Breakout Kings: The Complete First Season Review

The concept behind Breakout Kings, that convicted felons have a unique insight into the minds of other felons, isn’t a new one in any respect (see To Catch a Thief, White Collar, etc.). Instead, it seems like TV viewers can’t get enough of the concept, and so what ultimately separates the good iterations from the bad has less to do with how the story is told and more with the cast of characters brought together. Breakout Kings boasts a decent mix of old and relatively new faces between Domenick Lombardozzi (The Wire), Brooke Nevin (Call Me Fitz, The 4400) and Jimmi Simpson (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) to Malcolm Goodwin and Serinda Swan. The show’s first season keeps things very straight and formulaic for the most part, occasionally giving us a wink that one bad guy or another might return in future episodes all while creating just enough internal drama to flesh out the characters. It’s what a solid first season of a cop procedural should do, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have taken more risks.

After years of sitting on the idea, the U.S. Marshals decide to act upon the idea of Ray Zancanelli (Lombardozzi) to create a team with the sole purpose of tracking down criminals who’ve escaped from prison. There’s only one hitch in the plan: between the time when Zancanelli pitched the plan and when it was put into effect, he was stripped of his badge for poor conduct, forcing the Marshals to put an active officer in charge. That man is Charlie DuChamp (Laz Alonso) and it’s his job, with Zancanelli’s help, to keep the ragtag group in line as they go between work in the field and their comparatively comfortable new lodgings in a minimum security prison. The team consists of the brilliant behavioral analyst Lloyd (Simpson), the thief Shea (Goodwin), and former bounty hunter Erica (Serinda). Each of them brings their own baggage to the table, and if they can’t keep it under control and resist the temptation to flee, the threat of being sent back to maximum security with their sentences doubled awaits them all. With every fugitive they bring in, a month is knocked off their sentences.

The cases throughout the first season’s 13 episodes don’t throw any curve balls, but instead spends its time running through cases where the bad guy is anything from a serial killer, psychotic off his meds, or a charismatic jewelry thief. The real drama lies within the group as they come to terms with their situations and figure out for themselves exactly why running is never as good an option as staying put and whittling their sentences down month by month, case by case. In that time, a few secrets come out, romantic build-up is intentionally shot down, and the characters establish themselves within their roles (Lloyd as the sarcastic, wry resident genius; Erica as the emotionally damaged but loyal flight-risk; Shea as the go-to guy for shady dealings and street info; etc.)

Where the show stumbles is in its unnecessary attempts at infusing tension into the group. About two-thirds of the way through the season, a new boss man is introduced under the premise that he’ll be shaking things up and no one’s job is safe, but at the end of the day he walks away with nothing changed. It’s a cheap ploy to create tension where there isn’t any, and it could have been better spent exploring another facet of the team. Similarly, the constant back-and-forth tug-of-war the writers put Erica through as she seems to endlessly debate whether or not she should bolt and if any of the characters would do the same if she did gets tiresome very fast. The reasons why she shouldn’t are very clear, and the reasons why she should aren’t. Does she really think she’d be able to stay on the run for very long with her young daughter in tow? She’s a professional tracker, she must know how easily that would get her caught. And yet, the writers insist on using her indecision in that matter to drum up tension where, once again, the time would have been better spent exploring the group dynamic.

The other complaint against Breakout Kings is its reluctance to do a two-part (or multi-part) story. The last episode of the season seemed perfectly geared for such an attempt, but instead they wrapped it up with a neat little bow in the final minutes. We all love closure, but invested fans also love stories with more complexity than a 42-minute formula.

DVD Bonus Features

The depth of the extras, though not incredible, is certainly more than we get with most television season DVD releases. The cast sit down to discuss a variety of topics ranging from their characters to the show’s dynamic of good cons catching bad cons. The discs also boast audio commentaries for the episodes, a profile of one of the season’s more interesting criminals, and some deleted scenes. Again, it’s more than we’re used to getting for a TV season release, but with that said, some of the pieces feel like basic promo reels.

"Breakout Kings: The Complete First Season" is on sale March 6, 2012 and is not rated. Crime, Drama, Thriller. Directed by Bill Gierhart, Michael Waxman. Written by Nick Santora, Matt Olmstead. Starring Laz Alonso, Domenick Lombardozzi, Brooke Nevin, Jimmi Simpson, Malcolm Goodwin, Serinda Swan.

Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.


New Reviews