EPISODE REVIEW: Tower Prep: “New Kid” (Series Premier)

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A guy wakes up in totally unfamiliar surrounding, with no idea how he got there. The place seems non-threatening enough, even pleasant, but there’s a fundamental disconnect in that he doesn’t know where he is, and no one will tell him. An annoying-voiced woman is on the PA making announcements. A strange flag flies above the place. Society in this place seems a bit too conformist, and of course everyone wears a kind of uniform. He’s hauled off to meet with the person who seems to be in charge, who seems to know everything about him, but still wants something more. Our guy is reserved, and takes it all in, waiting for his moment. He’s hassled by people playing some unfamiliar, but very violent sport. He gets in a fistfight. Finally, he makes a break for it, but there’s a creature - or perhaps it’s a machine? - keeping him within the boundaries in every direction. Reluctantly, he settles in for the long haul, trying to figure out the mysteries of how he got here, how he’ll escape, what they want from him, who runs this place, and why. Here’s the big twist: the synopsis above works equally well for the classic 1960s spy-fi show “The Prisoner” and “Tower Prep.” Rather than a secret village for “people who know too much,” it’s a boarding school…

The show *IS* The Prisoner, there’s simply no getting around that. If you’re going to steal, there are worse things to steal from than the best SF series of all time. If everything had to be original, then the first western ever made would be the last one ever made. The task, then, becomes ‘how do I put my own stamp on this and add something that wasn’t there in the original?’ They actually do a pretty good job of that. Far better than that crappy remake (In name only) of The Prisoner last year did.

I know, I know, that makes The Prisoner remake look pretty good, but don’t be fooled, it’s eight kinds of terrible, nine on Sunday (Review: http://www.republibot.com/content/episode-review-prisoner-remake-%E2%80%... ) I mention this simply to point out that if a high-budget, high-gloss production like that can’t pull off things as well as the original Prisoner can, then it’s pretty frackin’ remarkable that a goony-little mid-budget show on a kids network can. Or if they can’t, they at least got much closer. I don’t often say I’m impressed, but I am impressed here. As for the ‘original stamps,’ there are several substantial ones. This time out, our hero has allies - three other kids he bumps into while he’s trying to make a break for it. Secondly, everyone in the school seems to have a noteworthy abnormal ability. It’s not a superpower, this isn’t Professor X’s school for mutants and Canadians, the abilities we’ve seen all fall within the realm of normal, just extremely on the high end of it. One of the girls is a perfect mimic, another has the ability to instantly read body language, one of the guys has a sort of reverse-empathic ability to talk his way out of trouble, the fourth seems hyper-aware. There may be more to it than this. All the kids have no memory of how they got here, they were simply going about their lives and woke up in this place. There are no common threads to their experiences except a buzzing noise they heard immediately before their abduction. They’re told that their parents know where they are and approved of this, but that might be a lie. One of the kids has no memory of anything prior to the school, and has been there her entire life, perhaps, though even the details on this are fuzzy. Likewise, relationships in the school are more involved and complex than the rather pure Me vs. Them structure in the village. Our hero isn’t going it alone, and there are factions and cliques in the place. Unlike The Village, the line between prisoner and guard seems fairly obvious, but that is traded off for kids scraping for favor, or hiding their fears, or making alliances with each other and the staff. It’s interesting. That’s really the best thing I can say about it: it is genuinely interesting, and I couldn’t be more surprised. Every other live Cartoon Network show and movie has sucked out loud, but this one is pretty good: well acted, well cast*, well shot, well written - by Paul Dini!- and well scored. We’ll see if they can keep it up. I’m looking forward to more. NOTE: The series premier is Tuesday night at 8PM EST. Cartoon Network rather inexplicably decided to promote the series premier…by premiering the show three days early. Bizarre. I can’t imagine the thought process behind that. Anyway, if this review intrigued you, and you missed tonight’s showing, you’ve got another chance to check it out. WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE Are you kidding? Paranoia is our stock and trade! Heck yeah, Conservatives will love this show!

*- I particularly liked that the cast *looked* young. As with most shows about teens, the cast are young-looking actors in their early 20s. Unlike Unnatural History, however, the secondary cast didn't seem like grad students hanging around for some reason.