Prison Break: Season One review by Mike Long

Over the years, we've seen many television shows which were influenced by movies. These were sometimes spin-offs from feature films and sometimes they were shows which inspired by (i.e.: copied) successful movies. And, especially in the last decade, we've seen dozens of movies which were taken from TV shows. But, how many times have you seen a TV show, and thought, "Shouldn't this be a movie?" That was my initial impression when I heard the premise for Prison Break, a show which sounded like a one-trick pony. But, now that I've watched Prison Break: Season One on DVD, I know that the show has a great deal of depth.

As Prison Break opens, we learn that Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell) is one death row awaiting execution, having been convicted of murdering the vice president's brother. We then meet Lincoln's brother, Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller), who is arrested for robbing a bank. Despite the pleas of his attorney and friend, Veronica Donovan (Robin Tunney), Michael pleads no contest and allows himself to be sentenced to prison -- the same prison where his brother is being held. It seems that Michael has a plan to break his brother out of prison. Michael has studied every detail of the facility and has the blueprints of the prison tattooed on his body.

However, when Michael arrives at Fox River Penitentiary, he finds that all of his planning and studying hasnt prepared him for all of the aspects of prison life. His cellmate is a lovelorn man named Sucre (Amaury Nolasco), who is desperate to see his fiance. Part of Michaels plan involves the prisons infirmary, and he begins to see the complicated Dr. Sara Tancredi (Sarah Wayne Callies) everyday. Michael learns that the warden (Stacy Keach) is a level-headed man, but some of the guards, especially Captain Bellick (Wade Williams) are brutal. As the date of Lincolns execution draws closer, Michael makes friends and enemies as he attempts to carry out his plan. Meanwhile, Veronica begins to investigate Lincolns claims that he was framed and begins to uncover a conspiracy that could endanger everyone involved.

So, the idea of Prison Break, the fact that a man is going to free his innocent brother from death row, sounds very simplistic and doesnt sound like the kind of thing which could sustain an entire season of television. And yet, despite some fits and starts, the 966-minutes of the first season of the show is exciting and easily draws the viewer into the story.

One of the main reasons that Prison Break works is the writing on the show. Series creator Paul Scheuring and his staff. They have clearly put an amazing amount of thought and planning into the show, and the story is very, very detailed. Michael has put a great deal of work into his escape plan and the show examines many of the minute details of this multi-layered scheme. And, as noted above, Michael runs into unexpected obstacles once he reaches prison, and these really bring the story to life. Essentially, Michael is a brilliant man who was able to devise an elaborate plot, but he couldnt predict the behavior of his fellow inmates. As he attempts to set his plan into motion, hes continually stymied by the violent and greedy behavior of his fellow inmates. Michaels plan to only have a small group involved in the endeavor grows out of control, and this adds many interesting characters to the story.

And its these characters that add another layer to Prison Break. Yes, the shows gives us the usual array of stereotypical characters -- the Mafioso, the child-killer, the hustler, the petty-criminal -- but these characters are also given a great deal of depth and this only increases the drama. In fact, there is one episode late in the season which is comprised solely of flashbacks as we learn the stories of several of characters and come to learn how they got to Fox River. The show creates a complex network of sympathetic characters and villains and their interactions with Michael creates a nice sense of drama and suspense. The show does an especially good job of creating situations where Michael must trust a character that weve come to hate. Obviously, these characters are bolstered by the actors on the show who are all good, especially the Wentworth Miller as the stoic Michael Scofield. As Miller is asked to carry the show, he does a fine job of portraying a man who has taken on a daunting task and occasionally gives in to his demons.

My only complaint about Prison Break is the shows inconsistency. The first few episodes of the show are very intense and I immediately found myself caught up in the story. However, these episodes were also very bleak and watching them back-to-back was a harrowing experience. And then suddenly, much-needed levity found its way into the show. (This has the earmarks of a mandate from the network and, for once, its welcome.) The first half of the season does a great job of examining Michaels plan and each episode deals with a different facet of his scheme. (And these are usually hidden in the intricate details of his tattoos.) But, the second half of the season gets away from this idea and the show becomes somewhat repetitive as Michaels plans are constantly forced to change due to mitigating circumstances. The show goes from being a sort of James Bond in prison to a more conventional undertaking. Dont get me wrong, the show maintains its suspense and its one of the most shocking shows that Ive ever watched as many characters dont survive, but I found that I enjoyed the earlier episodes more than the later ones.

This may sound odd, but Im always wary of new shows on FOX because of the annoying way in which they hype them. Every program on the network is the funniest or most exciting or most dramatic show ever made! I dont expect them to question the quality of their own shows, but they make outlandish claims that are rarely unfulfilled. So when Prison Break was advertised as an exciting new show, I initially passed. Im now glad that I took a chance on the show, as I found it be very engaging and addictive.

Prison Break: Season One escapes onto DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. This six-disc boxed set contains all 22 episodes from the shows first season. The shows are letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfers are enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image here is just as unpredictable as the show itself. At times, the image is very sharp and clear. However, in many of the daytime outdoors scenes, the characters are surrounded by fences. These fences create a great deal of pixellation and video noise that is hard to dismiss. (Even my wife, who rarely notices such things, commented on it.) There was notable pixellation in some non fence scenes as well. On the plus side, the colors are good, especially those which jump out against the stark grey backdrop of the prison. The widescreen framing looks good here. The DVDs carry a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which also has ups and downs. The dialogue is sharp and clear, and the tracks show no hissing or distortion. The stereo effects are good, and the closing of the cells offers a nice rumble from the subwoofer. However, the surround sound is very weak. Even during the prison riots, the amount of sound coming from the rear speakers wasnt very impressive.

This DVD set contains a fine assortment of extra features. Six episodes contain AUDIO COMMENTARIES from a variety of speakers. Creator Paul Scheuring and actor Dominic Purcell contribute to four of the commentaries, and executive producer Brett Ratner talks over the Pilot which he directed. The other commentaries feature various writers, directors and actors. All of these commentaries are very informative, but the ones which feature a large group, such as Riots, Drills, and the Devil (Parts 1 & 2) are very entertaining as the speakers have a good time kidding around. The episodes Allen, And Then There Were 7, Brothers Keeper, and J-Cat all offer deleted scenes, all of which are brief and dont contain any new info. There is an alternate ending to the episode End of the Tunnel, which actually ends the episode earlier than the one which actually aired.

The remainder of the extras appear on Disc 6. Making of Prison Break (31 minutes) is featurette which offers comments from cast and crew, as they discuss the development of the show, the cast & characters, the location, and the acting & writing style of the series. As the show is shot in an actual prison, If These Walls Could Speak: Profile of Joliet Correctional Center (9 minutes) gives a detailed history of the facility which closed in 2002. Beyond the Ink (16 minutes) is a look at Michaels tattoo. Tattoo artist Tom Berg describes his work on the show, but the segment doesnt spend enough time on how the fake tattoo is applied to Miller. Fox Movie Channel Presents: Making a Scene -- Prison Break is an 8-minute featurette which again introduces viewers to the show and describes shooting in the real prison. The extras are rounded out by a series of 6 TV SPOTS.


8 out of 10 Jackasses

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