Monday, November 23, 2009

The Prisoner

Quite possibly the most interesting show ever put on TV, The Prisoner is enjoying some publicity due to the DVD release and AMC re-imagination this year. The show is not a procedural, and unfolds in a slow manner. Clues are continuously given thoughout the series about the what, why and who of the prisoner's predicament. The show pieces were standalone episodes but part of a much longer story arc. The show was a forerunner for television to move past the teleplay format to a higher plane.

The "I'm not a number, I'm a free man" theme is very appealing, and I remember staying up late watching reruns of The Prisoner on TV. It was so cool. I only saw a handful of episodes but loved it. Part of the appeal is the theme of the individual fighting against oppression, conformity and authority. mcGoohan has explained the use of the "big wheel" bicycle as a way to joke on the idea that humans have achieved technological progress far quicker than we have learned to emotionally and mentally cope with our inventions. Wonder what he thought of the Internet? One also has to respect the sci fi elements in different episodes. There are features in some shows that touched on 60s thinking and even fictional elements used in current movies. There is also the kitsch factor as some extremely goofy 60s things show up. Looking at the show, one has to be surprised by how old everyone is on the show. Patrick McGoohan was 40 playing the lead. The no. 2s were usually older men. The supporting characters were retiree age, and even the quasi-romantic leads were middle aged women.

My wife & I have begun to watch the series in order (Comcast offers them all on demand). We hav enjoyed shows for different reasons. While we both loved the absurdity of the election episode, I especially loved how in 45 mins, the show lampooned the idea of a candidate. No. 6 declares his candidacy with ferocity for freedom, but is manipulated throughout to spout cliche statements. Even the short answers he gives the 'press' are manipulated. Once he finally wins the election, drugged into submission, he is unable to take advantage of the tools and power available to him. He is powerless. Wonderful political commentary.

Patrick McGoohan plays No. 6; the retired spy confined to the Village to reveal the secret of why he resigned. McGoohan's spy is an educated British gentleman. He hits every stereotype that Americans have of Brits: subdued manner, cold, quoting Shakespeare, arrogant and owner of a bad set of teeth. There are quite a few examples of the detective side of spy work or his spy training on display. He doesn't just bust people up; he plays little mindgames to disarm them.

Some advanced features they insert into episodes are drug use for mind control, aggressive therapy for altering a personality, and most spectacularly, dream manipulation through image and sound construct and data feed. I kid you not, they have an episode where they rig sensors to No. 6's head, and create a construct for him to interact with characters that they insert, not to mention manipulate with vocal input. It's like the Matrix idea, only in 1967. No. 6 has a way to fight back, which is fantastic, and once again exemplifies the human vs. system theme. The episode "Schizoid Man", with the personality manipulation was superb. The lengths the Village goes to fuck with No. 6 are great, and the fact that they mess with him for possibly a full year is cool. We want to know why you resigned so badly that we will set up a mind fuck for a whole year.

Besides the good acting and writing, there is one more superstar element: the setting. The Village is like Alice in Wonderland crossed with an old folks' home and a minimum security prison. It was not built for the show; it exists in that form. It looks like a playground for an insane millionaire. It looks fun, weird, and dangerous. There are plenty of nooks and hiding places for the good and the bad guys.

The Prisoner is a forerunner for the wonderful non-procedural shows Americans have fallen in love with like Twin Peaks and Lost. Who could resist a show that constantly changes the main antagonist? Each opening is the same awakening, and with a constantly changing villain, who is to say it's not just a recurring nightmare? While I am indifferent to the remake, I am still happy to see a little light pointed in the original's way. If yuo do have Comcast and have some spare time, check out the Prisoner on demand.

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