Prison Break: Complete Season 1

Prison Break: Complete Season 1

*****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

While Lost was bamboozling Channel 4 viewers earlier in the year, this other excellent American drama was making fewer waves with its less fantastical but equally cryptic and compelling cliff-hanger plotlines over on Five.

Touching on epic themes such as love, betrayal and redemption, the plot centres on two brothers Lincoln Burrows (played by a brooding Dominic Purcell) and Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller). Their surnames may be different due to a mom and pop split but their brotherly bond is clear and, reinforced, we come to learn, by a healthy slab of guilt.

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Lincoln is the bad boy of the family, he gets framed for a murder he swears he didn’t commit and is thrown into correctional facility Fox River – although their form of correction involves killing him via the electric chair.

Michael – a squeaky clean engineering genius – hatches a plot to break his brother out by getting banged up beside him. To aid his plans he creates a complex tattoo that covers most of his upper body and holds an array of secrets revealed over the course of the season – with more, no doubt, to follow in Season 2.

Once Michael’s preparations are complete, he holds up a bank and gets tossed in to Fox River’s general population, along with an assortment of other cons, from hardened mafia type John Abruzzo (Peter Stormare) and scary psychopath T-Bag (Robert Knepper) to his love-sick cellmate Fernando Sucre (Amaury Nolasco).

Of course, there’s a good dollop of love interest, courtesy of the conflicted prison doc Sara Tancredi (Sarah Wayne Callies) and Lincoln’s ex-love lawyer Veronica Donovan (Robin Tunney), guard trouble in the shape of Brad Bellick (Wade Williams) and a whole other set of cast members involved in an arc of conspiracy theory.

That it has taken four paragraphs to even give you the briefest plot outline for this show is a testimony to one of its strengths – its complexity. Although the basic plot arc is simple – a group of cons trying to get over the wall to freedom – there are so many subplots on offer, it’s hard to pick a favourite.

Each con – and there is always a core of around ten main players – has a compelling back story of his own and even the lesser characters are given an admirable level of depth. While there is a lot of exposition – there is a break out to be orchestrated after all - the strength of the acting and direction means that the pace never slips.

Unlike Lost, which can be downright frustrating, Prison Break loves to share its secrets. Episode by episode, questions are answered while new subplots are seamlessly knitted in.

The cinematography and direction are top drawer, despite a modest budget, with many of the scenes taking on more of a filmic quality than that of a plain drama series. And special effects are used with care. There is thankfully no need to pad out episodes with glossy montages set to dodgy pop songs, since the plot and character development take up all the available space.

Prison Break also keeps things gritty. There is quite a lot of violence through the series – as befits a prison drama – but much of it is implied by clever directional framing, although one toe-lopping incident, in particular, will doubtless stay with you once the credits have rolled.

But it is the acting which really provides the icing on the cake. Miller was nominated for a Golden Globe for his central performance, which is intensely wonderful but it isn’t just the central pairing of he and Purcell that deserves recognition. Robert Knepper and Swedish actor Peter Stormare put in stand-out performances as the bad guys of the piece, both menacing yet highly intelligent, with Knepper, in particular, showing an incredible versatility. Amaury Nolasco is excellent as the nice-but-dim Sucre and Sarah Wayne Callies utterly believable as the paradoxically fragile but strong prison doc. Mention must also be made of Silas Weir Mitchell, who is excellent in the cameo role of Haywire, a brilliant yet totally cracked psyche ward crim.

Originally only scheduled to have a 13-episode run, Prison Break is one of television’s success stories, with the ‘season’ being extended by an extra nine programmes due to its immense popularity. If you missed it when it was screened – or even if you didn’t – I recommend you lock yourself away for a week or two with this DVD set, you won’t be disappointed.

Reviewed on: 29 Sep 2006
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Prison Break: Complete Season 1 packshot
A man gets sent to jail to mastermind a breakout that will save his brother's life. Out to own on DVD now.
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