The premise of Fox's new drama Prison Break is so preposterous - so My Mother, the Car stupid, so Manimal moronic - that chances are good you won't want to watch. Ignore that instinct. Once you get beyond the idiocy, the show is gripping. This series, which kicks off the fall TV season with its two-hour premiere Monday at 8 p.m. (WXIN-59), opens with a seemingly normal man named Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) getting tattooed across his chest and back, half-heartedly holding up a bank and getting sentenced to a maximum-security prison in Joliet, Ill., after pleading no contest in court.
Turns out, he wanted to be sent to prison. His brother, Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell), is on Death Row, where he's scheduled to be executed in three months for killing the vice president of the United States' brother. Lincoln claims he's been set up, and it appears he's telling the truth. Michael's plan is to help his brother break out of prison and find out who's framing him.
Breathtakingly dumb, wouldn't you say? I mean, with all the prisons in Illinois, what are the odds Michael would be sentenced to the same one as his brother? And even if he does get "lucky," what are the chances he'll get anywhere near his brother? And what kind of lunatic wants to be imprisoned, anyway? Did the guy never watch Oz? Yeesh.
But suspend reality for a minute, if you will. Forget the first seven minutes of the show and think of Prison Break as starting with Scofield already in prison. Then, what you have is an intricate little thriller about how a man survives in prison and tries to work the system to his advantage. Scofield uses his wits to manipulate the warden (Stacey Keach), the Mafia boss who runs the prison work detail (Peter Stormare) and even the prison doctor (Sarah Wayne Callies), all of whom unknowingly give him room to maneuver. Miller infuses Scofield with such a sense of purpose that you get the feeling he's playing chess and these people are his pieces. It's a stellar performance.
When Michael finally gets to Lincoln - as you knew he would, right? - he shows off his tattoo, which will be key to helping both of them break out. And because they're being set up as the good guys, it seems likely they will ultimately escape, creating a Fugitive-style story. (I'd vote for Lincoln being executed and Michael serving a long sentence, but that's just me.) However it plays out, as long as Prison Break continues to feature such compelling acting, it'll be worth watching to see how the story develops.
In the fifth episode, you'll see 2003 Butler University graduate Blaine Hogan. He plays a character named Seth, who steals a car that happens to have a child inside and gets convicted for kidnapping.