TV Talk: Prison Break
Starring: Dominic Purcell, Wentworth Miller, Sarah Wayne Callies, Amaury Nolasco, Robert Knepper, Rockmond Dunbar, Wade Williams, Paul Adelstein, Marshall Allman, William Fichtner
Series Creator: Paul Scheuring
Here’s the thing: Prison Break is not a very smart show. It’s just not. It’s tonnes of fun and as exciting as anything you’ll watch on television, delivering a rollercoaster ride of thrills more often than not, but… you have to accept that it’s not very smart or you’re never going to enjoy it.
Now, I’m not saying it’s completely devoid of intelligence, like some shows I’ve been known to watch. Delivering the type of excitement and thrills it manages week in and week out requires some real skill, and the high concept nature of the show requires some brains to make it work. But, I don’t know if I’ve ever watched a show that requires audiences to make so many leaps of faith and to forgive so many obvious contrivances as this show does. It’s not sophisticated; it’s not nuanced, but it’s a lot of fun. Basically, the sophistication of this show can best be summed up in the following four words: Executive Producer Brett Ratner.
I recognise that you have to take this show and some of its ridiculous premises with a grain of salt, and I usually do. It’s often pretty easy to let things go by with a quick eye roll, because the frenetic pacing and charismatic performances will usually rush you into the next scene (unless a scene involves some of the charisma-free characters to have popped in the show, like the now-departed Veronica [Robin Tunney] or the annoying LJ [Marshall Allman], then you just have to grit your teeth and hope the scene will end soon).
The show was at its best when it was rushing along headfirst into achieving the premise promised by its title. It slipped up a bit after its first season midseason hiatus, when it got picked up for a full slate of episodes and suddenly had to adjust the rigid time frame it had set for itself. Suddenly, a series drama that seemed like the anti-Lost, where it was almost fully plot-driven and operated under the confines of a set due date (the execution of Dominic Purcell‘s Lincoln Burrows) started stalling for time, pushing back Linc’s execution, throwing in more hiccups to Michael’s (Wentworth Miller) master plan, and, worst of all, had a flashback episode. But, eventually, they stopped their delay tactics and actually broke out of prison to end the first season, ending on an exciting high note.
I suppose, technically, the show stopped being Prison Break at that point, and became Prison Broke. But they managed to keep the thrill ride going to start the second season, using the thrill of the chase to power the action, having the Fox River Eight escapees struggle to stay ahead of the law and their new dogged and mysterious pursuer, Agent Mahone (William Fichtner).
Surprisingly, the second season may have managed to improve upon the first, even without all the prison threats and situations. Having their characters on the outside has proven as unconfined for the show as it is for the characters. They have much more freedom to pursue different ideas and scenarios without dealing with the restrictions of prison or the ticking clock of Linc’s impending execution. Also, the addition of Fichtner as Michael’s foil was an excellent move, who has proved a much more challenging opponent than Correctional Officer Bellick (Wade Wiliams) did in season one.
The show also made sure to keep things exciting by killing someone every episode. They started things right by offing the completely useless and horrifyingly stupid Veronica in the season premiere, and the hits kept on coming. Abruzzi bought it next (presumably so Peter Stormare could have more time to make terrible, terrible Volkswagen commercials), then Governor Tancredi (John Heard), then Tweener (Lane Garrison), then Geary (Matt DeCaro), then Papa Burrows (Anthony John Denison), then Mahone (well, probably… I guess we won’t know if he’s actually dead until after the break), alongside a whole score of innocent bystanders. My money is on Bill Kim (Reggie Lee) as the next to die. Who do you guys have in the pool?
It was all very exciting and fun seeing the cons criss-cross the country in their escapes, pursuing Westmoreland’s (Muse Watson) money and all that. I was enjoying this season a lot, forgiving it for things like horrendous continuity problems and all-too-convenient happenstance. I was even willing to let them keep having T-Bag (Robert Knepper) continue his seemingly bionic rampage throughout the Midwest, even though his continued existence, never mind savage dominance, was beyond ridiculous, mostly because Knepper is really good and a highlight of the show. But they finally pushed me too far, demanding too big a leap of faith, and came up with something so stupid that it’s affecting my entire enjoyment of the show: the arrest of Bellick for Geary’s murder.
Holy shit is this entire storyline retarded. Yes, I get how Bellick would be the prime suspect in Geary’s murder (at the hand of T-Bag – yes, hand is singular). The receipt and voicemail are damning enough to provide motive and put him at the scene of the crime. However, a rudimentary autopsy to determine time of death would be all that Bellick would need to clear himself of all charges. Why? Cause at the time of Geary’s murder, Bellick was probably being inteviewed while at the hospital by the same detective who arrested him for the murder. End of story.
But wait, it gets dumber: not only do they not check into things like alibis on this show, they also manage to arrest, arraign, try, plea-bargain, sentence, and extradite suspects in the process of one or two days (the show mentions that only ten days have passed since the first episode of the season, so its not like they just sped up months of Bellick’s life for one episode). Bellick is actually in his new Fox River cell in his prisoner’s uniform before Michael and Lincoln, who were recaptured before Bellick ever got his plea offer, even make it to the state of Illinois! The idea of it is making me a little angry right now in frustration, and it’s been two weeks since I watched it happen. Seriously, this is some of the dumbest shit I’ve ever seen on television.
If that wasn’t a big enough insult to the intelligence of the viewers, the show goes one step viewer: to avoid the death sentence, Bellick pleaded guilty (to a crime he didn’t commit) so that he could serve 25 years at his old prison, Fox River, thinking he’ll have it easy with all his old C.O. buddies looking after him. Except in this universe, former C.O.s aren’t put into protective custody like law enforcement officials are in our universe, but instead are put into the general population they used to police! Unfuckingbelievable.
The worst part of all this is that the show obviously rushed along this entire stupid plotline as a mechanism to get Bellick into Fox River as an inmate, so they could do some episodes where he gets his just desserts for all the abuses he once inflicted on prisoners there. The problem is that I find every side-story not involving Michael and Lincoln or the overall conspiracy behind Linc’s framing for murder terribly dull. Whenever the show cuts away to Sucre (Amaury Nolasco) chasing after Maricruz (Camille Guaty) or C-Note (Rockmond Dunbar) and his family, I lose interest. All I care about is the main plot, and those directly relating to it (so the stuff with Sarah Tancredi [Sarah Wayne Callies] or Kellerman [Paul Adelstein] still interests me, as they tie in with the main plot), and maybe T-Bag’s stuff, cause Knepper is great and I think stopping his rampage and getting back Westermoreland’s money will eventually become a plotline for Michael and Linc. So they really didn’t need to give Bellick something else to do, just have him continue his bounty hunter thing till the show kills him off.
Hopefully, I’ll be able to get past this stupidity as I have other ridiculous premises this show has presented me, so I can keep enjoying my one-hour Monday night thrill ride. But… it’s not going to be easy.