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PRISON BREAK
Season One

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Dominic Purcell, Wentworth Miller, Robin Tunney, Peter Stormare, Amaury Nolasco, Marshall Allman, Wade Williams, Paul Adelstein, Robert Knepper, Rockmond Dunbar, Sarah Wayne Callies
Creator: Paul T. Scheuring
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 960 Minutes
Release Date: August 8, 2006

“I’m getting you out of here.”

“It’s impossible!”

“Not if you designed the place, it isn’t.”

Shows ****

If 24 is the one show I credit for restoring my faith in the quality of television programming, then Prison Break is the show I will immediately credit for demonstrating that such quality and originality can exist in an entirely different series. Truth be told, had it not been for the fact that this show aired on the same network as 24, in addition to containing a dynamic, if slightly over-the-top, plot scenario, it might just as well have been another series to blow right past me. Thank goodness I took a vast interest, because for my money, Prison Break is one of the best series to come around since 24.

You got to hand it to the Fox Network. They are coming up with some genius shows.

Maybe the one reason I got so hooked into Prison Break is the mere fact that it does resemble the same factor that makes 24 such a grand television series. It takes a plot scenario that requires a show to end every episode with cliffhanger endings, resulting in the viewer being instantaneously grabbed and wondering what’s going to happen next. The only difference between the two shows is that this one doesn’t play out in real time, which is a good thing since there are so many outlandish surprises throughout the season that it wouldn’t make so much sense for real time to be a factor.

Right from the dynamic series pilot, the suspense never lets up. A young man named Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller), who looks to be that of slick businessman, holds up a bank…only to give himself up to authorities in a heartbeat. It’s his first criminal offense, but since he drew a gun and fired off a few shots in the process, the judge sees no other option but for him to see the inside of a prison cell. Scofield is then shipped off to Fox River Penitentiary, one of the most feared prisons in the country.

The plot scenario may sound somewhat familiar, but trust me, it’s leads directly into Scofield’s true reason for committing the crime. It was all a means of getting sentenced to that precise prison. Why, you ask? Because his older brother, Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell), happens to be a fellow inmate, and on death row, no less. And brother Michael has entered the prison with one specific intention…to break his brother out.

Lincoln, though scheduled to die in a matter of weeks, maintains that he was framed for the murder the general public believes he committed, which in this case is the killing of the vice president’s brother. Michael didn’t believe him at first, because of overwhelming evidence, but with the help of lawyers, came to believe otherwise. And breaking out of a maximum-security prison like Fox River sounds insane. But as it turns out, Michael is an architect and had a large role in building the prison.

Meanwhile, outside the prison, the lawyer who once represented Lincoln, Veronica Donovan (Robin Tunney), begins to slowly uncover something suspicious. As new evidence comes her way and certain witnesses begin to disappear, she starts to believe that Lincoln might not only be innocent of the crime, but might be the target of a conspiracy that reaches levels as high as the White House.

Back inside the walls of Fox River, the ultimately cool Scofield develops many thorns in his side. The first is that of a super-stern prison guard named Bellick (Wade Williams) who doesn’t take a liking to Scofield from minute one. The other thorns come in the form of inmates who end up coming in on the escape plan (Michael has no choice, because what will stop them from blowing the whistle?) But mainly it’s the inmate known as T-Bag (Robert Knepper) who poses the biggest threat.

Prison Break, like 24, works for multiple reasons. The first would be the writing, which should be accredited to series creator Paul T. Scheuring who, along with his writing team, was able to find a strong and successful manner in which to link each episode. I’m sure this was no easy task, as finding a way to connect the heavily plotted episodes and cliffhanger endings probably took as much time as it did for Scofield to come up with his escape strategy.

The actors are another important asset to the show, and Wentworth Miller delivers the big break-out (no pun intended) television performance of any new recent series. Like Kiefer Sutherland, Miller creates a character we root for from minute one and a man who is so calmly cool at every possible moment, even in any moment of pure tension. He’s the ideal thinking man’s hero, in other words, a guy I wish I had the guts to be. It turns out that Miller had once auditioned for Superman under then-director Brett Ratner (who is one of the producers of the show). After seeing him in this show, I could easily see him in the part.

In short, Prison Break has become my second television addiction, next to 24 of course. It has also joined the ranks of my newly found favorite TV shows as The 4400, Rescue Me, and Lost. It is impossible not to get hooked in the series right from minute one, which is rare for any show to do.  And after all that has gone down in Season One, there’s no telling where Season Two will take us.

Video ****

Fox’s anamorphic transfer represents one of the best presentations I’ve ever seen for a single television series. The show offers many different kinds of settings, be it in the darkly lit confines of a prison cell or that of shots in and around Chicago. Both sets, as well as light and dark lit shots pan out terrifically. The level of detail is quite astounding.

Audio ****

Prison Break has plenty of action and suspense to go around, so it should come as no surprise that the 5.1 mix delivers the ultimate sound goods. The dynamic range is surprisingly strong and frequent. Music playback is a nice bonus, as well. Truly, one of the best sound performances I’ve ever seen for any TV show on DVD.

Features ****

Fox has unlocked a nicely loaded package to accommodate the first season of this thrilling show. Included on this six disc set are Commentary tracks on selected episodes from various cast and crew members, as well as Alternate/Deleted Scenes. There are also three extremely well made documentaries, “The Making of Prison Break”, “If These Walls Could Speak: Profile of the Joliet Correctional Center” and “Beyond the Ink”,  as well as a Fox Movie Channel “Making a Scene” featurette. Also included are numerous TV spots, a look at Season Two and a trailer for the upcoming Fox series, “Vanished”.

Summary:

Prison Break is television at its most highly addictive. You can’t help but wonder where this series is going to go on each episode. If you have yet to see what all the buzz is about, then now is the perfect time to discover for yourself in this superb package from Fox!

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