Wednesday, November 18, 2009, 01:48 AM - TV Tag
The fat lady has sung and the mini series is over.
Here are some quick, late night thoughts:
Cool to see 1967 "cameos" in the Penny Farthing bicycle, the sound effects to the steel doors going to the control room, 6 chasing himself up and up, brass band music over loudspeakers, and crowds chanting in unison.
While I feel the series picked up momentum in its last two nights, I feel that overall this came across as something more akin to a very clever college screenwriting project where the assignment was "study all the elements in as well as the conjecture about the original and create your own version of The Prisoner."
(Such open-ended assignments betray not only an author's understanding of the work, but also what the re-creators see - or fail to see - as important in the original. If anything, anyone taking such assignments must deal with The Anxiety of Influence.)
That said, there were very nice homages and parallels to the original, and there were some interesting takes and twists to evolve the original premise anew. (The 2009 nine episode titles are evidence that such a study was done - "Arrival," "Harmony," "Anvil," "Darling," "Schizoid," and "Checkmate," all parallel their original namesakes thematically and sometimes overtly in plot deivces.)
But did it succeed as entertainment? That was the dilemma of the original as well as the successor (why do you think there were obligatory fist fights every episode in 1967?).
While there were intellectual stimulants in this 2009 version (though some would argue these were merely "aspirations to stimulation" ) I'm not sure it was able to entertain on plot-driven, linear levels.
Arguably the original 1967 succeeded in doing this, but it did also flounder at times. Metaphors, symbolism, analogies, ironies and such add texture when a story can simultaneously exist as a simple narrative. I'm not sure this project succeeded in that latter respect.
After viewing this mini series, one can go back and outline the story simply. (I will not do so here, both to avoid spoilers, but also I don't quite feel like outlining it at this hour in the evening.) In doing so, it isn't bad. Again, it's quite a clever collegiate take on the original premise, courageously putting forward a twist on the old by updating themes and overtly embracing some of the theories that still circulate about the original (e.g., "Who is #1?" "Did #6 really escape?" ).
I suspect however, that in the attempt to add more surrealism (or creepiness) in possible homage or at least self-aware competitive deference to the original, the makers decided to take this basic plot and chop it up and spin it on its side to try and make it "artistic."
[Speaking of "creepiness," once again we were presented tonight with the juxtaposition of seeing 6 screaming outside while 2 ate his yummies inside, which didn't succeed the first night.]
Such a formulaic approach to anything creative is always a risky tactic as more often than not, you end up with artifice and not art, which is what I feel happened here. There was "cleverness" and "aspiration," but no spirit or spark.
Perhaps that's just inherent when ever you revisit or remake. It may not be a foregone fate, but such a trap is a large one to sidestep.
Oh well. It was a valiant effort. I think in the end this, like all projects of this nature, will serve as a great point of reference for further exploration and appreciation of the original.
Monday, November 16, 2009, 10:31 PM - TV TagTonight I watched the first two episodes in encore ("Arrival" and "Harmony" ) as well as the next two "Anvil" and "Darling." The latter two I found were much better than last night's viewing.
Were they "great?" I'm not sure I would go that far, but they were a bit better than what preceded them.
The plots were a little more complex and themes tackled more interesting than what I feel (or at least felt tonight) was a fault of the first two; last night's shows unfolded as if they were dumbed down and oversimplified in the effort to safely establish premise and character, to the point of sacrificing pacing and entertainment.
Now I fully understand that as I am not necessarily the target viewer (someone who knows the original 1967 version), introduction of the premise required some care, but I found the indulgence taken to convey the what must have been feared as too weird a plot to a new audience, damaging.
The first two episodes were as dry as the desert the makers obviously loved shooting in. Withholding water this early might not have been the best tactic given the short attention span of viewers and critics.
Also, I don't know if these episodes were shot in sequence (in order), but if they were, I get the feeling TBTB didn't quite have a good handle or confidence in the material to quicken the pace during the first two installments.
Since tonight's episodes had much less to establish, they were free to cut to the chase of starting to experiment, as well as play, with the characters and themes this version and the original 1967 Prisoner played with.
That was arguably what made the original so interesting - it mixed entertainment with grander themes, sometimes seriously, but other times through short and sweet smart satire. There was a little sweet to go with the sour tonight, which brought the pacing up as well as the entertainment.
Tonight there was a little more play in The Prisoner sandbox than just sand.
Unlike last night, there was a bit more freedom to smirk rather than worry about making sure the audience understand how evil and ominous the Village was, or how creepy it had to be to be there (something my wife said they failed to do last night - which I now believe was an casualty of trying too hard to be creepy stylistically - see CHERRY CAKE below).
Tonight themes were approached from many different angles, both seriously to sarcastically (e.g., love to match making). We saw overt and subtle playing with other issues of privacy, trust, education, sexuality, and family. Spread out among two episodes, the major and minor thematic menu was more varied and nourishing and akin to the smorgasbord of topics the original tried to serve.
Now I'm not sure if any of these themes were explored to any great benefit, but I appreciated the fresh breath that their presence afforded tonight's episodes to at least bring more toys to the sandbox.
So, after tonight, the show is starting to pick up a little, but I fear, as it is already two-thirds complete, it may be too late to saturate the mini-series from the drought of the first night.
Judging by the mostly negative reviews out there, I wonder if anyone gave the series tonight a chance to find out will do either.
CHERRY CAKE IS CREEPY... ?
As I mentioned above, I re-watched last night's episodes going into tonight's new installments. My wife mentioned last night how the show wasn't as "creepy" as the original, with which I would have to agree. There seemed to be too much effort to build the artifice of creepiness without the effect.
Case in point - the cherry cake that the taxi driver and wife are summoned by #2 to render unto his two-ship after their meeting. The cake is later eaten as our hero, #6 finally gets angry enough (it takes an explosion to make this #6 to explode) to scream outside #2's home the classic "I am not a number! I am a Free Man!" line (which no one, including Homer Simpson, can do justice to after McGoohan).
The juxtaposition of this famous battle cry of freedom to #2 calmly gorging himself on cherry cake I imagine was supposed to be creepy and ominous. Instead it just came across as silly.
#2 obviously digs his sweet sweetness and apparently has no qualms about stuffing a huge cake in his gob all by himself while his prize prisoner howls hungry like a drunk frat boy meets Stanley screaming "Stella!" at the door.
Lotta allusions I know.
Anyway, maybe I just missed it how the cake was creepy. Maybe it's just because I don't like cherries in my cake. Hmmm. That said, maybe the cake WAS pure evil?
Monday, November 16, 2009, 06:47 AM - TV TagSo while viewing the first two installments of AMC's The Prisoner, I was bemused, but also a little disappointed to see how my previous observation from July on the 2009's #93 being the 1967's #6 (and the theory regarding it's use as a plot point) was pretty accurate.
What that means for this 2009 re-imagining? Not sure.
While I will hold final judgment until this new series is complete, so far I miss the sense of style and detail of 1967 (e.g., cinematography, irony, etc.), as well as the contained rage and spark of McGoohan's #6 (Jim Caviezel's #6 doesn't strike me as interesting, or bright.)
2009 seems more style than substance, and so far is missing is the playful cynicism, and the wit of 1967.
But is that the show itself or a comment on our times? In 31 years, have we become less witty and cynical, becoming more depressed and intellectually stifled?
To approach the new show's homage to the original literally (e.g., #93 WAS #6, and existed in the same universe, etc.) observers have to wonder, what happened in 30 years?
Well apparently, #6 redecorated his bungalow, losing the tiger skin rug but keeping the lava lamps and liquor. While also gaining digits (in age, weight, and numerical status - although basic math says 9 minus 3 equals 6) , this #93 switched his bedroom in preference for the living room, AND lost his kitchen and bath....
I understand moving the living room, either out of boredom or for "senior," assisted living needs, but "donde esta el bano?"
Looking beyond literalism and semi-serious set design nitpicking (which at least in 1967's Prisoner was fun to do), what might these changes in detail say about 2009?
What has changed in our society in the last 31? In our new Millennium lives, where's our "living room?" Do we have time for a meal?
"Donde esta el bano?"
Looking forward to seeing the rest tonight and tomorrow. I noticed that the episode titles themselves are evocations of the original episodes (e.g., "Schizoid" vs "Schizoid Man" ). Let's hope they are more inspired and spiritually kindred than just pale ghosts in the machine.