“There is no New York,” intones Ian McKellen early in AMC’s remake of the classic British television series, ‘The Prisoner,’ which debuts tonight. “There is only the Village.”
Thus the creepy stage is set.
For those who don’t remember or weren’t yet born, the 1967-68, 17-episode original starred (and was created by) Patrick McGoohan in a brilliant turn as “a secret agent whose resignation is followed by capture and deportation to a strangely perfect village where everyone is known by a number.
At the time it came out, ‘The Prisoner’ broke conventional TV format and rules as it tapped into Cold War paranoia and politics, as well as other timely, late 1960s cultural themes. It became an instant cult hit and as been cited as an inspiration for such series as ‘Twin Peaks’ and ‘Lost.”
In fact, last month George Harrison’s son, Dhani, told Wired.com that the Beatles, prior to making The Magical Mystery Tour, were going to do a movie like Help and base it on ‘The Prisoner.’ Additionally, as Wired.com writer Scott Thill points out in his excellent appreciation of the original, the Fab Four’s ‘All You Need Is Love’ was featured in an episode of ‘The Prisoner’ titled “Fall Out,” and it was the only time a Beatles song was licensed to a TV series.
As for the remake, which has been in the works for several years, stars James Caviezel in McGoohan’s role as Number Six and McKellen as his nemesis, Number Two (a role that changed each week in the original). The pair put forth their best efforts in what is arguably a tough if not impossible assignment, namely living up to the high standards of the original. “There is probably no winning for the AMC remake,” wrote Tim Goodman of the San Francisco Chronicle. “Anytime you change a classic, you lose.” Most critics around the country recommend you at least check it out. Check out a nine-minute preview below and decide for yourself.
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Here’s a brief roundup of what some of those experts had to say about ‘The Prisoner’:
Tim Goodman, San Francisco Chronicle: “In fairness, the new ‘Prisoner’ is not without some winning twists. Ian McKellen as No. 2 (the only No. 2) is always fascinating, even when the dialogue he’s speaking is not…An argument can be made that if you’ve never seen the original, this ‘Prisoner’ might be fresh (and not many people have seen all of the original). But even then there’s not enough dramatic intrigue to keep fans dedicated over three nights.” Read more.
Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times: “For its third original dramatic series, AMC has chosen to reimagine — as a six-episode miniseries that will run in a clump from Sunday to Tuesday — Patrick McGoohan’s 1967 British spy-fi show “The Prisoner.” (It first aired here in 1968.) If the network, here co-producing with the U.K.’s Granada and ITV, was out to prove itself unafraid to mount another show as slow as “Mad Men,” it has succeeded, with the difference that “Mad Men” is never boring.” Read more.
Tom Maurstad, Dallas Morning News: “…As a spoiler-free assurance, the show does resolve itself by the end so that most of the questions are at least sort of answered. But everything occurs in such a swirl of fever-dream confusion that you never really feel oriented. Even flashes of the “real” world seem fake. No doubt some will throw up their hands, reach for the remote and click away to America’s Next Iron Chef Dancer or some other easy-viewing outlet. But for those who stick it out, The Prisoner is a beautifully strange and strangely satisfying experience.” Read more.
Aaron Barnhart, Kansas City Star: “AMC’s “The Prisoner” isn’t going to reinvent TV the way McGoohan’s brainchild did. For six hours, however, it’s compelling enough in its own way to make you its captive.” Read more.
Alan Sepinwall, New Jersery Star-Ledger: “I thought the fact that I had never seen the original version of “The Prisoner” would make me an ideal viewer for AMC’s 21st-century remake. Because I had violated TV critic code and never saw more than a few minutes of the trippy ’60s series about an ex-spy trapped in a bizarre, isolated community called The Village, I would have nothing to compare the new version to, and no outraged reactions of “That’s not how Patrick McGoohan did it!” And watching the original is far from a prerequisite for the new one. There are nods to the old show (most of which I recognized from having seen a “Simpsons” episode that sent Homer to The Village), but the miniseries stands on its own, and whatever sense it makes — which, at times, isn’t much — in no way depends on knowing what McGoohan was up to. But at the end of the miniseries’ six hours, I realized that the reason I had never watched the original “Prisoner” made me anything but an ideal audience for the remake. Simply put, it’s incredibly weird, and I don’t do weird if I can help it.” Read more.
Wired.com: “What gets lost in the remake’s dark dissection of human relationships complicated by ubiquitous surveillance and callous commodification is, simply put, ambition…But if you’re a fan of heavy drama sprinkled with slight sci-fi, Hurran and Hopkins’ reboot fits in fine with the usual speculative TV suspects like Lost and Heroes. Just don’t come expecting a next-gen experience. The 2009 model of ‘The Prisoner’ is merely a compression of its parent narrative — the same episodes and conceits distilled into six slow-motion episodes — albeit flavored lightly with a dash of mad science and sinister post-9/11 intrigue.” Read more.