Turning the clock back twelve years, the landscape for serial dramas was much different. Premium networks like HBO were still gaining their footing, and Netflix was still competing with the likes of Blockbuster. Leaving your television needs in hands of networks like FOX, CBS and NBC. So while some shows were unforgivable clunkers (ex. Joey and Cavemen) every once in a while there would be unexpected gems. In 2005, no gem was more beloved than FOX’s Prison Break.
Like most serialized network programs, things like plausibility are often times thrown out the window. For Prison Break that was no different as the show’s concept focused on a man, Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller), imprisoning himself purposely to break out his brother, Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell), who is on death row for killing the Vice President’s brother. Oh and not to mention Michael’s breakout plan is literally tattooed across his entire body.
Considered a risky move by the network, Prison Break was given an order of only 13 episodes. Little did they know that the show would be a smash hit with its opening episode gaining over ten million viewers. Now what made Prison Break so popular was its ability to create a modern day MacGyver with the Scofield character. Each and every episode employed new schemes and obstacles that could potentially destroy Michael’s grand escape.
Now what could have been a repetitive tool for the show was avoided by the use of dangerous characters housed in the Fox River Penitentiary. From crooked prison guards, to racists, to gang members, to the mentally unstable, and mob members this prison housed them all. Which caused any predicament that Michael found himself in that more extreme.
It is here where the show truly shined as it developed amazing supporting characters that complemented our main protagonists. Characters such as Sucre (Amaury Nolasco) and C-Note (Rockmond Dunbar) were the heart of the show as their reasons for escaping dealt with seeing their families again. While Theodore Bagwell (Robert Knepper) and Abruzzi (Peter Stormare) are the bad to the bone criminals only looking to wreak havoc outside of a prison wall. The latter being a mob boss who works with Michael because of his knowledge of the whereabouts of the man who imprisoned him. While the former being arguably the most captivating character of the show, who just so happens to be a rapist/murderer and is left handicapped in the finale by Abruzzi.
Of the non-criminal variety, the show also built up characters like Sara (Sarah Callies) and Brad Bellick (Wade Williams). Sarah is a prison nurse, who is very much the love interest of Michael. Her story is all about conflict, having feelings for an inmate and her dilemma of actually aiding in his escape. Bellick on the other hand is a hard ass guard whose development shows him to be as much criminal as he is a man of the law.
Away from the characters within the prison, the show also had a very intriguing subplot outside of the escape as well. That plot dealt specifically with these shady characters, who worked for the Vice President going about killing anyone who tried to prove Lincoln’s innocence. So the idea that the Vice President was behind Lincoln’s incarceration made it feel as though Michael and Lincoln were up against the world.
By season’s end, eight prisoners escaped Fox River in the form of Michael, Lincoln, Abruzzi, T-Bag, Sucre, C-Note, Tweener and mental patient Charles Patoshik. The escape doesn’t go without a hitch however, as the plane Abruzzi had set up for the inmates to escape in, left them behind leaving the inmates to fend for themselves. I actually still remember spending months after the finale aired just thinking about what was in store for these inmates.
So while season one of Prison Break built a dilemma that was hard to believe on paper. The characters who inhabited that very dilemma made us as viewers back in 2005 buy into it in ways no one expected.
Noteworthy Episodes: Brother’s Keeper, Go, Tonight, The Rat, and Odd man out.