Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Prisoner revived, and Sherlock Holmes Mysteries

Interesting news via Julian Sanchez: the British satellite channel Sky One is planing a remake of the 1960s cult classic The Prisoner. This show, which lasted only one season and stars the wonderful Patrick McGoohan, deals with a secret agent who resigns his job, and is abducted and taken to a strange Village where he is henceforth known as "No. 6." In the Village, cheerful surroundings mask a system of totalitarian control, and anyone could be either a victim or an agent of the mysterious forces that run the place. The result is a fascinating exploration of individuality, trust, paranoia, freedom, control, and other issues. It's probably my all-time favorite TV show next to Xena.

Julian -- a fellow Prisoner fan -- is somewhat alarmed by executive producer Damien Timmer's comment that "the new series would take 'liberties with the original' and would not retain its arty feel." Says Julian:

"Taking liberties" is fine—I'm as big a fan of the show as anyone, but it's fairly seriously dated at this point, and you'd expect a lot of changes in a remake. But "would not retain its arty feel" sounds an awful lot like exec-speak for "we're going to turn it into a generic spy show with a few witless, predictable 'twists' thrown in as a gesture toward the original." I am holding out a little hope, though, in that Granada's also responsible for the excellent Jeremy Brett/Edward Hardwicke Sherlock Holmes Mysteries series.

I get the same vibe from that quote as Julian does. But more importantly: this is my chance to rant about the Sherlock Holmes Mysteries series.

I think the series started out excellently, and had many terrific episodes. But in the final years, it really went off the rails as its creators began to get further and further away from the source material. Holmes (due, I think, more to the producers' "vision" than to the interpretation of the always-superb Jeremy Brett) became a twitching neurotic plagued by psychic visions. The elegantly, deceptively simple plots of Conan Doyle's stories were bloated with melodramatic and utterly superflouous subplots.

The worst of the lot, perhaps, was "The Eligible Bachelor": an amusing story about a British aristocrat jilted by his rich American bride was transformed into a Gothic tale of villainy in which the aristocrat was revealed to be a latter-day Bluebeard who kept his first wife locked up in the cellar of his castle and had murdered an inconvenient mistress. Nearly as bad was "The Master Blackmailer" (based on "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton", in which Holmes must get a lady's letters back from the loathsome blackmailer Milverton). In the story, Holmes casually informs Watson that he has becomes engaged (in the guise of "a plumber with a rising business)" to Milverton's housemaid in order to gain information and access to the house. When the virtuous Watson exclaims, "But the girl, Holmes!", the great detective replies with a shrug, "You can't help it, my dear Watson. You must play your cards as best you can when such a stake is on the table. However, I rejoice to say that I have a hated rival who will certainly cut me out the instant that my back is turned." In the screen version, Holmes actually finds himself falling for the lovely housemaid, and is torn by regret and remorse at the end after his mission is accomplished. (As if.) Also tacked onto the story is a subplot about a homosexual man who is victimized by Milverton's blackmail and commits suicide.

From those later episodes, I definitely got the impression that the producers at Granada wanted to "humanize" Holmes and to make the stories more relevant to modern-day social issues. I hope that's not an idication of where they're going with the Prisoner remake; otherwise, the new No. 6 might turn out to be a New Sensitive Man, as concerned about getting in touch with his feelings as he is about getting away from his captors. The horror!


Anonymous said...

Regarding the Prisoner, I think it will probably be an embarassing and soon-forgotten flop. (Who today remembers the remakes of Faulty Towers or Absolutely Fabulous?) It's nearly impossible to make lightning strike twice.

I hope I'm wrong - I'd love to have good new episodes of The Prisoner to watch - but I predict massive yet short-lived suckage.

Cathy Young said...

Alas -- you're probably right.

Anonymous said...

They remade Fawlty Towers?? The horror . . .

thecobrasnose said...

I'd love to see Patrick McGoohan collect a few residual bucks and twilight glory for his original creation.

Cathy Young said...

I think it would be a serious disgrace if they remade The Prisoner and McGoohan was not involved.

MrFred said...

While I fear the horror that this is likely to turn out to be, I also retain the hope that some real talent may be brought on and give the show a new but quality revision, like was done for the new BSG.

Cathy Young said...

I haven't seen that much of BSG -- but it's certainly the "gold standard" for remakes!

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