Prison Break:  Season One         ««««

(2006, Twentieth Century Fox)(16x9 Widescreen, 22 episodes, 6 discs)(Availiable in DVD and Blu-Ray)

 

 

 

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        Prison Break was perhaps one of the greatest millennial serial television shows.  It helped launch the serial television trend of the mid 2000s, following the lead of 24, Lost, and Battlestar Galactica.  Originally conceived as a several part miniseries, Prison Break became an unstoppable juggernaut that kept going long after the escape.  In deed, breaking out was just the beginning.  And every season the show came back with new and innovative directions to take the series.

 

         Originally I had mixed feeling about season one of Prison Break, but it was just too engrossing to walk away from.  As entertaining as the story of the prison break is, there are two minor problems with the show.  First, the plot has a conspiracy element that’s a bit excessive.   It’s a catch-22 situation.  The conspiracy element serves the plot by providing an explaination as to why the lead character of Lincoln Burrows as been framed for murder, and it gives the show a overarching nemises.  But on the flip-side, the conspiracy detracts from the show at times, taking you out of the show reality.  Starting with the framing of one man for a murder that he didn’t commit, the conspiracy quickly reached the top levels of government and beyond.  But the conspiracy subplot is forgivable, given the compelling drama of the main plot at the prison.

 

         A second problem with the first season, and the series by-in-large, is that the plot gets stretched out too much and becomes too contrived.  Several rather convenient plot devices show up that prolong the escape; cell mates change, the map is corrupted, the execution date changed, etc., etc.  A certain level of leeway is necessary, given the premise that Michael Scofield disguises the prison blueprints and his escape plan in a full-body tattoo, but eventually the plan becomes so convoluted that the complexity of the escape pushes the bounds of believability.  Still, the mystery of the escape is so intriguing and adieus that you suspend any disbelief.

 

         The plot of season one follows three main story arks.  First is the prison story, Lincoln Burrows is on death row for the murder of the vice president’s brother.  Lincoln’s brother, Michael Scofield, intentionally holds up a bank to get sent to the same prison as him with a plan to break him out.  The second story ark follows a lawyer friend of Michael and Lincoln’s who takes up Lincoln’s case and uncovers a conspiracy.  The final ark follows the vice president, who attempts to foil Michael’s plans, keep the conspiracy under wraps, and engages in a power struggle with The Company (a multinational conglomerate.)    

 

         The setup is brilliant.  Michael Scofield has planned the escape down to the smallest detail.  At the very beginning Michael has an entire wall covered in newspaper articles, blueprints, and other paraphernalia that give subtle clues to the plan.  He discovers the location of a key witness to a mob hit in order to coerce mob boss John Abruzzi into aiding the prison escape by arranging transportation.  Michael also discovers the true identity of the infamous D.B. Cooper hijacking, giving him access to money he'll need once he's on the outside.  He also researches the background of the prison warden and doctor so that he can manipulate himself into their graces and thus into key areas of the prison necessary for the escape.

 

         The cast of the show is exceptional, with maybe one or two exceptions.  Peter Stormare (The Big Lebowski) is perfectly cast at the former mob boss John Abruzzi, who is caught in a power play by the mafia to force him into getting Michael to reveal the location of the prosecution witness, Fibinoci.  Wade Williams, who plays the head prison guard Brad Bellick, delivers a captivating performance as the devious and crooked guard who shakes down the inmates, is on the mafia take, and yet presents a very menacing threat to the escape.  But the prison character that steals the show in every scene is Robert Knepper (The Transporter 3) as “T-Bag.”  T-Bag is one of the best villains ever seen on television.  He so deliciously and deviously evil, that you find yourself rooting for the character.  Much like BSG’s Giaus Baltar, he’s able to manipulate every situation to his advantage.

  

         Dominic Parcell (Blade Trinity) does a good job playing the character of Lincoln Burrows.  There’s a subtleness to the performance that makes you believe that he’s tough enough to command the fear and respect of the other prisoners, but that there’s still good in him worthy of rescuing.  Robin Tunney (End of Days) does a good enough job portraying the stalwart attorney tirelessly working to exonerate Lincoln.  Giving a very impressive performance as the prison doctor, Sara Tancredi, is Sarah Wayne Callies.  To both seek redemption and rebel against her father she attempt to help others in whatever way she can, but she’s smart enough to see through Michael’s facade.  And last but not least, Wentworth Miller gives a commanding performance as Michael Scofield.  He’s a compelling protagonist, risking everything to save the life of his brother, but struggling to make the moral compromised necessary.

 

         In some respect, Prison Break was marketed as the next 24, and in a lot of ways it was.  It breaks from the real time aspect of 24, yet it stays time compressed and adrenaline filled.  The series is full of unexpected twists and turns that keep you on the edge guessing what will happen next.  And despite the rather eccentric premise of the show, it has a remarkable amount of realism.  It’s a show about a prison, and bad things happen there.  It doesn’t shy away from the rapes, murders, shankings, and race conflicts that happen within a prison.  Outside the prison the show goes a little wayward, but inside the shit gets real.

 

        Season one of Prison Break was nothing short of brilliant.  Not since Lost had a show presented as much mystery and intrigue.  And like Lost, Prison Break rooted itself in the characters.  By the end of the season you find yourself rooting for the motley crew of criminals that Scofield breaks out, despite their being murders, thieves, etc.  You’re so engrossed in the stories of these characters, that you don’t want it to end.  Every show has its flaws, but the truly great ones get you to look passed the defects and become invested in the characters and their story.

 

 

Extra Features

 

         It is the rare DVD set that receives worthy extra features.  But Prison Break: Season One is just such a set.  Loaded with commentaries and features, Fox gave Prison Break top treatment. When a network really believes in a series it shows, and Prison Break is a great example of this.  No less than three behind the scenes featurettes were filmed for season one, and one was even shown on television as a extra episode.

 

         It’s also evident that the creators and actors were passionate about this series.  Numerous creators, producers, and actors sat down for interviews that appear in the featurettes.  And a multitude of producers, writes, and actors contributed to the episodes commentaries.  Nearly a quarter of the episodes have commentaries, and several of those have multiple tracks with different groups of actors and show creators.  Prison Break: Season One is guaranteed to please every fan and increase one’s appreciation for the series.

 

 

 

Commentaries: Numerous actors, writers, and producers offer commentary on a variety of episodes.  It’s fairly meaty, with good insight into the show and its creation.  Though a good deal of the actor commentaries veer into praise for their fellow actors and uninteresting antic-dotes about shooting certain scenes. 

Making of Prison Break:  This behind-the-scenes featurette looks at the creation of the show through cast interviews and discussion with show creators.

If These Walls Could Speak –Profile of the Joliet Correctional Center:  An in-depth look is taken at the real life prison that served as the set to Prison Break.

Beyond the Ink Tattoo:  This featurette takes an in-depth look at the design of Michael’s tattoo art and how the clues were incorporated into the tattoo design.

Making a Scene

Deleted Scenes

 

 

 

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