Tag Archives: The Prisoner (2009)

When Worlds Converge: Futures of Entertainment at Cultural Learnings

One of the reasons I write about television is in order to engage with a larger community of both television viewers and television critics. While there is no doubt a personal desire to consider the medium more carefully nearly every day, it’s also about contributing to a broader critical discourse on television that extends from traditional critics to television bloggers to message board commenters.

However, one of the things that has been missing within my academic experience (which is only rarely a topic of discussion on the blog, as regular readers will know) is that same sense of community when it comes to analyzing television. Working within an English department as an island of television studies has made me more defensive than I’d like to admit, and while being forced to justify my projects has helped shape my perspectives on television it has also led to a lack of considerable outside input.

So, this weekend was one of those moments where my current academic work was put on hold as I took advantage of the wonders of Twitter to participate from afar in discussions occurring during Futures of Entertainment 4, a conference hosted by MIT’s Convergence Culture Consortium and designed to engage scholars and industry figures in discussions about, well, the future of entertainment. And, as lame as it sounds, it really did feel like a convergence of my academic interest in television and my work here at Cultural Learnings. While the discussions used theoretical ideas that are uncommon in television criticism, the conversation always went beyond theory to application, with panel members including representatives from the BBC and from companies that actually produce the types of content being discussed.

The resulting conversationswere ¬†different from what I’m used to but not entirely foreign: there was a lengthy discussion about Joss Whedon’s future in television considering Dollhouse’s cancellation, and while the discussion jettisoned subjective analysis of the series it nonetheless considered the potential of online business models and the changing metrics networks use to determine a series’ fate, the same types of things that critics and bloggers alike have been discussing since the show was axed. It was one of many conversations that made me both appreciative of the chance to contribute to the amazing discussion between these top academic/industry minds in Cambridge and extremely proud to be part of a similar sort of community through my regular reviews and analysis here at Cultural Learnings each day.

As a result, I wanted to be able to reflect the convergence of sorts between the two worlds, so I put together a series of “FOE4 Musings” that focus on shows/situations I cover here on the blog from some new perspectives inspired by the crosstalk on Twitter during the conference.

Chuck vs. Fan Management vs. Fan Facilitation analyzed the failure of NBC, in the wake of the “Save Chuck” campaign, to leverage this fan support in a substantial fashion, inspired by a distinction made between management and facilitation by Henry Jenkins.

Glee and the Limitations of Reality Competition Narrative analyzed the degree to which Glee’s storytelling, along with its business strategy, refers to the successful formula of American Idol, inspired by a tweet from Ivan Askwith.

AMC’s The Prisoner and Transmedia Participation analyzed the potential for transmedia storytelling within AMC’s remake, and the ways the show’s schedule/writing worked against audience expectations, inspired by the panel on Transmedia play.

These articles are also all collected on the new “Articles” page, where readers old and new can visit (or revisit) some of the broad pieces of analysis that I’ve written over the past three years here at Cultural Learnings.

I don’t pretend that any of these pieces from this weekend are comprehensive, but they allowed me to consider some subjects common to the blog in a new light, and I can only hope that they stimulate 1/1000th of the discussion that some of the tweets from this weekend did. Any comments, from both old and new readers alike, are more than welcome.

I want to thank everyone who took part in the conversation at FOE4 for helping create a really fantastic experience that offered me far more inspiration than could be put into three posts; I can only hope that I’ll be able to attend FOE5 in person, and be able to offer more considerable insight into these fascinating discussions.

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Review: AMC’s The Prisoner – I Know There’s An Answer (But Ask Better Questions)

Review: AMC’s The Prisoner

November 18th, 2009

“There’s something thrilling about honesty.”

There’s a moment in the final hour of AMC’s remake of The Prisoner where I started to realize where its real problem lies. This is not to say that I haven’t been realizing the show’s problems from the word go, as the first five hours of the show were highly problematic, but when Ian McKellen’s 2 utters the above line I realized that this is where the intentions of the miniseries went awry.

There are problems with the thematic content of this miniseries, but the real problem is how the writer chose to structure this story in order to create a sense of mystery that was ultimately more vague than it was exciting. In the eyes of the writers, the climax of this story is when the story becomes clear to the audience, and the purpose of the rest of the miniseries is to effectively buy time and confuse us until we’re so desperate for clarity that when we receive it we give ourselves over to the truth. And, to some degree, the strategy worked: the final hour was, in fact, the best of this miniseries primarily because it was finally revealing and engaging with the larger thematic issues being discussed.

However, the problem with this strategy is that the cloudiness of the first four and a half hours of the miniseries not only made us hunger for thrills but also destroyed any sense of thematic consistency and, as a result, destroyed audience interest. While the theme presented at the end of the miniseries is actually compelling, it was so wholly absent for the first four hours (in particular) that it ends up depending entirely on the audience’s willingness to slog through an abstract and experimental four hours where the writer keeps adding new elements to the series when it’s in some way convenient for them as opposed to when it feels earned or natural.

While the miniseries eventually creates a compelling image of modern society, it’s an image that does little to make the first hour hours any better, and in some ways makes them even more irrelevant. It results in a miniseries that is the absolute worst sort of failure, where an intriguing idea and a couple of strong performances are executed in such a way to rob them of any potential to move their intended audience.

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