Patrick McGoohan, the creator, writer, frequent director and, oh yeah, star of The Prisoner, died earlier this week at the age of 80. Sadly, McGoohan’s only Emmy wins came from guest shots on – of all things – Columbo, but one has to imagine that he had to be aware that there was massive, if belated, critical acclaim for The Prisoner as well. I was hoping that maybe he could be persuaded to put in a cameo appearance on the new version AMC and Sky One are shooting to air this fall.
I hope that, in all the eulogizing, the man gets his due as not just the actor, but the creator behind the Prisoner as well. It’s fairly well known now that McGoohan devised The Prisoner as a response to the kind of get-off-scot-free, consequence-less adventure of the spy series he was starring in (Danger Man, a.k.a. Secret Agent Man), and in going for the gusto and creating a show that was designed to be a massive mindf#$%, he really secured his spot in the TV history books – in a way, The Prisoner was kind of like the precursor to Burn Notice…after dropping a healthy dose of acid. Shows like Lost and Battlestar Galactica (at least the new one) borrow liberally from The Prisoner’s playbook (J.J. Abrams has, in fact, copped to Lost being an overt valentine to The Prisoner), and respect is due.
There’s something trippy and solidly 1960s about The Prisoner, and yet something timeless as well – any serious student of television as a medium for quality storytelling and social commentary should watch through the entire series at least once.
And it’s also time to bid Ricardo Montalban farewell – Fantasy Island is closed for business. Say what you like about Mr. Montalban or the sort of shows and movies he appeared in, but regardless of what role he was playing, the man just oozed dignity. I don’t ever recall seeing him just phone it in – even if he was appearing in something that seemd a bit lowbrow (the first Naked Gun movie, for example), he found the absolute conviction of the character he played and did not let it go. If he was playing an over-the-top villain, he did not allow that character to be anything less than a force to be reckoned with. You didn’t smirk at the very sight of the man. And sure, while there are a whole raft of cliches that emerge over time with repeat viewing (something that can happen with anyone), or through his abundant commercial spokesperson/voice-over work, there’s never a sense that he was just going through the motions. And you better believe that it’s that absolute conviction in whatever he was doing that kept the man employed in such a variety of roles throughout his life.