Revisiting Prison Break Season 1 (2005-2006)

I was a huge fan of Prison Break when it was on. But, it didn’t seem like anyone else I knew was. While everyone else was raving about Lost, I was completely absorbed with the adventures of genius Michael Scofield first breaking his brother Lincoln Burrows out of an Illinois prison along with several other inmates and then stay free as best they could. I caught a good deal of ribbing over the series, especially as it went on and some of the gang wound up in yet another prison. The key to enjoying Prison Break, though is to suspend your disbelief ever so much to the point where you don’t mind that so much scheming can take place within prison walls and just let the break-neck pace take over.

My interest in the show was rejuvenated by last week’s episode of Breakout Kings which is not only by the same people who did this show, but also set in the same universe as killer and all around creep T-Bag made an appearance. With that, I jumped back into the series, looking forward to actually finishing it this time around because, for reasons I can’t remember, I fell off towards the end of the series and missed the ending.

It’s been three days since that episode of Breakout Kings and I just finished the first season, so I guess you could say I’m just as wrapped up in the show as I was back then. As I watch the episodes, I’m kind of surprised that I was able to stay sane as I watched this series week in and week out. There is SO MUCH going on and huge cliffhangers. It actually reminded me of something I read on Horror Movie A Day that Roger Corman said in respect to creating a TV movie as opposed to a theatrical one: you have to keep people interested so they don’t change the channel. Prison Break has that in spades which is what kept me so invested. If you’re unfamiliar with the idea, Burrows was accused of killing the vice president’s brother, but he really didn’t do it. As he’s coming close to the date of his execution his brother Scofield tries to rob a bank that gets him locked up in the same prison. Of course, this is all part of the plan. See, Michael wants to save his brother, so he’s done a crazy amount of research on both inmates and the building (his engineering firm worked on the prison’s renovations), puts a lot of that research into a tattoo covering most of his body, enlists the help of other cons who have what he needs (transportation, money, connections) and gets to work on breaking out. While his plan is sound, Scofield soon finds out that he can’t plan for every eventuality.

The “everything that can go wrong will go wrong” theme of the show can not be denied, but damn, does it make for some exciting drama. How are they going to deal with a different team working in the place they’re digging their escape route? How will they get Burrows out of solitary? What will they do when certain guards discover their plot? It’s all pretty intense and the writing feels fluid, like they planned most or all of the season out ahead of time instead of just seeing where it all took them. I like that in a series. The performances by the leads is also spot on. Sure, it gets melodramatic at times, especially between Burrows and Scofielf, but I think everyone nails their roles. These are complex individuals with multiple angles to their personalities. Even the murderous hillbilly T-Bag is fascinating to watch on screen as he’s one of the few main characters who doesn’t have a soft side or an honorable reason to want to escape. Damn that dude is creepy.

The show also gets bonus points for mentioning my hometown of Toledo several times. Stacey Keach plays the warden of the prison who used to work in Toledo. There was an incident with his illegitimate son that wound up in death. It doesn’t really have anything to do with T-Town, but it’s fun hearing it mentioned on TV. Slight point deduction for mocking up a newspaper called The Toledo Gazette, though, when the actual paper is called The Blade. It’s a shitty paper though, so I understand why they wouldn’t want to use it.

If you’ve never watched Prison Break before, I highly recommend giving the first season a shot. All four seasons are available on Netflix Instant and the TV movie that brought everything to a close is rentable on DVD. I can’t speak to how well it finishes just, which is a huge part of any show like this, but I know that the first three seasons are a real rollercoaster of fun and insanity. I’ve already kicked off Season Two and watching William Fitcher’s Alex Mahone matching wits with Scofield is already a treat I look forward to seeing more of in the coming days/seasons.

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