Breakout Kings – Pilot Review

Breakout Kings was created by Prison Break producer Matt Olmstead and writer Nick Santora, and given the pedigree and premise, there was lots of talk and hype in reference to Prison Break, Fox’s groundbreaking drama which began 6 years ago. In reality, though, Breakout Kings is no different than your average procedural. It’s not about prison culture or a fandangled scheme to break out of one. Instead, it’s about catching criminals, something we’ve seen on television many times. But even if it doesn’t live up to exception, Breakout Kings is by no means bad.

Each episode has the usual procedural beats–going through databases to find connections, chases, talks about criminal psyches, and forensic work in the background. So in this respect, Breakout Kings isn’t that different. The twist is that the U.S. Marshalls need criminals to catch other criminals. It’s an intriguing concept, to be sure–one that isn’t original but loaded with potential.

There is Lloyd Lowery (Jimmi Simpson), a child prodigy and former professor, Erica Reed (Serinda Swan), a mother who wants to get out for her daughter, and Sean “Shea” Daniels (Malcolm Goodwin), an ex-“entrepreneur.” Unfortunately, neither the pilot nor the third episode (the two episodes A&E sent out) truly convey why these criminals are needed.

With the exception of Lloyd, who is obviously extremely smart and spouts facts every second, the criminals don’t seem to have mindblowing insights that the three feds, Ray Zancanelli (Domenick Lombardozzi), Charlie Duchamp (Laz Alonso), and Julianne Simms (Brooke Nevin), wouldn’t have come upon on their own. The Marshalls really don’t need cons to catch cons, but hey, that’s television. I don’t have a particular, nagging problem with this since every show requires some suspension of belief, but it’ll differ from person to person.

What the pilot does well is reminding us that these are, in fact, criminals, convicts who have lengthy sentences. And it’s not just the convicts–the Marshalls have solid backstories as well. Behind each convict are flaws which landed them in prison in the first place, and behind each Marshall is something that landed them in the job. Even though each recaptured criminal is one step forward career-wise or another month off a prison sentence, the writers let us know that every character, even the Marshalls, is trapped in some way, whether it is personal demons or a character flaw.
As one may remember, Breakout Kings was originally planned as a pilot for Fox. Ultimately, it was not picked up, as Fox had both Lone Star and The Chicago Code both of which have since garnered less than expected ratings. Although almost everything has stayed the same since the pilot, there is an entirely new character by the third episode, Erica, replacing Philly (Nicole Steinwedel). What’s disappointing about this is that Philly is a much more interesting character. Lloyd can’t get a bead on her, and we see at the end of the pilot that she has a huge bank account waiting for her. With this in mind, we can already imagine the temptations waiting for her. On the other hand, Erica wears her emotions on her sleeves: she wants her daughter! 

While Breakout Kings isn’t anything special, it’s in the vein of shows American audiences currently gobble up. The humor works most of the time, the action is well shot, and the characters are interesting–ingredients for a pretty good procedural.