Hippo Manchester
September 15, 2005


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Prison Break

by Amy Diaz

Monday on Fox, 8 p.m.


How many of us really like our siblings enough to cover our bodies in a giant, intricate tattoo?

What does body art have to do with fraternal love? Well, if that tattoo includes instructions on getting out of jail and you plan to get it to your incarcerated brother by getting yourself locked up as well, Iíd say you must be deeply fond of your sibling. Deeply fond of them or stuck in the middle of an improbable Fox one-hour show.

Itís Foxís own fault that we get impatient with shows that seem stupid and overly complicated from the get-go. The X-Files proved no amount of coolness during the buildup will ensure coolness in the payoff. Dark Angel took great characters, fun atmospherics and an all-purpose evil government and, after one great season, gave us a season of dog-people. Now, Fox wants us to believe in a conspiracy that leads to the death of the vice presidentís brother and the conviction of an innocent man for that murder. And, that manís brother (deeply certain of his jailbird-brotherís innocence) has the ability to get in jail and work to get his brother out.

Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) knows a bit about the prison where his brother Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell) is being kept  ó  Scofield, after all, helped to build it. With his brother on death row and their legal options dried up, Scofield decides to tattoo a set of instructions for freeing himself and his brother on his body and commit a crime that will get him locked up. He enters prison all full of smug and idealism (criminal idealism, sure, but still idealism) but quickly realizes that his plans didnít take into account the volatility of the prison population. Meanwhile on the outside, Veronica (Robin Tunney), a lawyer close to the brothers, has decided to re-investigate Lincolnís murder conviction, stirring up all sorts of official governmental trouble.

As Oz proved, prison can be a great setting for some electric story telling. But Prison Break, as much as it likes its own premise, likes the conspiracy and government intrigue more than it should. The show spends about 60 percent of its time in the prison and about 40 percent of it in the free world. By concentrating so much on the outside characters, we lose some of the natural tension inside. Oz gave us a claustrophobic prison that, despite the liberal leanings of its staff, offered a bleak existence. Prison Break lets us off easy by taking us outside and showing us too much of a story (the conspiracy) that isnít nearly as interesting as the fate of these two brothers and their plans on the inside.

When the show does stay inside, the action and suspense is attention capturing ó not great drama, not even the action-thrill of 24 but not bad for the first few weeks of a show that has to build up steam with episodes. Miller isnít a great actor but he does scared and confused (while trying to appear calm) very well and that brings us (the non-incarcerated TV audience) into his terrifying world. If Fox can give the show the time to grow and Prison Break can keep its focus behind bars, we might have another fun Monday night amusement. ó Amy Diaz