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Review: 'Breakout Kings' Follows 'Prison Break' Formula With Some Success

by Maureen Ryan, posted Mar 3rd 2011 5:10PM
'Breakout Kings' (10PM Sunday, A&E) is exactly the show you'd expect from two former 'Prison Break' writer/producers.

The premise of the series -- and it's not especially believable, as these things go -- is that to catch escaped prisoners, the U.S. Marshals put together a task force of prisoners who themselves had escaped at one time or another. "It takes a thief to catch a thief," and all that.

The result isn't a particularly creative drama but, as was the case with 'Prison Break' in its early seasons, 'Breakout Kings' is sustained by a workmanlike momentum. It has its share of clunky characters and predictable moments, but it also has a lot of earnest energy. It's enlivened by a terrific performance from Jimmi Simpson, who plays Lloyd Lowery, the show's all-purpose weirdo.

In the show's pilot, which is by far the weaker of the two episodes A&E sent for review, Lowery becomes the team's resident genius (he was a professor before he turned to a life of crime), but he's also the show's comic relief, kind of an oily creep and a racist moron as well. It's as if the show's creators, 'Prison Break' veterans Matt Olmstead and Nick Santora, came up with a list of adjectives and tried to make Lowery embody all of them.

Despite all that, Simpson's great skill and presence makes Lowery the most interesting person on the show, which wisely dials back the character's quirks and gives him more interesting material to play in the show's well-paced second episode. That episode, which has a guest appearance from 'Friday Night Lights' actor Derek Phillips, has some interesting twists and turns, but I still have to wonder just how many variations there are on the escaped-prisoner story. Surely 'Breakout Kings' will have to start recycling the same kinds of on-the-lam plots sooner rather than later.

Even if the 'Breakout Kings' stories start to seem same-y after a while (which is the case on 'Leverage,' which has a very similar tone), it wouldn't matter much if the characters and their relationships were strong enough to carry some of the dramatic weight. But when it comes to those aspects of the show, 'Breakout Kings' hasn't quite broken out of clichéd territory.

Certain aspects of the 'Breakout Kings' pilot are flat-out groan-inducing. For instance, it will not surprise you to learn that when it comes to the team's two leaders, Ray Zancalli (Dominick Lombardozzi) and Charlie DuChamp (Laz Alonso), one is a by-the-book cop and the other is a bit of a wild card. Unfortunately, in this buddy-cop pairing, neither cop is all that compelling yet.

All the characters are given potential-redemption arcs and backstories straight out of Television Writing 101 (one team leader has Wife Problems, the other is desperate to prove himself, a prisoner misses a family member, etc.). Someone actually utters the line, "I guess everybody's running from something, right?"). And between the pilot and the second episode, Serinda Swan's character, Erica Reed, also appears to get a personality makeover: Say goodbye to the the sly con artist and say hello to a tough tomboy with rage issues.

Still, the second episode indicated that the writers have a much better grip on what works about the show -- Lombardozzi, who effectively played Herc on HBO's 'The Wire,' got a couple of good humorous moments to play, and in general, the dialogue was less cumbersome. Still, the writers will have to do a lot of heavy lifting to make the other characters half as interesting as Lowery.

Perhaps they're going another way in their efforts to spice up the show: Robert Knepper, a.k.a. 'Prison Break's' T-Bag, will be guesting on 'Breakout Kings,' as will 'Lost' veteran Mark Pellegrino. It could be interesting to see those accomplished character actors go mano-a-mano with Simpson, who is by far the most compelling performer on the show.

'Breakout Kings' is better than 'The Glades,' another A&E scripted drama set in the world of law enforcement, but that's not saying a whole lot. Still, if future episodes are as good as the second episode (and better than the clunky pilot), it'll give fans of 'White Collar' or 'Leverage' something to watch until those shows come back.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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The writer of this article clearly did not watch both episodes very carefully.
Serinda Swan was not even IN the pilot episode. Nor was her character. She's confusing the character Erica with Philly. Philly was written out & that was explained in episode 2. The two actresses look nothing alike...

March 18 2011 at 2:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The "Serinda Swan" character did not get a makeover. It's actually two different characters. The girl in the pilot - Philomena Rotchcliffer - is played by Nicole Steinwedell. The Serinda Swan character is named Erica Reed.

March 14 2011 at 8:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I actually liked The Glades....that being said. I thought Breakout Kings was decent. I'm going to give it another go next week. I do have one question. Are they having TWO women cons or just one? It looked like they brought a new girl but they didn't show the girl from last week. I liked the con they had in the pilot...the actress used to be on The Unit and I like her (actually I REALLY miss The Unit...that was a great show). Anywho, I'm willing to give Breakout Kings a chance.

March 08 2011 at 12:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If I'm not mistaken, isn't Knepper reprising his role as T-Bag? I thought I had read/heard that somewhere.

March 03 2011 at 11:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to cfaddct's comment

Oops, nevermind. I remember where I read it. Here on AOL TV. :)

March 03 2011 at 11:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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