TV: Persons Unknown is What The Prisoner Remake Should’ve Been

Anyone remember The Prisoner? It was British TV series from the 60s that had a cult following in the U.S. A former secret agent wakes up to find that he’s been exiled to a seaside villa. It made its mark on pop culture for its surreal weirdness (it was the 60s after all) but at its heart it had a great plot.

  • Man wakes up to find he’s being held prisoner. He has no idea why.
  • Who did this to him?
  • What’s the point of the tests they put him through?
  • Why don’t they just kill or torture him if they want to know what he knows?
  • And finally, how can he escape?

That’s a great recipe for action, mystery, and serial storytelling. Unfortunately, as I wrote before, The Prisoner was… weird. Fans got excited when they heard it was being remade in 2009. The Prisoner (2009) had better production values and  better performances by Jim Caviezel and Ian McKellen. Too bad it was boring. The script and direction just moved at slow, slow pace. Number Six lacked the fiery indignation of being wrongfully held. Overseer Number Two felt like he was putting in time until retirement. This miniseries lacked an indefinable spark and brought nothing new to the issues the original covered.

mm4vw0[1] NBC summer programming is usually a cattle drive of projects meant to die. Stuff they paid for but it didn’t test high enough to get a push during the months when people are really watching TV. But this year they introduced Person Unknown. Here’s basic premise of The Prisoner but reworked to make it more interesting. And it succeeds! I’m sucked into the big group dynamic while trying to figure out what’s going on.

“A group of diverse strangers find themselves stranded in a deserted town with no idea of how they got there. Security cameras are watching their every move, defeating their attempts to escape. Faced with physical, emotional and psychological challenges, the hostages must rely on each other to survive. Meanwhile, an investigative reporter has begun to look into the disappearance of the missing people.”

It’s technically a limited-series since it’s only going to run 13 episodes. I’m fine with that. Too often American TV is focused on getting five season done so they can get into syndication. British TV frequently does shows that last one or two seasons. We told a story. Let’s move on. Best of all, unlike Lost, NBC promises that at the end all questions will be answered. Yeah!

Part of me is that the final answer is mind blowing. Who has the resources, ability, and interest in pulling of something like this? I’m rooting for it be space aliens, testing them like rats in a maze. How wacked out would that be? I’ve put the first three episodes below. Well, as long as Hulu allows it.

Karl Cramer, June 22, 2010

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