Please Release Me

[TV Show] The Prisoner

prisonerRemaking the much loved 1960s series was always going to be a tough proposition, and the troubled gestation of this co-production between AMC (the cats that brought you Mad Men) and ITV doesn’t fill one with much confidence. And it seems AMC had even less confidence as it languished on their shelves for a year before being leaked out like a damp silent fart at a funeral on consecutive nights just before Christmas. ITV are pushing it big time this year though, which tells you more about the paucity of quality drama on their channel than anything else.

Written by Norwich resident and Lark Rise To Candleford creator Bill Gallagher, you’ve probably guessed that this isn’t so much a remake as a re-imagining – a term which has become TV shorthand for raping and pillaging an original series of everything that was good about it, then making it a bit like Lost.

This time it’s Sexy Jesus Jim Caviezel as Number 6 who finds himself stranded in the mysterious Village. We can immediately tell something is amiss because after crawling through the desert for a few hours he finds himself in a nightclub where they still play drum ‘n’ bass. Then he goes to a diner where he is disappointed by the distinct lack of variety on the menu, ‘Don’t you serve anything that isn’t a wrap?’ he asks wearily. As catchphrases go, it’s hardly ‘That’s damn fine coffee.’ Then he goes to the store to buy a map, ‘What kind?’ asks the clerk, ‘The biggest one you’ve got’ replies Caviezel. 6 doesn’t know how he got here but like everyone else in the production he sure as hell knows he wants to get out. But no matter how big his map is, one man isn’t going to let that happen: Number 2.

Mincing about like a bizarre hybrid of The Man From Del Monte and Let’s Dance era David Bowie, Ian McKellen’s Number 2 is a rare high point amongst an otherwise stultifyingly dull cast. Proffering words of wisdom like “There is no New York, only the Village” he’s a genuinely sinister presence, especially when revealing that the Village has a judicial system based entirely on baked goods, ‘The summons said to bring cake. With cherries on it.’ Number 2 also has a teenage son. I don’t know why. But he looks really pissed off about the lack of distribution for Death Cab For Cutie albums in the Village.

We’re supposed to take it as a given that 6 wants to escape and 2 wants to destroy him but we’re never really sure why. Whereas Patrick McGoohan’s 6 had a strong sense of his past and what he was trying to achieve, all we know is that Caviezel used to work in ‘surveillance’ and he really, really wants to get back to his stylish New York loft. Along the way he meets several disparate characters, none of whom really seem to drive the story forward, including Lennie James as a  taxi driver, and Ruth Wilson as a hot nurse with a dark past of her own. Wilson’s terrifyingly angular eyebrows, which must surely have been plucked with the aid of a set square, provide most of the limited psychological terror on offer.

Otherwise the show is a hopeless mish-mash of influences and ideas. It has elements of The Truman Show, with the introduction of 6’s Stepford erm… brother, and the endless use of flashbacks from Lost and FlashBoredom. There are even repeated stabs at Twin Peaks style surrealism, with recurring motifs such as a lone anchor in the desert. And a lot more wraps. Even the design of  the Village itself seems hopelessly confused, looking as it does like it’s been furnished with Ikea’s new for 2010 Havana collection. This may be a subtle comment on Guantanamo Bay, but I sincerely doubt it.

Of course this being 2010 the makers of the show really couldn’t resist throwing in at least some lazy post 9/11 references. We are repeatedly shown a glistening duolith (?) in the distance, whilst 6 is implored to ‘follow the twin towers’. The only comment the writers seem to be making about 9/11 though is that 9/11 was a thing that happened. People remember it happening. So we’re going to write about it a bit.

There are other problems too, including the dialogue which is more stilted than that in the frankly far superior soap, Wonkers, which the villagers are so addicted to. At one point 6’s brother says ‘My head is so confused with the confusion.’ What I found more confusing was the fact that he said this whilst wearing a shirt in a swimming pool. But the biggest problem is Caviezel himself. He might have killer cheekbones and wicked abs, but he’s so anodyne he manages to make Jospeh Fiennes look like Al Pacino. He was never going to live up to Patrick McGoohan, but the original choice, jug-eared Northerner Christopher Ecclestone, would at least have injected some other worldliness to the role.

As it is, it may just about be worth tuning in for curiosity value and to see McKellen show the rest of those fuckos what acting is all about, but my advice would be to do like it says on the poster: resist.

Abridged review: a real Number 2.

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One Response to “Please Release Me”

  1. SolidChris Says:

    Yeah, you know what – I might just give this one a miss.

    I preferred sexy Jesus when he was fighting that alien alongside the vikings.

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