‘Breakout Kings’ Series Premiere Review and Discussion

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breakout kings cast shot Breakout Kings Series Premiere Review and Discussion

If it takes a thief to catch a thief, then the criminal ensemble of Breakout Kings is vastly overqualified. The premise reads like someone proposed a cross between The FugitiveLeverage and Criminal Minds.

US Marshals form a special task force to chase and apprehend high-profile escaped convicts. To achieve this more efficiently, they enlist the services of… former escaped convicts. The prisoners who make up the team are given the carrot and the stick immediately – assist the feds, and they get a reduced sentence in a minimum-security prison. Try to escape or otherwise step out of line, and they’re back in general population.

The lawful half of the team is made up of a straight-laced investigator Charlie (Laz Alonso, Southland) and shoot-first, ask-questions later ground-pounder Ray (Domenick Lombardozzi, The Wire). Quiet, fragile Julianne (Brooke Nevin, The 4400) plays the analyst/coordinator. Three cons join them in their assignments: neurotic genius psychologist Lloyd (Jimmi Simpson, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), entrepreneurial gangbanger Shea (Malcolm Goodwin, Leatherheads) and seductive confidence woman Philly (Nicole Steinwedell , The Unit). After the pilot Philly goes back to the big house and is replaced by manic murderess Erica (Serinda Swan, Smallville‘s magician Zatanna and Tron: Legacy‘s sultry siren Gem). Executive producers Matt Olmstead and Nick Santora are in familiar territory, having cut their teeth on the well-received Prison Break on Fox.

The premiere sets up the hook of the series: US Marshal Charlie Duchamp finally gets clearance for his grand experiment, a team combining the law enforcement capability of marshals with the experience and cunning of former escapees. His only choice for the project is Ray Zancanelli, an insubordinate and surly marshal who (naturally) gets the job done. Ray’s had his own run-ins with the brass and isn’t too keen on playing guinea pig, but he’s between Duchamp and a hard place. Charlie chooses the inmates, all of whom Ray has chased down and caught at one time or another. The team is given the reduced sentencing deal and set upon their first runner, a bank robber hell-bent on murdering his former accomplices.

Fans hoping for a return to gritty con drama may be disappointed that Breakout Kings follows the more lighthearted case-of-the-week formula that most police shows employ. Even so, the premise is original enough to make jaded police procedural fans (such as your truly) sit up and take notice. A&E should be applauded for taking a chance on a truly original idea in a sea of me-too cop shows.

On Breakout Kings, almost the entire cast – cops included – would be antagonists on other TV shows. Each character suffers from his or her own pop-psych malady, gleefully narrated by former psychology professor and all-around creepster Lloyd. He’s clearly modeled as a more unstable version of Dr. House or The Mentalist‘s Patrick Jane. Lloyd jumps at the chance to classify his teammates and their quarry, dishing out semi-therapeutic observations at the slightest provocation. He’s easily the most active of the cops and the cons, and by far the most fun to watch.

breakout kings swan goodwin Breakout Kings Series Premiere Review and Discussion

Lombardozzi does his best imitation of The Shield‘s Vic Mackey, to general success. While his actions and dialogue are somewhat cliched, they’re still entertaining. Alonso gets to play the boy scout to Lombardozzi’s bully… figuratively anyway, as Charlie’s got his own nefarious issues. The character is competent if forgettable. Goodwin’s Shea is like a more serious, thoughtful and practical version of the stereotypical street thug, there to contrast with Lloyd more than anything else.

The pilot is quick, funny and irreverent, making some pretty overt shout-outs as an Ocean’s Eleven-style caper turned upside-down (again, not unlike Leverage). Even forgetting the rather ridiculous idea of cops allowing hardened criminals free reign to chase after their fellow inmates, the show manages to juggle extremely flawed protagonists, who-dun-it mystery and classic chase elements.

There are a few small issues with the plot. Lloyd’s powers of observation border on the supernatural, though that’s forgivable considering he’s easily the physically weakest of the group. Erica and Ray are far too similar, and Julianne’s psychological problems seem to exist just so the entire cast can suffer from glaring character flaws.

Little bits of lazy writing are present, too – I can see there’s going to be at least one prisoner making a miraculous escape every episode. Cops seem to ignore obvious leads like a dropped cell phone or stolen prison license plates. And speaking of prisons, why aren’t the cons making use of their time behind bars? They act more like private investigators than criminals most of the time. Where’s the jailhouse grapevine that everyone on Law & Order seems so eager to take advantage of? Where’s the insight into life on the lam? Still, these omissions are few and far between, and no more egregious than other shows.

 Breakout Kings Series Premiere Review and Discussion

The second episode is a major thematic change, focusing more on gritty morality and less on the fun antics of deputized criminals. It keeps the lightning pace of the pilot,but focuses more on character drama. Unfortunately, they just aren’t multidimensional enough to care about once they stop frantically pursuing the bad guys and playing off of each other. Maybe that will change over the course of the season, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. The entire show feels like a dysfunctional family sitcom superimposed over a cop show, and that’s not a bad thing, but trying to make it into a gritty crime drama a la The Wire or The Shield just doesn’t fit these characters.

Overall the show is very entertaining when it focuses on the chemistry between the cops and cons and leaves out the emotional tension. High cop drama is best left to more straight shows, like the excellent The Chicago CodeBreakout Kings falls into the same broad category as Castle, The Mentalist and Medium as a standard police procedural with a hook.

If it can maintain its dysfunctional humor and excellent pace, while keeping the tortured psychological melodrama toned down, Breakout Kings can at least be as enjoyable as its contemporaries. With its original premise and fun dialogue the premiere is definitely worth a watch for fans of the genre… I only hope the rest of the show’s freshman season can keep up.

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Breakout Kings premieres tonight @ 10 PM on A&E.

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  1. Loved it! I can’t wait to watch it next week!

  2. I just saw it .
    I might give it another shot.

  3. I just cannot see how this television series is realistic enough to justify it to be created. Think about it. Jail breaks just aren’t that common of a phenomenon, considering how almost all prisons/jails have razor wire, electrified fences and guard towers with armed guards in them all along their perimeters. Add to that the fact that even if an inmate does somehow manage to get past all that, escapes, and then subsequently gets recaptured, he or she will automatically get an additional 5 years added onto their sentence. For most inmates, unless you are sentenced to life with the possibility of parole, it just isn’t worth the risk. For any sort of crime show to appeal to me, it has to be way more in tune with reality than this television series is. The producers were grasping at straws when they created this series.

    • That’s not the half of it. SPOILER ALERT: Ray’s in a halfway house because he stole cash from a crime scene – how many cops/feds have you ever heard of who got their jobs back after going to prison? Politicians don’t count.

      Still, it’s not like writers don’t embellish reality for the sake of an entertaining story. Half the crap they throw together on CSI every week is straight-up impossible.

  4. one that bothers me is that there really is nobody to look up to in this series .

    • I think there are a few people to look up to in the series. Lloyd (Jimmi Simpson) is a great character. It’s the anti-hero approach.

      Plus, T-Bag (Robert Knepper) is coming back for 4 episodes.

  5. Well, they tanked this one right out of the gate. Nicole Steinwedell was perfect in the role and I became an even bigger fan after that episode. She had the femme fatale presence. That’s two characters dumped in one episode; plus making one of the “good guys” a criminal and the other one barely upright from illness is a bit overdoing it. I have plenty of TV to watch without wasting time on one with this much baggage to carry around. They need to rein in the creative juices of the people behind the scenes. It looks like way too much design by committee.

    • I agree 100%. Another strike against this show is the network’s overactive language censor. I can’t watch shows where even works like “ass” are bleeped. Give me a break.

  6. There are a couple of good actors who seem to work well together. The idea does not make sense.
    A new breakout every wee? They analyze the breakout king using people who breakout like criminal minds.
    Who wrote this? Am I missing something in the plot. I don’t care to tune in next week to find out.

  7. BRING BACK NICOLE STEINWEDELL, DONT RUIN A GOOD THING !!

    • She was the only reason I was watching week two of this show. But that’s all she wrote for me, unless she returns.

  8. Bringing T-Bag to the series was a slap in the face to all Prison Break fans. The only reason I even gave this show a try was because it’s by the same people who did Prison Break. BTW. The Michael (Wentworth Miller) is the only Break out King. Try bringing him back then the show might be worth watching.

  9. I love this show. I can’t wait for the next episode. I love the addition of the new bad girl (the con-woman was too much for me) and I love the character of Charlie DuChamp. I am looking forward to each of the characters getting fleshed out over the season. I can’t wait to start delving into the hearts of these characters.

  10. I am loving the show, and the characters, particularly Jimmi Simpson. And whether is it a plausible plot or not is of not consequence to me. I love the interaction of the characters. They are all terrific. Should be advertised more so that it gets more folds watching.

  11. I love this show. I watch tv for fun not to see if everything is just like real life. Real life is hard enough without putting it into my relaxation time. I dont want to analyse the entertainment too much. That would just make me a critic. They never like what I like! I just sit back and watch for the breakout the chase then capture. The characters are great. If you think it is too much or you are looking for something more real, read the newspaper.

  12. I love both seasons. I dont understand why would the kill of Charlie though. With all the non reality shows on tv,why would a plot such as the breakout kings not be feasible. Great show.

  13. Show will be cancelled. They killed off charlie and everyone is pissed. Ray gets his badge back? Really? Hes a criminal. Why do police get to break the law? They murder someone and get a suspension without pay. Come on they should go to jail for life.

  14. I absolutely LOVE the show!!! It is now one of my FAVORITE..the cast is awesome!!!

  15. What a boring show *snore* in what world would criminals ever be let out to track down other criminals, creators of this must be on LSD