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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Tuesday, August 30, 2005 - 08:14 am:   

First TV show of the new fall season, sampled by me, is Fox's PRISON BREAK:
a show that even by reputation teetered on such a overwhelming tower of contrivance
that only brilliant execution could have saved it.

I had heard a lot about the show -- enough to know that it was beyond ridiculous
-- and watched the first half of the first episode out of sheer morbid curiosity.

Guys, it is even more contrived than I thought.

I report it here because, as Mark Twain once reported about an awful novel he
received in his hilarious essay, "A Cure For the Blues," nobody could possibly
match this, not even an idiot.

Concept, for those not in the know: a guy gets himself sentenced to prison so
he can break out his innocent condemned brother before execution.

Let's count the contrivances in the first forty-five minutes.

Again. The first forty-five minutes.

Contrivance #1.

His brother is in prison, convicted of killing the vice president's brother.

Contrivance #2.

He is in fact innocent, and the conspiracy to hide this fact seems to go all
the way up to the Secret Service. The conspiracy is willing to kill people to
make sure the execution goes on as scheduled.

Contrivance #3.

Our hero knows this.

Contrivance #4.

He is willing to commit an actual crime to get himself tossed into prison alongside
his brother; he is able to time his trial and conviction so he actually makes
it behind bars before his brother is executed; he is further able to request
a Chicago-area prison for family reasons and is lucky enough to be sent to the
same prison where his condemned brother resides. His entire plan depends on
the judge cooperating with his preferences. But it works. Whoo.

Contrivance #5.

Despite the magnitude of his brother's alleged crime, the authorities have no
idea that our hero is related to him. The press doesn't get the story either.
One would think the conviction of an assassin's brother would at least make
the papers. Or that the legal system would be careful about sending them to
the same place. But no...

Contrivance #6.

Our hero happened to work for an engineering firm responsible for major renovations
to the prison. Because the firm charged with the job secretly sub-contracted
the work, to another firm that did the same, nobody in power knows that our
hero knows the way out. Again, this is fortunate, as one would expect authorities
to send a convicted felon to a prison other than the one he fucking built.

Contrivance #7.

Our hero's beautiful lady attorney used to be the one true love of our hero's

Contrivance #8.

Our hero manages to get up close to an imprisoned gangster with connections
he desperately needs -- a gangster who (I was unclear on this point) has been
linked to the brother since childhood.

Contrivance #9.

Our hero is lucky enough to attract the attention of a warden obsessed with
building a model of the Taj Mahal from popsicle sticks -- no, I'm not kidding
-- who, unlike the rest of the authorities, knows our hero's engineering background,
and is perfectly willing to ignore minor violations like brawling in the yard
as long as our hero is willing to show up for an hour a day and help him with
it. This stroke of luck keeps our hero from spending his first month in prison,
including his brother's execution date, in solitary. It could not have been
planned for. So, like: whew.

Contrivance #10.

Contact with the gangster, who controls the prison's industries, gets our hero
another prime job whitewashing walls, alongside his brother. Of course, prisoners
on death row don't really get prison jobs, but hey. Whew.

Contrivance #11.

Our hero has managed to sneak a notation onto his medical records to the effect
that he's a diabetic. This gets him into the prison's vulnerable hospital for
daily insulin shots. Fortunately, he is able to quickly make contact with another
prisoner who can smuggle in drugs, and get him an insulin blocker. Again, whew.

Contrivance #12.

I am not fucking kidding about this one. There is a prison-wide rumor that a
certain lifer who wanders around with a cat under one arm is actually the famous
hijacker, D.B. Cooper. He vociferously denies it. But our hero KNOWS FOR A FACT
that this guy has a fortune waiting for him, outside, and is willing to risk
his entire plan on this guy being willing to join him on the escape, being able
to access his loot, and being willing to use it to help him and his brother
flee the country. How he knows this has not been established. No doubt there's
backstory still to come. But, hey.

Contrivance #13.

I am not fucking kidding about this one, either. Our hero evidently doesn't
trust his own memory regarding the prison blueprints, and evidently needs EVERY
LAST DETAIL of the prison's construction, and not just, you know, knowledge
of the one weak spot. So he has had them tattooed on his body in a fresco that
covers every inch of skin from beltline to collarline. That includes his arms,
all the way to his wrists. He has had time to do this, while hatching the plan
to rescue his brother. He has managed to design a tattoo that so cunningly hides
the blueprint elements with the standard dragons, etc, that nobody can see every
last alcove in the prison, delineated therein. And yet, when his brother initially
fails to see the tattoo's significance, he is able to confidently say, "Look
again." The brother squints, and lo and behold, the elements seem to refigure,
just like in a "Magic-Eye" 3-D poster, into blueprints so detailed that you
could use him to build another prison, identical to the first. Whew.

Contrivance #14.

Even if he does succeed in escaping with his brother, he's somehow gonna have
to remain at large with an identifying mark like that, for the rest of his life.

Contrivance #15.

Having done this, and gone to all this trouble, he is really, really lucky that
his brother isn't, like, transferred to another prison before execution. Whew.

Contrivance #16.

The conspiracy murders somebody in his sleep, somewhere o ut in the world, and
our hero's attorney is immediately driven to the conclusion that, whoah, our
hero's telling the truth. She doesn't say, whoah, this is probably a tragic
coincidence, because of all the other impossibilities I'm then expected to believe.
She just says something to the effect of, "My God, he's right."

All this in the first forty-five minutes, before I gave up.

The show also had room for a heartrending scene between the condemned brother
and his estranged son, who is flirting with delinquency and is not scared straight
by the father who is already dead to him.

Forty five minutes.

I did not watch the show's second hour, nor will I be watching the regular weekly

I do wonder just what kind of long-term plan this show thinks it has. I mean,
it is called Prison Break, and the oafish brother in need of rescue has less
than four weeks before his execution. So, even assuming that the show has a
one-day-per-episode plan like LOST, the prison break itself will have to be,
at least, imminent, by the end of the first full season. At which point, honestly,
the show becomes THE FUGITIVE. And unless our hero has some kind of ingenious
plan for getting laser tattoo erasure, while on the run, it's not gonna be much
fun for him, evading the law with that thing on his skin AND a brother who is
a fugitive on the level of a Presidential assassin. Nor is he gonna have much
fun tracking down and smashing the vile conspiracy. But by the time you get
into all that, will the show still be called PRISON BREAK? As opposed to FUGITIVES

Guys, if this is not the dumbest dramatic show tv has seen in years, I want
a quick look at the dumber one...
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John Joseph Adams
Posted on Tuesday, August 30, 2005 - 06:43 pm:   

Boy, howdy. Thanks for that review. Guess I can just delete that off my DVR without any fear of missing something good. I was kind of skeptical of it to begin with, which now seems 100% justified. :-)
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Posted on Tuesday, August 30, 2005 - 09:00 pm:   

As I have said elsewhere, it is almost worth seeing that first hour just to stare in slack-jawed amazement. It is being re-run on Thursday.
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Posted on Tuesday, November 29, 2005 - 03:11 pm:   

PRISON BREAK continues, a major hit. But the heroes are not yet out from behind them thar walls.

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