Who doesn’t love a good prison show?
Apparently, very few of us because prison shows have formed one of those subcategories on TV that’s been with us for a while now, and shows no sign of easing.
I’ve been thinking about TV’s obsession with jail because I just watched an upcoming episode of “Breakout Kings,” the A&E series that starts its second season Sunday (March 4) at 10/9c. “Breakout Kings” is one of two scripted prison shows currently on TV – the other one being “Alcatraz” on Fox. And two of the executive producers of “Breakout Kings” — Matt Olmstead and Nick Santora – worked previously on another show about a prison break, “Prison Break.”
So far, though, TV’s non-scripted prison shows far outnumber the scripted ones. In another one of my occasional inventories of shows with similar themes, I came up with at least nine non-scripted shows about prison (or jail – which is pretty much the same thing to those residing in them) currently or recently on TV. They include: “Las Vegas Jailhouse” on TruTV, “Jail” on Spike, “Beyond Scared Straight” on A&E, “First Week In” on Discovery (a particularly good one), “I Escaped: Real Prison Breaks” and “Prison Wives” on Investigation Discovery (ID), “Lockup” on MSNBC (and its subtitle spinoffs “Extended Stay” and “Raw”), and “Lockdown” and “Locked Up Abroad” on National Geographic Channel. (Have I missed a few? Probably.)
I’m particularly intrigued by the “Lockup,” “Lockdown” and “Locked Up” triumvirate of similarly named shows. Last year, when comedian Colin Quinn told me in an interview that he was a fan of TV’s prison shows, I made him laugh when I asked which show he liked better, “Lockdown” or “Lockup”?
The truth is, the scripted prison shows can’t hold a candle to the documentary/reality shows because prison life in real life can be near impossible to duplicate dramatically (the exception being “Oz” on HBO – which might actually have been sicker than real prison).
Thus, I suggest enjoying the scripted prison shows as you would any other hard-boiled drama series you happen to like on TV. Besides, a show like “Breakout Kings” isn’t so much about prison really as it is about what happens when some insane criminal genius plots successfully to break out of prison – at which time the fugitive squad of “Breakout Kings” plots to retrieve the escapee. This particular squad is made up primarily of convicts who have been assembled by the feds as an experiment in fugitive-catching.
In Sunday’s season premiere episode (the one I watched on a preview DVD, thanks to A&E), the squad is hot on the trail of a serial-killer whose fluency in Hebrew aided his escape – which was a novelty I hadn’t seen before in any TV crime series. What “Breakout Kings” has going for it is its cast, led by barrel-chested Domenick Lombardozzi and including a convict who’s also a doctor (played by Jimmi Simpson), another master criminal (Shea Daniels) and a female convict who’s pretty but very tough (Serinda Swan). Laz Alonzo plays their supervisor.
It’s a cohesive team and one well-worth getting to know – except that you might not want to get to know all of them too well just yet. You’ll know why I’m saying that if you watch the show on Sunday.
“Breakout Kings” airs Sunday night at 10/9c on A&E.