resolution a bit unsatisfying.
I’m not much of a fan of remakes. They’re rarely better than the original, and that’s the case here. That said, The Prisoner would seem like the perfect story to re-imagine. It’s themes of alienation, individuality, freedom, and paranoia have taken on greater importance than ever in the post 9-11 world. The problem is that the new version tries to be too clever by half, resulting in a muddle. The sense of humor that characterized the original is sorely missing. The series is not without its moments, particularly when Ian McKellen is on screen. There is also a fine supporting performance from Lennie James (fans of the tv series Jericho will remember him fondly) as 147, but there aren’t enough of these moments to justify the series’ six-hour length.
This is television we’re talking about though, and everything is relative. When compared with the dross that passes for programming on the broadcast networks, The Prisoner is a home run. Only when held up against some of the finer cable network programming does it come up short.
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