I Spy: “The Prisoner” remake on AMC
Nick Anderson | Monday, September 28, 2009
Defenestration. Good action, better word and the reason that Americans can identify Patrick McGoohan. A severely underrated actor on this side of the pond, McGoohan gave a chilling performance as Longshanks, including the defenestration of his son’s lover, in “Braveheart.” As memorable as this performance is, McGoohan’s best role came 30 years prior, in the British miniseries “The Prisoner.”
The basic plot of “The Prisoner” is simple enough. An unnamed spy resigns from MI6 for undisclosed reasons. He’s followed home, drugged, kidnapped and taken to the Village. The Village is a Technicolor nightmare of constant surveillance, mysterious civility and dry British wit and charm. Names are no longer used; instead residents of the Village are given numbers. The unnamed spy is Number 6, the only title given to him throughout the series. Number 2 is the acting director of the Village, and constantly attempting to retrieve information from Number 6. Order is kept by Rover, a roaming, sentient weather balloon who smothers anyone foolish enough to disobey Number 2.
The series abounds with questions. Who is Number 1? Is the Village run by enemies or allies? What does Number 6 know? Exactly how much acid was dropped in the 60s? In its 17 episode run, all these questions are prodded but never quite answered. The final two episodes offer a conclusion that divided the audience; some loved it, others hated it. In its run, it was the strangest, most confusing – but incredibly fascinating – show on the air.
McGoohan was the mind behind the entire show, inspired by urban legends of a similar prison during World War II. The creative design of the show is unorthodox. Number 6 never has a love interest. Each episode began with Number 6 speaking to a new Number 2, who would spend the next 45 minutes either foiling Number 6’s escape attempts or interrogating him, only to be replaced at the conclusion of the episode. The show also refused to follow a linear narrative. The events of each episode, with the exception of the first and last, occur independent of the others, causing episode order to be meaningless. Viewing is a distinctly British experience with undeniable influence from the surreal.
While it was popular in its initial run, “The Prisoner” is clearly perfect for a cult following. Easily quotable, highly symbolic and oddly compelling, it offers a strong case for obsession. Since its conclusion, fans have been seeking another venue for the experience. Plans often start with big name directors connected with actors, only to smolder in production. AMC finally followed through, filming a six-episode remake starring Jim Caviezel and Ian McKellen set to air in November.
It’s well known that remakes are dangerous journeys, more likely to fail than anything else. It also doesn’t help that McGoohan refused to be involved in any aspect of the new series, bluntly stating that he’d already done it. Expectations from fandom are high, especially for McKellen’s portrayal of Number 2. With the exception of some isolated incidents, the media push made by the show has been almost nonexistent.
AMC is hoping to catch the mystery and wonder of the original series. It has bought the rights to the original’s broadcast and are hosting the series, in its entirety on its Web site. With only a month before the remake goes on the air, there is just enough time to for fans to immerse themselves in the original and promote the hype surrounding the new show. Questions are nothing new for viewers, but the most important one this fall will be “Can AMC improve on the original?”