It was the summer of 2005, and the most buzz-worthy show of the year was Fox’s gritty new drama ‘Prison Break.’ Debuting in August, the show garnered fairly substantial audiences for the period and became a success for FOX on Monday nights. As someone who tends to watch the opening episodes to any show, I found Prison Break to be quite an intriguing premise. Tuning in, I found that there was something oddly compelling about the show.
It wasn’t star Wentworth Miller (Michael Scofield), who can’t act to save his life. It wasn’t Dominic Purcell (Lincoln Burroughs), whose character lacked any real motivation. No, it was rather two elements which intrigued me. First, the premise itself held a great deal of promise; while other shows have featured prison dynamics in a grittier sense (‘Oz’), Prison Break was its network equivalent. Plus, whether it was far-fetched or not, the entire escape plan was uniquely compelling.
Second, I enjoyed Robert Knoepper’s portrayal of T-Bag, one of the most delightful TV villains in quite some time. His interactions with Abruzzi and Michael and everyone else were a true highlights of the show, and it kept things interesting while they spent time in the clink.
And, through the first season, these two elements were enough to keep me watching. There were other redeeming elements (Michaels’ relationship with the Warden, with Tancredi), but on the whole those two pillars got me through the bad times. Said bad times included the entire conspiracy plot, the constant near escapes foiled by unexpected roadblock construct, and in general a lack of originality. And yet, I stuck through until the very end.
It was with great apprehension that I viewed the show’s first season finale, for it left things ever so open for the second season. They were literally running off into the woods, their plane plan ruined, with seemingly nowhere to go. They had broken out of prison, fulfilling my initial interest in the show, so the decisions made by producers at this point would make or break my future viewership.
And, to be honest, the second season premiere set a positive course. The introduction of Mahone gave great potential for Fugitive-style interactions, and cutting off T-Bag’s hand certainly had the potential for campy goodness. However, it is at this point that the season began to spiral into something far too convoluted, far too contrived, and in general just far too uninteresting.
The most frustrating part of the first season, the political conspiracy, all of a sudden became the show’s focal point. Mahone was a silly character to begin with, because he was far too good at catching up to Scofield; it was inhuman, and no silly skeleton in the backyard is going to humanize someone who seems to be an android. However, even any chance of true character development was lost when he became the victim of the conspiracy at the centre of the season.
The problem with these conspiracies is that they’re inherently uninteresting in comparison to the first season. It was about people in close quarters, interacting with one another on a daily basis. It was about characters we related to, in situations we understood, and for a common goal which made sense. Now, these people are traipsing after money, and then ending up in Panama as some go on trial and others just roam around randomly running into the other inmates?
The show is currently aimless; at the end of season one they had an entire world in front of them, and it is becoming increasingly clear that such openness was deadly to the show’s key themes. T-Bag has turned into a parody of itself, characters are dying without any real impact, and there’s no longer any characters to really care about. I know that it’s just a popcorn drama that’s supposed to be ridiculous, but I don’t think that excuse can make up for its second season.
With the show’s main premise long gone, I have no reason to tune in. The Season Finale, which airs tonight at 8/7c on FOX, holds absolutely nothing to make me even consider watching it. As far as I can tell from reading media coverage, the show is even less organized than it was before. They’re just languishing in Panama…where does it go from here? People are so critical of Lost for not providing viewers a view forward, but at the very least they provide storylines which have the potential to develop into something logical.
Prison Break, once it left the safe confines of Fox River penitentiary, has been unable to capture the qualities which made its first season worth watching. It lacks suspense, interesting characters, and is no longer even worthy of being a guilty pleasure. I cannot fathom how they plan on stretching a third season out of this mess, which is why I think that people shouldn’t tune in to tonight’s finale.
While the show has more or less been renewed for next season, I think that producers need to realize that they’ve reached their limits. They need to either dramatically revamp the show by killing off a myriad of characters, or they need to end it entirely. While ratings have stayed steady, I think that over time more and more viewers will start to give up on it. Or, perhaps, I have too much faith in TV viewers. Either way, as it wraps up its second season, I think that Prison Break needs a wake-up call if it seriously wants to have a creatively fulfilling third.