Now Playing: PRISON BREAK
I don't know why it took the networks almost five years to rip off 24, but Fox finally did it with the new series PRISON BREAK, which debuted tonight with back-to-back episodes. I think the network might have another winner on its hands.
Like 24, PRISON BREAK is a serialized action series that derives its suspense from a ticking clock. Lincoln Burrows (JOHN DOE's Dominic Purcell) was accused, arrested and found guilty of shooting the brother of the Vice-President of the United States. He currently resides in a maximum-security federal penitentiary in Joliet, Illinois, where he's scheduled to be executed in 30 days. His brother Michael (Wentworth Miller) believes Lincoln to be innocent, and concocts an elaborate plan to rescue him. He sticks up a bank and ensures he'll be sent to the same Joliet facility. It turns out that Michael, a structural engineer, has had the prison's blueprints, along with several other cheats and hints, hidden inside an intricate tattoo that stretches all over his arms and torso.
Creator and writer Paul Scheuring (A MAN APART) opens up a number of subplots that may ensure the series as the season's most dense. A warden (Stacy Keach) who's building a wooden replica of the Taj Mahal as a 40th anniversary present for his wife, a mobster (Peter Stormare from FARGO) with connections, a rapist named T-Bag (Robert Knepper), an old con who may or may not be D.B. Cooper (Muse Watson) and a pissed off guard (Wade Williams) are already making trouble for Michael inside the prison. Outside, his attorney (Robin Tunney) is beginning to believe that Lincoln's incarceration may be the result of a government conspiracy spearheaded by a Secret Service agent (Paul Adelstein) and a mysterious woman in Montana.
Whew. That's a lot of characters and a lot of tantalizing plot threads dangling. If Scheuring and his writing staff can keep all their plates on the end of their sticks, it'll be a miracle, but what I've seen so far is enough to lure me back next week. Film director Brett Ratner (RUSH HOUR), also an executive producer, and Michael Watkins directed the first two episodes, and the battery of credited producers have credits on shows like BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, THE GUARDIAN and NYPD BLUE.
But it's the cast that makes this series so far. I believe that at least 75% of any successful TV series is casting, and Fox got it right with this talented bunch, led by Miller (UNDERWORLD), who I've never seen before, but is on a starmaking path as the determined, tough and wry guy on a mission. I thought Purcell was a solid lead on JOHN DOE, and Keach, Stormare, Adelstein and Tunney all have solid credentials. The show's premise is, of course, incredible, but if these actors can make the implausible seem plausible, that might be all the show needs to make it a winner.