Implausibility isn’t a crime in Fox’s new ‘Prison Break’

Times Staff Writer

“Prison Break,” premiering tonight on Fox as either the last new series of the summer season or the first new series of the fall, does not waste any time in establishing itself as completely implausible -- which is a smart move indeed.

By getting that matter settled at the top -- as young Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller, “The Human Stain”) contrives to get himself thrown into prison, one particular prison, to break out his brother Lincoln (Dominic Purcell, “North Shore”) before his impending execution for the murder of the brother of the vice president of the United States -- the show can pretty much go where it wants to afterward. If you’re still on board at the end of the two-hour pilot, directed by Brett Ratner (“Rush Hour”) -- and even without much in the way of action, it holds the interest quite handily -- you will have long since stopped peppering the TV screen with inconvenient questions. If the show is not absolutely critic-proof, if it is a convocation of cliches and old tropes, it is forearmed with a response difficult to argue with: “Yeah, so?”

For the record:

12:00 AM, Aug. 31, 2005 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday August 31, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 47 words Type of Material: Correction
“Prison Break” -- A review of the TV series “Prison Break” in Monday’s Calendar section said the two-hour pilot was directed by Brett Ratner. Ratner directed the one-hour pilot. The second hour, which was shown in tandem with the first on Monday, was directed by Michael Watkins.

It’s a comic book, basically, a B-movie, a pulp fiction, and low enough in the cultural reckoning of things to set its own rules with impunity. It is a low-resolution reality the show inhabits. Though Michael will occasionally frown over some bit of prison violence or unexpected obstacle, he is a fantastic man of steel, or anyway of steel nerves, who strolls into a maximum-security prison as though it were a Kmart, and faces the toughest guys in the world as if he were asking them what aisle to go to for envelopes. Part of the pleasure of the series is that particular pleasure of watching a super-heroic character who can’t fail.

Michael has worked out a terribly complicated plan to not only get his brother out of prison but out of the country, with a lot of money. (The plan, which is in a sense the series’ main asset, will be revealed only little by little.) It seems to have necessitated a degree of research that would under ordinary circumstances keep an army of librarians and private detectives busy for a year, and, as often is the way with these things, it requires that a host of other characters, whose part in the plan is unwitting and therefore unpredictable, respond predictably. Whatever else happens, Michael does have a head start. He’s a structural engineer who, by an Incredible Coincidence, happened to be in charge of an earlier retrofitting of the Very Prison in which he and his brother are confined, and for easy reference -- this is the pilot’s big reveal, so close your eyes now if you don’t want to know -- has had them tattooed, in coded heavy-metal images, onto his body.


The show also resembles at times a video game, as Michael goes about collecting necessary items, forging the proper allegiances, preserving his health and solving the puzzles necessary to advance to the next level, to escape and win the game. This is not a real prison, after all: It is a prison that has been designed -- Paul Scheuring, whose big credit is the Vin Diesel vehicle “A Man Apart,” is the show’s creator -- simply to be escaped from.

There are some “personal relationships,” of course: Lincoln has a son (Marshall Allman) he doesn’t know well, who has started getting into trouble, and an ex-girlfriend (Robin Tunney, from “The Craft”) who will become the series’ Nancy Drew, and Michael will undoubtedly get something going with the good-looking nurse (Sarah Wayne Callies) who also happens to be the daughter of the governor as well as one of the unwitting participants in his big plan, and the two brothers obviously have some kind of crazy bond -- but that is not what the show is about any more than, say, “The Legend of Zelda” is about love.

I haven’t even mentioned Stacy Keach, entertaining as a nice-guy warden building the Taj Mahal out of matchsticks as a present for his wife, or the dark, shadow-government conspiracy that underpins the whole thing. There are a couple of the now standard-issue, creepy-bland government agents who skulk around, making people disappear and engaging here and there in the sort of beside-the-point, banality-of-evildoers dialogue -- “Burger Royale” dialogue -- that is supposed to make them both more creepy and more real but by now just make them seem more artificial. They fit right in.




‘Prison Break’

Where: Fox

When: 8 to 10 p.m.


Ratings: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under age 14 with advisories for violence, dialogue, sex and language)

Wentworth Miller...Michael Scofield

Dominic Purcell...Lincoln Burrows

Stacy Keach...Warden Pope


Sarah Wayne Callies...Dr. Sara Tancredi