Monday, May 08, 2006

prison broke

Tonight on "Prison Break", the show followed through with what the title has been promising all season long. This episode happened to be the second I have ever seen after last week's, so I'm new to the show.... What can I say? It comes on right before "24".

Judging from two late season episodes, the show has many diverging serial plots (brownie points) and definite forward momentum. I'm not sure of the background and setup really, but the main character (played by Wentworth Miller, last seen as a younger Anthony Hopkins in The Human Stain (2003), and who looks like he's twelve years old) wants badly to get his brother out of jail, to the point where he got into the jail in order to get the brother out. I'm guessing somewhere earlier in the season the lawyer subplot spun into something that now seems mob-related (with the lawyer played by Robin Tunney.... hey, she was in The Craft!). There's some political intrigue too that appears not to have any correlation to the prison story; the vice president (Patricia Wettig.... hey, she was in "thirtysomething"!) is apparently being forced out of office, and some inside operative (Michelle Forbes.... hey, she was Ensign Ro!) is trying to make sure she does so without causing a fuss. Not sure where they're going with that story.... it's interesting, but gets maybe four or five minutes of total screentime.

Of course the story is action-packed; at least now it is, because they're actually breaking out of prison. I'm not so sure how my attention would have been kept earlier on.... the acting is particularly wooden and unconvincing from some of the principal characters, which makes the show more laughable than provoking. Certain storytelling techniques also seem to creak and sag with contrivance, for instance the unfortunate trashy multiple flashback sequence at the end of last week's episode, and the even trashier zoom smash cuts when going to commerical. The inevitable nail in the coffin: apparently Brett Ratner, self-annointed auteur, is a producer.

Television shows (mostly serial, but not limited to) are resolutely designed around a single event; the story develops from this event, the characters change and evolve based on this event, and the show is allowed to take off in different tangents and become something else entirely as it moves forward. A show like "Prison Break", though, works in the opposite direction.... the event this show is planned around is to come in the future, not an inciting incident from the past. The point of the show is to break out of the prison, so what happens once that mission is accomplished? Can a show still continue forward when the original conceit (and the title, after all) no longer applies?

Now the gripe: Isn't there something inherently wrong about planning an entire series around one future event? The idea being, once that event happens, the show is finished.... ah, but we know this is usually never the case, as networks sometimes continue shows past their expiration date ("NYPD Blue", anyone?). If a show like "Prison Break" is a wild success, then what to make of it once they actually break out of prison? This is a question the writers and producers are trying to answer for themselves right now, as the second season dawns in the visible distance.

Now the question: Why are networks greenlighting shows like this in the first place? Also this TV season came "Reunion", which I have not seen, which had a similar one-season-only conceit but got unmercifully axed before it could tie up its loose threads. Isn't it reckless to go ahead with a show that can't be seen as carrying forward a couple seasons down the road? Don't networks want to invest in their programming? Imagine the handful of other really good serial shows that were turned down for one-season experiments like this. People could make an argument that "24" follows in this pattern, although I disagree. I do admit that "24" has branched into a strange and somewhat disappointing form of season-long episodic-ness, but it doesn't promise to end it's conceit just because twenty-four hours have run out.... there are always twenty-four hours in future days, but not unlimited prison breaks.

One more episode of "Prison Break" left, and then next season...?

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