What we love (and hate) about AMC's The Prisoner

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 4:09 PM EST

The Prisoner, which premieres Sunday, Nov. 15, begins with a similar situation and theme as the 1967 British sci-fi spy classic, but in the end there's very little to tie the two together.

The original series, co-created by and starring Patrick McGoohan, ran for only 17 episodes. However, it became a classic that explored elements of individualism and social indoctrination through surreal storylines that made it a pioneer for sci-fi television.

While the new series begins especially strongly, this Prisoner isn't likely to become a classic anytime soon. Yes, the setup is close to the original, but it veers off quickly after that.

A man wakes up in the desert and eventually finds his way to the Village. In this version, the man, called Number Six, doesn't remember who he is and only knows that he wants to escape. And according to everyone he talks to, there is no place beyond the Village. However, Number Six is having flashes of another life, and in that life he resigned from his job.

Some of the reimagining works. Some of it, not so much. Here's what we loved and hated about the AMC reimagination of The Prisoner:

LOVE: Ian McKellen (you know, Gandalf from Lord of the Rings) is a fabulous Number Two. In the original series, Number Two was played by a revolving door of actors, which always kept Number Six on his toes, knowing that no matter how many times he defeated Number Two, there would always be another one waiting to take his or her place. In this Prisoner, the producers wisely decided that the six-hour miniseries would best be served by an amazing actor like McKellen. And he's easily the best thing about the mini, creating a character that is complex, mysterious and human. His scenes with his son are especially good and filled with heartbreak. McKellen lifts the mini far beyond what it would have been without him.

LIKE: Jim Caviezel does a good job as Number Six. He's intense, good-looking and watchable. No, he is not Patrick McGoohan. But, really, who is these days?

HATE: We meet Lucy (played by Hayley Atwell) originally in Number Six's flashbacks and piece by piece begin to learn a little about the company he resigned from and why he resigned. She may know more than she's telling Michael/Number Six. However, when it's all said and done, flashback-wise, we're kind of left with a shrug, since we never learn anything about her character's motivation. Beyond that, she looks enough like 313 (the doctor played by Ruth Wilson) that in the psychedelic flashbacks and Village misdirection it all gets confusing. Not the actress's fault, but it would have been nice to have more distinction between the two characters and some point to her character besides flashback exposition.

LOVE: The expansion of the Village may have an idyllic surface, but it has an unpleasant underbelly. The people in the Village have enough freedom to fall into many of the vices and bad choices people can make in real life. It adds a dimension to this world that makes it rich and interesting, and there seems to be more Village in every scene.

DIDN'T LIKE: Six doesn't remember anything. He doesn't know who he is, only that he wants to escape. Why does he want to escape? Why is he different from all the others? Why is he Number Six, instead of Number 600? Lots of questions, and not all them are going to be answered. The new series dispenses with the notion that Six was a spy and that he's been trapped by someone, maybe someone bad who's on the other side. He just becomes a confused guy.

HATE: The rovers (the big white balloon thingies that keep people from escaping). Let's face it, they were silly in the original, and they are just as silly in the new version. At least the original had the excuse of a tight budget. A little updating to make them more ominous would have been a good thing.

LOVE: The explanation of what is happening at the end of it all is actually fascinating. It doesn't entirely hold together, and there are story and character holes aplenty that are about as big as the holes that form around the Village. Arguably the mini does at least have an ending that somewhat makes sense (which, for most of us, the original can't claim).

CONFUSED BY: The middle of the mini is incredibly hard to follow. While the original wasn't always easy keep track of either, we always knew where Six stood as a character. This Prisoner is about two hours too long. Most of the middle could be lifted out, leaving the mini stronger.

HATE: In McGoohan's Prisoner, Six and Two were in a constant chess match. Six wanted to escape, and Two wanted to know why he resigned. In the new version, Six wants to escape, and Two... well, he wants something, but what it is is not clear until the very end. That lack of knowledge regarding Two's motivation presents a very gray area that prevents us from hanging on through the surrealness of it all. Then throw in another version of Six called Two of Six (could have just called him 12), and we're lost. The initial chess match between the two (or three?) peters out, leaving us with none of the fun and all of the what-the-hell puzzlement of the original.

IN THE END: We're disappointed. There's a great mini in here that would have worked better at four hours than six. The original had its disappointments, too, which most people don't remember because it was more than 40 years ago, and it's a classic, and it was brave, and it was brilliant even when it wasn't. The truth is that this Prisoner could never live up to the original, no matter what they did with it. It's just too bad the writer and producers didn't take the "reimaging" quite far enough. The mini could have been something special all on its own. It really could have been.

Are you ready for the new Prisoner?