Five years ago, Prison Break mastered the Con Air formula (assign scenery-chewing character actors insane roles) for thrilling popcorn television. It took a half-dozen prison archetypes — the wrongly convicted lug, the bug-eyed schizophrenic, the loquacious redneck, the softie Latino — and crammed in as many cliffhangers and plot-twists as one season could handle.
Prison Break, unfortunately, quickly fell prey to death-byserialization. The payoff of each plot twist diminished, and its laser-sight focus on an end goal became increasingly dim.
Breakout Kings hands the team behind Prison Break a chance to show what they could do with a more episodic show. Here, the premise is both ludicrous and, unfortunately, well-worn. Two federal marshals (one played by Domenick Lombardozzi — Herc from The Wire) hire imprisoned convicts to help catch fugitives.
Their team is your usual mix of one-last-heist archetypes: a genius former psych professor who says obnoxious things (Jimmi Simpson — Liam McPoyle on It’s Always Sunny), a gang member who’s both shifty and brooding, and a con artist whose cons mostly consist of acting all sexy.
Where The Silence of the Lambs and White Collar actually established why the talents of hardened criminals were needed, Breakout Kings never bothers. That’s the least of its problems. Only Simpson is a broad enough character actor to make his role memorable, and he’s saddled with too many unfunny, needlessly racist quips. The rest of the dialogue, meanwhile, is painfully on the nose. (“Everyone’s running from something,” one marshal says.)
Breakout Kings struggles mightily with tone. It’s best as a light guilty pleasure. Murder, as odd as it sounds, is a light-hearted crime within fiction. It has long been used as the catalyst for wacky farces and cheesy detective stories. But rape is not a light-hearted crime. And neither is sexual assaulting a little girl. Here, the characters are so silly and the premise so ludicrous that the grossness of the crimes seems all the more inappropriate.
Which brings us to the show’s biggest problem: The most thrilling, most light-heartedly entertaining part — the titular breakout from prison — is over within the first five minutes of each episode, and it’s perpetuated by the guy we’re supposed to be rooting against. A criminal chase — that’s tired ground. But audiences still crave a good prison break.
Breakout Kings, A&E, Sundays, 10 pm
America’s Next Great Restaurant
Everybody, deep down, has an idea for a high-concept restaurant. A sushi place with waiters dressed as porpoises! An ice cream parlor with treadmills, where patrons burn off calories as they eat! America’s Next Great Restaurant combines venture capitalist shows (Shark Tank) with competition shows (Top Chef) to give a few would-be restaurateurs a shot. The execution is clumsy; the enthusiasm is adorable. (Sundays, 8 pm, NBC)
ABC commissioned a few millionaires to spend a few weeks playing paupers among the populace, then bestow ample funds on deserving community organizations. Their reward? The satisfaction of helping others and having millions of people across America witness their generosity on television. It’s dripping with the sentiment of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. (Sundays, 8 pm, ABC)
The Real World: Las Vegas
This people-hanging-out reality show starts its 25th season this week. That’s right. That means the show has been around since before many of its high school-age viewers have been alive. Does that make it more or less hip and relevant? (Wednesdays, 10 pm, MTV)