Monday, November 3, 2008

The Beautiful Ridiculousness of "Prison Break"

I'm a fan of "Prison Break." For the second and third season, I wasn't sure I could admit that out loud. Now the show is in the fourth season and I'm extremely proud to admit that I watch the show. I can't help myself. I look forward to it every Monday. I record "Heroes" and watch "Prison Break". For the past two seasons, it was the other way around. '

The reason is simple: Unlike "Heroes", "Prison Break" has taken a right turn at reality and just plunged itself, blissfully, off into the ridiculous. It has no pretentions of being high art, it holds no claims at reality. It has simply given in to the ludicrous nature it was born with and gone along for the ride.

Season one was interesting. The premise was simple: A very intelligent architect, Michael Scofield, landed himself in jail in a quest to break his death-row-interred brother, Lincoln Burrows, out of jail. The architect had actually designed the prison that held his brother prisoner and so he had the blueprints. In a very artistic manner, he managed to have key elements of those blue prints tatooed onto his skin so that at every crucial turn he had the next part of the escape plan at hand. Or on his back. Or his neck. You get the idea.

Very long and twisty story short, Michael succeeded. He broke Lincoln out of jail. In the meantime, a motley crew joined them ranging from the sweetly innocent-but-framed Sucre to the deliciously psychopathic T-Bag, a pedeophilic sociopath with a photographic memory. Hands were lost, secondary characters died but, in the end of that first season, the brothers were free.

You might wonder how "Prison Break" could continue after the aforementioned prison break had occured. You weren't alone. In truth, it didn't continue very well. The second season considered of a lot of running from the law. It did introduce a new character, Agent Mahone, played by the excellent William Fichner. Granted, his character was so irritatingly brilliant he could practically telepathically link to Michael Scofield's brilliance but he was interesting. But the show grew silly in its attempts to remain viable, tossing big deaths and other story stretchers in an attempt to keep the audience. In the end, I think the writers must have recognized how redundant it was to have a show titled "Prison Break" which featured characters and a plot that had escaped their confines.

So they did what any self-respecting writers/show runners did: They orchestrated a plot that wound the main character back in jail along with several of his former prisonmates. This time, it was Lincoln Burrows who had to break his brother, Mr. Scofield, out of jail. Voila! Prison Break II.

Except it didn't work. The circumstances had moved beyond a clever stretch of reality to completely fictional and unrelatable. Lincoln Burrows had consistently proved the fact that he was good for little except smashing, punching and destroying things. He was just not smart enough to get Michael out without Michael telling him what to do. He always bungled everything. Somehow, by the end of the show, almost every major character was either in prison or trying to break the inmates out. Naturally, they succeeded because "Failed Prison Break" wouldn't exactly be an appealing name for the show, would it?

Enter season four. It is a season in which the decapitated suddenly have their heads again and gunshot victim recovers enough the next day enough to climb ladders, dig holes and lift a REALLY heavy pipe almost entirely by himself. It is a season in which the writers/creators/directors recognize that Lincoln Burrows is not terribly smart but is REALLY good at using an axe/his fists/a car...whatever violent means it takes for him to achive his goal. And, finally, it is a season in which the bad guys get their due, the good guys slowly but surely die heroically and in which there is no prison break scheduled at all. How can you not love it?

Ok...It may sound silly but, trust me, it's fun. Ok, so Michael Scofield and the formerly decapitated Sarah Tancredi- the love of his life- have WAY less chemistry than Michael and his former cell mate, the aptly named sweet Sucre or even, cringe, Michael and Lincoln but at least they're trying. This season the show revolves around the Little Black Book to end all little black books, Scylla, encrypted on some kind of storage device. Michael and Lincoln have been recruited along with all of the other previous regulars (hereafter known as Team Brilliant made up of Michael, Lincoln, Sucre, Bellick (a former corrections guard from the original prison), Agent Mahone and a bunch of other familiar faces), to find Scylla for Homeland Security. Or something like that.

I knew the show was going to be entertaining from the day they introduced the Fabulous Magical Electronic Device. Said device managed to conveniently suck up all electronic data within a ten feet radius. Thus, if the device was planted within ten feet of Scylla, it would absorb all of Scylla's data and feed it to Team Brilliant's laptop. It was ludicrous. It was silly.

It was fabulous. It was then that I realized the show had thrown all reality, plausability and reason out of the window and didn't care one bit.

And neither did I. There are gaping plot holes and gratuitious violence galore. And it's beautiful. Just tonight, Sucre managed to recover from a near-fatal gunshot wound enough to crawl down into pipes with his brofriend, Michael. Sucre managed to climb ladders, lift a super heavy pipe, make a hole with a sledgehammer and do all kinds of physical activity that normal gunshot victims couldn't have even comprehended.

You might think, after reading my "Heroes" post, how I could possibly enjoy such silliness. But as I said earlier, it's because "Prison Break" doesn't try to resonate anymore. It doesn't have to. By deserting its redundant premise, it's become something that "Heroes" wants to be: Entertaining. "Heroes" is agonizing in its earnest attempts to try to reach fans, to reach out to those comic book/graphic novel fans who like a side of super with their hero. It still strives to stay within the guidelines of lore and myth; to pay attention to the rules of the superhero universe. And it's failing. Because try as it might, "Heroes" is boring. One of the appeals of great superheroes like Batman or, one of my personal favourites, Iron Man, is that they were normal, flawed humans who had to WORK at being a hero. There was no dithering. There was no grand analysis of why they should be a hero or villain. There was no misleading attempt to lure readers into thinking their villain was a hero or vice-versa. The story and progression was natural, not overly manufactured and fabricated like "Heroes".

And this is why "Prison Break" has become great. It has taken a hero (Michael Scofield) made him brilliant and flawed. He has a nemesis or two (T-Bag, Gretchen, General Baldy, Giant Evil Agent who Kills Everything in Sight (and who used to be married to Bailey on Grey's Anatomy, on a side note). He has a delicate, yet damaged love (Sarah Tancredi) , a hulk of a brother who might be quite dumb but is fiercely loyal (Lincon Burrows) . In fact, any one who knows our hero can't help but be loyal. This is why his former nemesis, Agent Mahone, the fatally flawed, most nuanced character on the show, is now working with our hero. He has a sidekick (Sucre). Truth be told, Michael Scofield represents the evolution of the superhero: strong but vulnerable, brilliant, pretty and sporting his Blue Steel gaze that always shows he's one step ahead on his enemies.

The show might be silly. It might be unbelievable. Yet therein lies it's beauty: It does what any TV should do. It entertains and, for one hour on every Monday night, it lifts me from the comparatively dull universe of my life and throws me into one in which is silly, ludicrous, daft and unbelievable. But, most of all, it's fun and, for one hour, it's a place to which it's worth venturing. Because when all reason has been thrown out of the window, there's no limit to where it will go next.

And that's what keeps me watching.

No comments:

Post a Comment