Monday, November 16, 2009

AMC’s “The Prisoner”: Heavy, Cerebral Psychological Drama

Photos from AMC

AMC’s “The Prisoner,” a remake of the 1960’s cult classic of the same name, began airing last night with two episodes. I had only vague recall of the original series, so went into this with a relatively open mind. What I didn’t realize that the episodes were going to air in two-hour clumps over a period of a few days. With the series being a little heavier and far more cerebral than the original, I found that it was just too much watching two episodes in a row, much less watching two episodes in a row for several days in a row. Needless to say, I’m going to DVR the series and watch at my leisure.

The premise of the show is simple enough – if one remembers the old series or looked up some information about it beforehand. But for those unfamiliar with the series may find themselves confused after the first 10 minutes. It seems that a man – who we will only know as Number Six (James Caviezel) finds himself in an isolated, desert area with an old man running for his life. After the man dies and tells Six to get a message to 554 that he got out, the troubles really begin.
Six finds himself in a place called “The Village’ from which there seems to be no escape. The Village is the only place many of the residents seem to know. He manages to find 554 (Jessica Haines) working at a diner, and after he delivers the old man’s message, she is later killed in an explosion. Six also meets who seems like the man in charge – or shall I say the second man in charge, because he is named Number Two (Sir Ian McKellen). Number Two seems to like to threaten people with a grenade, which is likely what killed 554 in the diner explosion. It appears that the old man – and some others – have what they think are dreams or memories of places not in The Village – the old man drew a picture of Big Ben and 554, before her untimely death, drew the Statue of Liberty.

Number Six also remembers life from before he came to The Village; it seems he just resigned from a job, and that evening, meets a mysterious woman and they end up in his apartment. While he is in The Village, though, Six seems to be unable to remember the details clearly, or his name for that matter. It is clear, though, that Number Two wants the information that he thinks Six is hiding from that life. And Six will spend his time trying to escape The Village, the only beacon visible are the two large, shiny towers in the distance that he just can’t seem to reach.

Six also finds that he has a brother, who Six doesn’t believe is his real brother, then he does believe it is his brother, who then tells him he really isn’t his brother, who winds up getting killed in the same manner as his real brother. (!) Now you may see what I mean when I say the show is very cerebral. Viewers will be drawn in trying to figure out what is real, what isn't real, and wonder if The Village is real or just a figment of a crazy - or drugged - mind.

Before I had started watching the show, I had assumed that they were going to be showing two hours on Sunday night and then an hour each Sunday night afterwards. I was surprised to see that they are running the series for two hours every night early this week. Either I wasn’t quite paying attention, or the show was promoted badly or not clearly, but the show is far too heavy and requires too much concentration on my part to handle it so many days, and so many hours, in a row. Don’t misunderstand my hesitance to watch it live as meaning that I did not like the show. On the contrary, I found it very interesting and something that I would not want to miss. But be sure that if/when you watch, that your brain is fully engaged, because you may need all of your faculties to comprehend what is going on. Otherwise, you will feel just confused in your brain as “The Prisoner” himself.

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EminemsRevenge said...

One of the things you fail to mention is that "The Prisoner" debuted at a time when LSD was being widely used by the creative community!

Factor THAT in and the show makes a whole lot of sense:)

Jasen said...

"Viewers will be drawn in trying to figure out what is real, what isn't real, and wonder if The Village is real or just a figment of a crazy - or drugged - mind."

This is my problem with the show. Viewers may be drawn in, or they may not care enough and give up on the muddled mess.

In the original, it was very clear that No. 6 had resigned from "something", knew too much to be let go, The Village was a place where people like him were sent, and whoever ran The Village wanted some kind of information from him. And that premise was repeated in the opening sequence of every episode.

In the remake, there's some guy in the desert, blah blah blah, he finds some Village, blah blah, flashback, something something. WHO IS THIS GUY!? WHY DO I CARE!?

It would have been much better, IMHO, if they'd run the whole New York sequence as the first half of the first episode. Establish the character, establish the premise. THEN drop him in the desert. Ooohh. Someone doesn't want to let this guy go. Why are they trying to erase his past identity? Other people here have had their identities wiped - mostly. How big is the "underground resistance"?

They could still have a very good show but make it a bit more accessible to people who don't like to piece a plot together from a mess of flashbacks, dream sequences, and hallucinations.

Anonymous said...

If I hadn't known about the background on the 1967 series The Prisoner, I would never have been able to follow what was going on. The first episode was a mess. Great acting, but if a person can't get a grasp on what is going on, the great acting won't matter very much.

I agree with you, I Like To Watch TV - this should air over a few weeks, not a few days. No way will I watch it live.