When I first saw the original TV spot for Prison Break during the airing of 24 - Season 4, I thought it looked, plainly and simply--dumb. How on earth could this possibly last an entire season? Soon enough, word got around that the show was actually quite good. Being the TV junkie that I am, I decided to give it a chance. I acquired the first three episodes from a friend of mine and ended up watching them back-to-back. I was hooked. Prison Break had already become my next television addiction. From then on out, I religiously watched the show every week up until, before I knew it, I had seen all 22 episodes of the first season. Boy, were my initial impressions wrong or what?
Prison Break - Season One follows the story of Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller), a structural engineer and overall genius, as well as his brother Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell), who has been accused and convicted of murdering the Vice President's brother, and as such, is awaiting his execution at Fox River State Penitentiary. Believing his brother to be innocent, Michael devises an elaborate master plan to break Lincoln out of prison, which first involves him getting into said prison. How? By robbing a bank, of course. Michael purposely gets caught, and much to the dismay of legal counselor and friend Veronica Donovan (Robin Tunney), he pleads no contest and gets his wish.
A stunning aerial shot of Fox River State Penitentiary.
Soon after admission, Michael begins putting his plan into action, carefully mapping out each and every intricate detail: the players involved, the escape route, the tools he will need to make that escape route possible, etc. Unfortunately for Michael, life in prison isn't quite as easy and predictable as he might like for it to be. Recruiting the proper key players becomes one of the hardest tasks of all. Cellmate Fernando Sucre (Amaury Nolasco) seems harmless enough, but getting him to go along with Michael's plan proves to be difficult as the thing he wants most is to be able to marry his beloved Maricruz (Camille Guaty), and breaking out of prison could unnecessarily jeopardize that with just 16 months to go. Meanwhile, Captain Brad Bellick (Wade Williams) seems to always be breathing right down Michael's neck, giving him hell whenever the opportunity arises (and even when it doesn't). Warden Henry Pope (Stacy Keach), on the other hand, appears to be quite the opposite of Bellick, giving Michael a little leverage when he can for helping him reconstruct a model of the Taj Mahal for he and his wife's upcoming anniversary.
Other regulars among the inmates include mafia boss John Abruzzi (Peter Stormare), Charles Westmoreland (Muse Watson) who Michael believes to be the infamous D.B. Cooper, Benjamin Miles "C-Note" Franklin (Rockmond Dunbar) who provides Michael with his pharmaceutical needs, and finally, the uber-creepy pedophile Theodore "T-Bag" Bagwell (Robert Knepper) and equally creepy Psych Ward inmate Haywire (Silas Weir Mitchell), both of whom continually serve as threats to the master plan. Michael also frequently interacts with Doctor Sara Tancredi (Sarah Wayne Callies) in the infirmary, which serves as a crucial component of the prison break.
Veronica and Nick start to wonder if they might be in over their heads.
While Michael is busy taking the necessary steps to get his brother out of prison, Veronica teams up with lawyer Nick Savrinn (Frank Grillo a.k.a. "Abs of Steel") of Project Justice to find out why Lincoln has been framed for Terrence Steadman's murder along with the evidence to back up such a claim. Secret Service Agents Danny Hale (Danny McCarthy) and Paul Kellerman (Paul Adelstein) go out of their way to make sure that doesn't happen, regularly resorting to violent tactics involving both Veronica and Nick themselves as well as Lincoln's family, including his son LJ (Marshall Allman). All of this is done by command of the mysterious "Garlic Cutter." But who is she, and why is she so determined to have Lincoln executed?
Michael (right) tells Lincoln (left) to "have a little faith."
Prison Break works for a number of reasons, but perhaps most importantly, because of the writing, much of which can be accredited to creator, executive producer, and writer Paul T. Scheuring. The writers and creative staff have obviously put a great deal of thought into each and every aspect of the show, down to the last gritty detail. Equally important are the actors and actresses of the show, each of whom executes his or her role with just about absolute perfection. The interaction feels completely natural, not forced one bit. Even the expositions are delivered with strength and manage to keep the viewer interested. Simply put, the performances are quite astounding. The characters could easily fall into their respective stereotypical categories (inmates, lawyers, guards, etc.), but instead, they really do bring something unique to the show. The prison even ends up taking on an entity of its own, the same of which could be said about Michael's tattoo. Visually, the show is a masterpiece. The production values these days really do just blow my mind. Television is looking more and more like film, and Prison Break is no exception. The series does a fantastic job of keeping you on the edge of your seat and leaving you wanting more. Let's face it. Prison Break might as well be crack.
Discs 1 & 2:
Episode 1 - Pilot (8/29/05): Structural engineer Michael Scofield purposefully has himself incarcerated in order to orchestrate the escape of his brother Lincoln, whom he believes has been wrongly sentenced to death.
Episode 2 - Allen (8/29/05): Setting his plan in motion, Michael seeks the aid of his fellow inmates, but makes some deadly enemies along the way.
Episode 3 - Cell Test (9/5/05): Michael's plan to test Sucre's loyalty backfires when Sucre requests a cell transfer, and Abruzzi joins in Michael's plan to escape.
Episode 4 - Cute Poison (9/12/05): Michael fears that his psychotic new cellmate will expose his plan, while Veronica enlists the aid of another attorney as she uncovers new evidence in Lincoln's case.
Episode 5 - English, Fitz or Percy (9/19/05): Kellerman and Hale blackmail Warden Pope into moving Michael to another prison, and Michael must think quickly in order to avoid the transfer.
Episode 6 - Riots, Drills and the Devil (Part 1) (9/26/05): With the escape plan falling dangerously far behind, Michael sparks a full-scale riot by sabotaging the prison's air conditioning system, and Veronica, growing suspicious of Nick, rejects his help with Lincoln's case.
Episode 7 - Riots, Drills and the Devil (Part 2) (10/3/05): As the rioting rages on, Michael must rescue Sara from the other inmates, while Abruzzi and Sucre team up to help expedite the breakout.
Episode 8 - The Old Head (10/24/05): To his great dismay, Michael discovers that an old storage shed, crucial to his plan, has been converted into a break room for the guards, while outside the prison, Veronica, Nick and LJ find their lives in danger.
Discs 3 & 4:
Episode 9 - Tweener (10/31/05): Fearing for the life of his son, Lincoln's desire to escape becomes more desperate than ever, and Michael faces a tough decision as the vile T-Bag continues to sexually prey on young inmates.
Episode 10 - Sleight of Hand (11/7/05): Michael is forced to reveal the location of Fibonacci, an innocent man whom the mob wants dead, in order to keep the breakout plan on track, and Kellerman and Hale receive some unwanted help in their pursuit of LJ.
Episode 11 - And Then There Were 7 (11/14/05): Everyone, especially Sara, is shocked when Michael's wife arrives for a conjugal visit, bringing with her an important key to the escape plan.
Episode 12 - Odd Man Out (11/21/05): As the time of escape draws near, the group, needing to reduce its number by one, targets T-Bag, but he's got other ideas. Meanwhile, Veronica, Nick, and LJ continue running for their lives.
Episode 13 - End of the Tunnel (11/28/05): Just hours before Lincoln's execution, the team makes its desperate and daring break for it, while outside a guilt-ridden conspirator betrays the others.
Episode 14 - The Rat (3/20/06): After the failed escape attempt, Michael tries desperately to have Lincoln's execution postponed. Meanwhile, Sara pleads Lincoln's case to her father, the governor.
Episode 15 - By the Skin & the Teeth (3/27/06): Lincoln's execution is stayed by a last-minute phone call, but not before he glimpses a man he believes to be his father. And, as Michael works on a new escape plan, Veronica has a corpse exhumed in her attempt to prove Lincoln's innocence.
Episode 16 - Brother's Keeper (4/3/06): A series of flashbacks reveals the origins oh Michael's plans and how each of the escapees landed in Fox River Penitentiary.
Discs 5 & 6:
Episode 17 - J-Cat (4/10/06): With Michael out of commission in solitary confinement, it's up to Sucre to conceal the tunnel beneath the guards' break room before it's too late.
Episode 18 - Bluff (4/17/06): Michael seeks Haywire's help in remembering the missing piece of his blueprint tattoo, while T-Bag and C-Note must join forces to win a high-stakes poker game.
Episode 19 - The Key (4/24/06): A face from Lincoln's past re-emerges to reveal the motives behind his set-up. Last part edited out for potential spoiler.
Episode 20 - Tonight (5/1/06): With Bellick bound and gagged, the inmates' escape plans are rapidly accelerated, and Sara is left reeling when Michael reveals his secret to her.
Episode 21 - Go (5/8/06): The cons make their desperate break for freedom via the Psych Ward. Last part edited out for potential spoiler.
Episode 22 - Flight (5/15/06): The inmates are safely over the wall, but they're still a long way from freedom as the deadly manhunt begins.
Episode synopses are courtesy of each disc set's respective back cover insert.
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment presents Prison Break - Season One across a 6-disc, 3-case thinpack set, housed in a sleek cardboard case. As space is becoming more of an issue for avid DVD aficionados such as myself, this is certainly a nice alternative to the rather large tri-fold sets which are fairly commonplace in the realm of TV on DVD. The menus are easily navigable; my only complaint would be that there is no convenient "Play All" function.
Please note that this is a promotional screener, and as such, I cannot accurately speak on behalf of the audio and video quality. I will comment on the two aforementioned aspects as best I can, but just keep in mind that this is not the actual retail product.
This 6-disc set offers an English 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound track with optional subtitles in English, Spanish, or French. Dialogue is clear and easy to understand, especially crucial to scenes featuring lengthy expositions. The music composed by Ramin Djawadi brings the subwoofer to life throughout each episode, adding an element of drama and a nice dose of ambiance to the show. While the rear channels don't get a whole lot of use, they sound sharp and full of energy during moments such as gunfire and the slamming of the prison gates, doing a good job of making the audience part of the prison experience itself.
Prison Break is presented in a 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio, complete with enhancement for 16 x 9 televisions. Unfortunately, the picture appears to be inconsistent, going from clear and sharp to noisy and pixilated, particularly in aerial and fence shots, but in other scenes as well. The good news is that this is strictly a SPECIAL SCREENING COPY, so the likelihood of the actual product spawning such unpredictability in regards to the video is slim, however; I can only call it as I see it. On the other hand, the colors look brilliantly vivid and provide a sharp contrast to the sometimes bleak interior of the prison itself. The use of lighting also looks quite good and adds another dimension to the picture, causing the blacks to stand out.
Special features aplenty here, folks! Starting off, this set offers a plethora of Audio Commentaries for a total of six episodes including the Pilot, Cute Poison, Riots, Drills and the Devil (Parts 1 & 2), Odd Man Out, and Brother's Keeper. Most of these actually contain two commentaries per episode mentioned, making for a total of ten all together, and feature an array of directors, writers, producers, actors, and actresses of which are (in no particular order) Paul Scheuring, Dominic Purcell, Brett Ratner, Mark Helfrich, Wade Williams, Matt Olmstead, Silas Weir Mitchell, Amaury Nolasco, Robert Knepper, Sarah Wayne Callies, Robert Mandel, Nick Santora, Peter Stormare, Garry Brown, Bobby Roth, Karyn Usher, Greg Yaltanes, and Zack Estrin, but sadly, no Wentworth Miller. The commentaries are informative, interesting, and even quite amusing to listen to. Surprisingly, the ones featuring larger groups of up to six people are not very chaotic and probably the most entertaining, with each person fairly easily discernable from the next. Definitely worth checking out, but I would not recommend listening to any of the audio commentaries without first having watched the first season in its entirety.
Also included are four deleted scenes for episodes Allen, And Then There Were 7, Brother's Keeper, and J-Cat as well as an alternate ending to End of the Tunnel. Essentially nothing new here, but interesting to watch.
Disc 6 contains the remaining extras, the first of which is the Making of Prison Break, a deeper look behind the scenes of Prison Break. In this 30-minute featurette, a variety of cast and crew speak about a wide range of aspects concerning the show, including the origins, the development, the future, the cast and characters, the writers and writing structure/style, the location itself as well as personal perspectives, decision-making, and more.
Next is If These Walls Could Speak: Profile of the Joliet Correctional Center, which is just that: a 9-minute insight into the history of the setting for Prison Break, an actual correctional facility dating back to the 1800s. It closed down in February 2002 due to budgetary problems.
Beyond the Ink is a 16-minute featurette which takes a look at Michael Scofield's amazingly ambitious tattoo, an entity in and of itself, as well as the artist behind it, Tom Berg. It focuses on the design, the symbolism, the execution and basically all the thought that went into the creation of Michael's faux-tattoo, which takes about four to five hours of application each time. We find out that the Devil within his tattoo was actually supposed to be Jesus (something brought up in the commentaries a number of times), but had to be changed due to events which take place in Riots, Drills and the Devil (Parts 1 & 2).
The final 8-minute supplement titled Fox Movie Channel Presents: Making a Scene - Prison Break focuses primarily on the insights, choices and complications of shooting in an actual prison, all of which help to define the series.
Last, but not least are six TV Spots (Orchestral, Favorite, Michael, Last Break, Link, and Chair/Family), a Season 2 Promo, and a trailer for Vanished, which premieres August 21st after Prison Break on FOX.
Despite my initial faulty impressions, it is clear that Prison Break - Season One is the strong beginning of an already groundbreaking network television series. The creative direction and writing of the show along with the complex characters and brilliant cast make for one of the best new shows to come around in a while, ranked among such favorites of mine as 24 and Lost, and just as easily addictive. It will be interesting to see what Season 2 brings, and I certainly look forward to it. For those of you who don't know, it premieres August 21st. Although the picture suffers from inconsistencies at times (which I hope will not be present in the actual retail product), the content alone, but also the plentiful special features, make it easy for Prison Break - Season One to come Highly Recommended.