“Prison Break” – when it was good, it was very good, but when it was bad, it was very bad. (A lot like that girl I use to shag in college). But even with it’s all it’s faults (faults found mostly in Season 3), we’ll probably look back on the show with fond memories because, as ridiculous as it got, it’s template killed like Ted Bundy!
The final episode of the Paul T. Scheuring-created series airs this week (in the states) and by all accounts the show is going to go out just as it came in, good… at least that’s what I’ve been reading on the boards anyway. If you ask me, there’s no way it’ll end as well as it started… we all know the show hasn’t been must-watch telly since the end of season 1.
Let’s take a trip back to that first season.
Remember the pilot? A genius brother Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) holds up a bank, and hangs around long enough afterwards to get caught. Why? So that he can be thrown into jail alongside his brother, Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell) – and then proceed to break him out. Lincoln’s been framed for a murder he didn’t commit (of course), and Michael’s determined to see him free – even if it’s with shackles permanently wedged into his giant feet.
The show’s junior year was absolute fuckin’ magic – From Michael’s imaginative grand-plan slowly being unraveled by the writers, to the transfixing, flowering relationship between the young prisoner and the kindly prison doctor Sara (Sarah Wayne Callies), you couldn’t wait to watch the next episode. It was gold. I actually couldn’t believe Brett Ratner was one of the chaps involved in it! In fact, I’m still not convinced it’s the same guy who butt-fucked Wolverine and embarrassed Asians with that inane Jackie Chan comedy series. Surely he couldn’t have played a part in something so damn good!?
Aussie actor Dominic Purcell (then direct from the recently-cancelled series “John Doe”) was ecstatic to be involved in such a well-written show. He told me at the time, “It’s great. The fans are rabid – really into it – and that’s what you want. It was good to come across something that’s different and creative, compared to some of the other slop that’s on TV these days. In fact, I had decided to concentrate on films, I didn’t really want to do another TV series, but this was too good to pass up”.
But I digress… Season one… Episode-by-episode, Michael and Lincoln inched closer to breaking free of Fox River Penitentiary…. But there always seemed to be a last-minute hitch to whatever their weekly plan was – a hitch usually involving scumbag Prison Guard Brad Bellick (Wade Williams) or backstabbing kiddie-molester â€˜T Bag’ (the wonderful Robert Knepper). But thanks to jailbird pals Charles Westmoreland (Muse Watson), Fernando Sucre (Amaury Nolasco) and C-Note (Rockmond Dunbar), the brothers – and of course, the new help – did eventually flee prison.
And that’s when “Prison Break” – which probably goes without saying if you consider the title and initial premise of the show – started to lose viewers. This was supposed to be a show set within the walls of a prison, with the central characters attempting an escape-that-might-never-happen, but with the second season, the show transformed into some-sort of “Fugitive” knock-off… with everyone on the run, always looking over their shoulder. Don’t get me wrong, it was still intriguing – but the tension, and fun, found in the original 22 episodes had gone. And it wasn’t the plight of Michael and Lincoln that now keep us interested either – but the villains.
Remember? Not only was â€˜T-Bag’ now the surprise highlight of the show, but two new characters, a Fed played by the always-dependable William Fichtner (from such movies as “Go” and “Armageddon”), and a shonky government assassin, Paul Kellerman (Paul Adelstein), were more compelling than the busted out brothers. Oh, and Brad Bellick, fired as a guard at the end of season one, was also out and about.
The goal this season wasn’t so much to clear Lincoln and Michael’s name, but to find the buried treasure of the late Charles Westmoreland.
(Speaking of Westmoreland, I was rapt that my buddy Muse Watson had snagged such a high-profile TV gig. I remember him telling me that he played a large part in creating that character – it wasn’t all there on the page initially. â€˜’If you’d seen the original scripts, you might not feel like the role was a gift to me”, Watson said. â€˜’I insisted on a few changes, and added humour and some contrasting calm to the character. When I offered Charles Westmoreland my body, he had some requests that were not on the page.Â As a result, he and I became very close”. I missed the character when he was unjustly written out, actually).
By the time the third season came around, most of those who’d promised never to miss an episode of the show earlier on, had switched off.
The show had started to suck more than a cheap hooker. It was boring. It was dull. It was lifeless. Even another season of â€˜Fugitive’-style antics would’ve been better than a season set in a South American prison where the new mission became to break out some â€˜nobody’ (Whistler, played by Australia’s Chris Vance) by season’s end. Did anyone actually give a shit about that storyline? Can anyone actually attest to watching every episode of Season 3? I believe I watched about half-a-season, and then switched off. Even the episodes I did watch I watched whilst doing something else – like, for instance, writing this column.
Besides not writing anything even resembling a script for the entire third season, the show’s creators also made one grave mistake: getting rid of Michael’s love interest, Sara.
The story goes that actress Sarah Wayne Callies had asked for a pay rise, and not willing to bow to her request, producers simply decided they’d write her out. Within a couple of weeks, Michael would be advised that his girlfriend-on-the-outside had been murdered.
I think that was actually the â€˜turn-off’ point for me. We’d been rooting for these two characters to get together for god knows how long… and the writers kill one half of the equation without a care? Disrespectful motherfuckers!
Thankfully, things got back on track with Season 4 (though the show was still a bit of a joke; it’d become that preposterous that there wasn’t any surprises, or impossible missions, anymore). Now free of their South American Prison Chains, the gang (and that includes villainous T-Bag and Fichtner’s crooked Fed Alex Mahone) are recruited to steal something called â€˜Sylla’ for a [later to be revealed as dodgy] agent named Don Self (Michael Rappaport). Oh, and guess who’s back!? Yep, Michael’s thought-dead lover, Sarah (seems the show’s producers realized their fuck-up and re-recruited the beautiful actress for another go-round).
If the second season was “The Fugitive”, then the fourth season was “Ocean’s Eleven” – just not quite as fun. Still, it was a significantly more entertaining season than the third… and there did become a reason to watch again.
It was great to see â€˜former’ bad guy Mahone (and god Fichtner is terrific in the role) making â€˜buds’ with Michael, Lincoln and company; even more entertaining to watch the team reluctantly team-up with one-armed madman T-Bag. But mostly, it was great to have Sara back in the mix. She was seriously missed.
So the two-hour season finale airs this week – and it does sound like a goodie. (Though that rumoured ending that does sound like a bit of a cop-out!)
The lesson of “Prison Break” is this – if you believe you’ve come up with a great show, something that could potential have legs, have a greater, grander plan beyond a first season. It’s amazing how quickly this once amazing series went from being must-watch television to must-watch-something-else television. Just a tip.