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WATCH ONLINE: Classic 'Prisoner' episodes
January 21, 2009  | By Diane Werts
 

Patrick McGoohan may have died, but The Prisoner isn't going anywhere, except into every home on the planet. AMC has started streaming all 17 episodes of McGoohan's surreal '60s classic as a lead-up to the cabler's modern re-think debuting later this year.

But if AMC's Prisoner site is designed to whet our appetite for that new Jim Caviezel/Ian McKellan take, it also pays sterling tribute to McGoohan's original revelation, as both creator and star of a starkly artistic series it's hard to believe ever aired on one of America's Big Three networks in their stodgy '60s incarnations. (The country may have been in Vietnam-era tumult at the time, but CBS, NBC and ABC couldn't have been more plodding in their Beverly Hillbillies/Bonanza era.)

prisoner site amc.jpgDavid Bianculli's Prisoner tribute sets the scene, so let me survey AMC's worthy site. Its "classic series" section outlines the '60s show's core premise, recaps each episode, and pays tribute to McGoohan (fans do, too), then goes on to offer photos, games, forums and, yes, all those gloriously inventive episodes.


Not inventive in the sense of technical mastery -- although using that low-tech weather balloon as a terrifying body-enveloping torture is pretty ingenious -- but in the way The Prisoner builds psychological suspense and gamesmanship. And insight. McGoohan's scripts really did herald the rebellions then burgeoning just under society's surface. At a time people were beginning to feel that individuality had vanished, that each of us was just a powerless number (6, perhaps?), McGoohan's mysteriously detained Prisoner insisted he would not be "pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered!" He resigned from it all. But could he truly escape?

prisoner balloon mcgoohan.jpgAh, the question awaiting us all. AMC's upcoming reimagining, teased throughout the rest of the site, should provide clearer answers than the original (which is also available complete on DVDfor lingering inspection). While it's unlikely to please devotees of McGoohan's provocative ambiguity, the new approach seems designed to satisfy the instant-info exigency of the internet age. Meeting with TV critics at their midseason press tour recently, star McKellen said, "By Episode 6, you'll know everything about The Village, where it came from, who created it and why, what it's like to actually live there."


Hmm. That undercuts a primary reason why the '60s Prisoner remains so immensely intriguing four decades on: The conclusions to be drawn must take shape within the viewer's own mind.

We'll give AMC's version a look. But McGoohan's classic informs our lives.

Be seeing you!

 
 
 
 
 
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