Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The new Prisoner

I'm hoping against hope that the reimagined Prisoner, which starts up on Sunday as a six-hour event, won't be too bad. AMC will always have a black mark in my book for trashing its movie programming but someone there must know something given the quality of Mad Men and Breaking Bad.

Though I own the Patrick McGoohan original on DVD I haven't really spent much time with the show since I gobbled it up on PBS years ago. But I've certainly read about it since then, not least in Video Watchdog magazine, and I remember it fondly. It was one of those shows that helped me grow up, to look at the world differently.

Not so, says the new No. 2, Ian McKellen. In a New York Times piece, the actor more or less calls the original, well, No. 2. “I thought it was camp, frivolous, something without substance, an entertainment without any weight or bottom to it,” he said. “I thought McGoohan was tremendous. He was terribly good at playing enigmatic, clearly angst-ridden and suffering, edgy and sexy too. It was all designed to intrigue and delight. But what was under the surface? Was there something?” Mr. McKellen added that he “wouldn’t have wanted to play the original, because it would just be playing a caricature, an idea, a symbol.”

But symbols have great power--more than too easily caricatured "reality," which is what I fear this soapier-looking redo, replete with backstory and the actor who played Christ, will amount to. McKellen's a smart guy, and a good blogger, and his emergence as a bankable character actor has been most welcome. (Then again, it seems that all British actors have to do is wait for the offers to come in from across the pond, as they do eventually.) He knows the value of publicity by going a negative; I'm sure Prisoner and TV chat rooms have lit up with his comments. But we'll soon see if he lives up to his hype and shows us what's under the surface.

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