'Prison Break': TV Review
This Fox series was probably better left dead, but if you actually liked the original you may find something of interest here.
Money, nostalgia, hope or entertainment value: Those are pretty much your reasons for resuscitating any old TV franchise, whether it's Full House or Twin Peaks or, in the case of Fox on Tuesday, Prison Break.
Of course, some of those reasons seem more cynical than others. It's easy to imagine that Showtime really wants Twin Peaks to contribute to the Platinum Age of Television and deliver some kind of art. It's less imaginable that Netflix was after something other than nostalgia and yet more content when it disturbed the gods of taste with Fuller House.
For Fox, well, it's hard to blame any broadcast network these days for reaching into the past for something that once worked, kinda, or at least has name recognition. It's so insanely difficult to get an audience at the network level today that this continued tapping into familiar franchises or crowd-pleasing genres is completely understandable.
But if you're going to dig up the bones of Prison Break, a one-trick pony that more than played out its game from 2005 to 2009, it might help to have better scripts.
Fans of Prison Break are, arguably, the only target for this exercise. Who else would even peer in, much less stay for more than a few minutes, when the entirety of Prison Break relies on knowing these characters from the past, their motivations, etc.? Why would anyone else want to know about them? It's not like they are being rebuilt from scratch with background information — they're just being tossed out there like, "Hey, remember T-Bag?"
And it's not like the story, a clunker that's slow to build and never believable as it takes shape, is going to hold anyone but the most nostalgic of diehards.
When you have to revive your main star from the dead, that's always a bad look. So many attempts in history, so few (any?) successes.
When the original series left the air, Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) was dead, his brother Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell) was free, his wife Sara (Sarah Wayne Callies) and child were grieving and everybody else in the cast was taking a breather from three-plus seasons and tacked-on specials of ludicrous and unbelievable plotlines, which were exhausting. If Prison Break had a point — and it had exactly one — it was pretty much dried up in the first season, and everything after was a brain-free exercise in entertaining fans who were willing to stick around and buy whatever was being sold, plot-wise.
That didn't stop Fox from believing that this new storyline, conjured from series creator and writer Paul Scheuring, would work. And so we get — gasp! — the realization that Michael is alive and in prison in Yemen. Repeat — he's not dead. He was dead. And before he was dead, he even had a brain tumor. Now he's not dead at all. But he's in a prison again. And he's reaching out, cryptically, to get the gang all back together to save him or perhaps even the world.
The twist here, and you should know that there will be multiple twists of dubious effectiveness and believability, could be that Michael really isn't who everybody thinks he is and maybe he's a Middle East terrorist, or at least a former American now fomenting dissent in the Middle East. And you'll just have to watch all nine episodes to find out if that's true, or if Scheuring and company abandon it somewhere along the way for another adrenaline rush tied to a bad idea.
Two episodes was about where my endurance level gave out, so your experience will undoubtedly be different. But the reality is that Prison Break in 2017 is basically a collection of ideas that Homeland passed on, if you can imagine that. It opens with a voiceover by dead Michael, who tells us that "the dead talk — if you listen."
It then moves on to Lincoln (Purcell), who has apparently done some backsliding when it comes to making good decisions (which, when you think about it, is kind of maddening — everybody worked their asses off to get him out for so damned long and he's messing up already). Anyway, the next introduction is T-Bag (Robert Knepper) because he's a fan favorite, but upon his release from prison (hey, he served most of the time), he walks into a storyline that, frankly, looks like it comes from CBS' cyber medical series Pure Genius, which employed Augustus Prew as its lead character. Prew is back on Prison Break as the whitest person in Yemen with the best hair. Anyway, what's happening medically with T-Bag is best left unexplained.
C-Note is also back, and it's a good reminder that Rockmond Dunbar is solid no matter what dialogue you give him (including "Greetings from the U.S. prison system, bitches!," so that's really saying something).
Heavy, prolonged sigh.
If you liked Prison Break before and also love nostalgia, you don't need to be told to go for it. Fox, which likes money and hopes this show entertains millions of people in the process, shouldn't get too much blame for doing what the current environment demands of broadcast networks.
But everybody else should and probably will be doing something, anything, other than watching.
Cast: Wentworth Miller, Dominic Purcell. Sarah Wayne Callies, Robert Knepper, Rockmond Dunbar, Amaury Nolasco, Augustus Prew, Paul Adelstein
Created and written by: Paul Scheuring
Premieres: Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET/PT (Fox)
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