Friday, March 23, 2012

'Breakout Kings' Season One (2011)

Starring Laz Alonso, Domenick Lombardozzi and Jimmi Simpson
Created by Nick Santora and Matt Olmsted

I was originally enamored with the first season of Fox's 'Prison Break' when that show premiered.  As its quality dropped off considerably and quickly, I lost track of it, though I was aware that some sort of spinoff was in the works. That eventually became 'Breakout Kings.'

U.S. Marshals Charlie Duchamp (Laz Alonso) and Ray Zancanelli (Domenick Lombardozzi) have an unusual proposal for a fugitive task force: to use talented convicts to help catch other convicts who escape from prison.  In exchange, these convicts get a month off their lengthy sentences for each convict they help put back behind bars.

For this team, Duchamp and Zancanelli collect a handful of cons with unique abilities.  Shea Daniels (Malcolm Goodwin) is a former gang leader with all kinds of inside scoop and connections within the prison system as well as the criminal underworld along the East Coast.  Erica Reed (Serinda Swan) is a former bounty hunter doing a rap for gun charges, though she's suspected in the murders of several men who killed her father.  Finally, Dr. Lloyd Lowery (Jimmi Simpson) is a highly intelligent former professor of behavioral psychology who was convicted of writing prescriptions in order to cover his massive gambling debts.  Also on the team is young Julianne Simms (Brooke Nevin) who washed out of the Marshals academy, but was rescued from obscurity by her mentor Zancanelli, who still thinks she can make a great contribution to law and order.

Together this strange group will figure out the next move of each escaped convict, track them down, and allow Duchamp and Zancanelli to make the arrests.  The only problem is that none of them really quite trust each other.  And if one of them runs, then they all go back to prison ... with their sentences doubled.

'Breakout Kings' was originally developed for the Fox network, which ultimately passed on the project but the pilot was picked up by basic cable channel A&E.  I was aware of it as the production began, but knew little other than it was a spinoff of 'Prison Break', which I had long since lost interest in.  What garnered my interest in 'Breakout Kings' at all was a guest appearance by arguably 'Prison Break's most entertaining character: Theodore 'T-Bag' Bagwell.

Thankfully, the first season of 'Breakout Kings' can be streamed from Netflix, so I decided to give it a go.

'Breakout Kings' is a procedural - each episode is a self-contained story that follows a rather strict format.  Each episode begins with a convict or convicts breaking out of prison and going on the run, usually leaving a stack of dead bodies in their wake.  The three Breakout Kings cons are rounded up from their minimum security digs and brought to their secret Batcave hideout in Brooklyn where they go through a bunch of files, go out in the field to help search for convicts, get the psychological rundown of the perp from Lloyd, and then Ray and Charlie make the arrest and everyone goes back to prison.

Watching all the episodes in rather quick succession, this format becomes almost painfully obvious.  Despite this, 'Breakout Kings' remains a fairly enjoyable, if repetitive, experience.  Beyond just the fact that every episode seems to follow the same mold, there are a number of conversations that are ostensibly supposed to be character development but that basically just serve to make sure new viewers are never lost no matter which episode is their first.  We are constantly reminded that Ray and Charlie don't trust the convicts, constantly reminded that Erica has a child and she won't jeopardize her chance to get out early by running or allowing the other two to run, etc.  It can get kind of grating.

That said, in and of themselves, the episodes are pretty good.  The cast are all decent, if mostly unremarkable.  The standout here is really Jimmi Simpson's Lloyd character, even though Simpson has made something of a career for himself playing weirdos, this is probably the first one that could be described as 'lovable'.  Despite Lloyd's keen insight into human behavior, he's socially awkward and often makes jokes that the others find weird or unfunny, but that the audience should find hilarious.  It's obvious that the writers and Simpson are the ones on the show having the most fun with Lloyd, while the other characters are all basic and not particularly memorable in any other way.

We're often told Charlie Duchamp is a desk jockey with no real field experience due to a heart condition, but episode after episode sees him kicking down doors and chasing perps and he is in fantastically good shape despite this flaw.  In fact, the concept only comes up twice in the first season, just when it's remarkably convenient.   Meanwhile, Lombardozzi does his best Vic Mackey impersonation but it comes off as just that.  Shea is your typical smart-talkin' gang leader and Erica is the tough hottie with anger issues.  And Jules is the sweet, quiet one in the corner.  The show throws each of them a few bones here or there, but for the most part these characters just go through the motions to catch the bad guys each week.  But then, it is a procedural after all, and that's par for the course.

It's ironic, then, that the best episode of the season and the only one that really features any kind of great character work is "The Bag Man," in which T-Bag (Robert Knepper) escapes once more from Fox River and goes on a murderous rampage to kill the men who apparently raped his mother in her nursing home, and then attempts to go see her before she dies.  There's a complexity to the T-Bag character on display here that's fascinating both to the audience and to Lloyd.  This episode was the reason I wanted to watch this show, and it didn't disappoint.

So despite it's repetitive nature and mostly bland characters, 'Breakout Kings' is pretty enjoyable.  It doesn't really push any boundaries, even being on cable the violence isn't any worse than you'd have seen if the show aired on Fox, though the occasional "shit" gets thrown in there to remind us that we are on cable. The show has already started airing its second season.  We'll see if it improves, but even if it doesn't - that's not necessarily a bad thing.