Sunday, November 15, 2009

"In the Village..."

One summer Saturday evening forty-plus years ago, the first episode of a British import TV series debuted on CBS. It starred Patrick McGoohan, who we American audiences knew as John Drake from the program "Secret Agent." It was, of course, "The Prisoner," and from the opening sequence with its pounding theme to the end of that initial hour, it was captivating.

A secret agent resigns and is spirited away to The Village, where he, who we fans thought of as John Drake, was called Number 6. Each week, a succession of men and women known only as Number 2 try all sorts of physical and mental tricks to get him to explain why he resigned. In the end, Number 6 does escape, but the ending was just a puzzling as the beginning.

As you probably have guessed, I was an instant fan and, since these were the days before VCRs and TIVO and DVD sets, I would not go out on a Saturday night until after "The Prisoner" was over.

In the decades that followed, the program reappeared a couple of times and I was happy to see it again. I taped it sometime in the early 80s and then got the DVD collection a few years ago. I still enjoy watching it every few years.

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Jump to 2009 and AMC's remake of the program. Despite the far-from-glowing reviews I'd read, I wanted to view it with an open mind. Unfortunately, I can't watch it without thinking about how it doesn't compare.

The whimsical little Village of the original has been replaced by a Levittown in the middle of the desert, but it also seems to be more a city than a village. Instead of a place filled only with adults, there are children and entire families in this version, and they even have barbecues in their little Levittown backyards.

Rather than the succession of Numbers 2 that the original had, making us aware that whoever was in charge did not tolerate the failure of the various people who filled the seat to break Number 6, this new version has a 2 who seems more concerned with his own family problems than getting any information from 6. And while Ian McKellan could hold his own against Leo McKern as the Village leader, Jim Caviezel is no Patrick McGoohan.

The program continues over the next two nights with a total of six episodes. I'll reserve my final opinion until after I see them all, but, so far, I am underwhelmed.

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