Saturday, 17 April 2010

eclectic dreams

A couple of television shows that I've watched during the week included the three-nighter called Electric Dreams about consumer technology progress from 1970-2000 and the remake of the originally influential series 'The Prisoner'.

I'm not sure if the first show was even advertised and it seemed to be badged as a BBC4 programme, but does have its own microsite and full iPlayer repeats. The premise was simple. Take a modern gadget-enriched family and propel them back to 1970, then take a daily update of their environment, based upon the technology of the year.

The program started by ejecting he family, reconstructing their home as a 1970s house (smaller rooms and tiny kitchen) retro wallpaper and furnishings and the most elaborate technology was probably a valve operated radiogram and a hosepipe based toploader washing machine. Cue return of family who observe their ancient but shiny Ford Cortina parked in the drive and surprisingly avant garde domestic decoration.

Along the daily chase through the years, more items arrive, with big resets every 10 days as a new decade creates an entire house makeover. Unlike the shows filled with repeats and recaps, there was enough content to keep it lively. A suitably enthusiastic backup technology team digging out and restoring the once commonplace artifacts from museums, collectors and eBay. "Let's cover it in sticky back plastic to make it look more seventies"...

Entertaining interchange between the family, forced again to talk to one another in the device barren early years. Even greater outdoor freedom for the children as the chopper bikes arrived before the electronic harnesses of mobile phones.

Some elements were a little contrived, like the shopping using pagers and payphones, but the ever increasing pace was interesting, with the mid 1980s providing many gadgets, but also many which didn't really work properly.

The mid nineties was where the connected world started to kick in again, with satellite TV channels, mobile phones, SMS texting and a fledgling modem operated world-wide web. And as it became more up-to-date (still some 10-15 years ago), the family became more separated into different rooms and timelines, some of which was impractical in the wintry 1970's house without its central heating.

A fascinating dip into some rather recent history and a glimpse at the acceleration.

Less so with The Prisoner.

Originally written in the days of black-and-white television and probably predating the era of the Electric Dreams, it has received a significant makeover, which included its Americanisation. I've visited the original Italianate whimsical village set in Portmierion, Wales (love that it has webcams nowadays!) and even got an old video of part of the series. Original, iconic, inventive, menacing, mysterious, manic. A few words that fitted the original.

Lost meets The Trueman Show (In the Desert). My quick explanation of the first episode of the new series.

simpsons_prisonerI can see there was a clumsy reference to the Patrick McGoohan character from the original (based upon the bearded chap with the white edged blazer being chased at the start). The Simpsons did it better.

I'm not sure I'd have killed him off though. Bad Karma for the series.

Will it invent or twist enough to sustain interest? I'm not sure - the main actor is a bit too interchangeable with a temporary male lead from desperate housewives. Maybe thats what a post modernist spy is supposed to look like?

Still, it gives an excuse for someone to reshow the old series to see if it makes any more sense to a modern audience.
the prisoner

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