For today's blog, I'd like to talk to you about TV3's new show Breakout Kings, which (if you've been following any of the promotion) was created by the folk who brought us Prison Break. It even featured a Prison Break star last night, with Robert Knepper reprising his iconic role of Theodore "T-Bag" Bagwell in a single-episode guest slot*.
The promos have been akin to those dodgy movie posters that advertise a film as being "from the producers of such-and-such". But what the promotional material doesn't tell you is that the creators of Breakout Kings, Nick Santora and Matt Olmstead, were actually just involved in writing and producing Prison Break, not in creating that show - so mentioning Prison Break is like saying that my personal website is brought to you by the folk who brought you Stuff.co.nz.
I didn't create Stuff. I just contribute to an existing entity, same as Santora and Olmstead did for Prison Break.
The comparison - or rather, the invocation of that earlier show - is interesting to me, not just because of a somewhat-inaccurate promotional campaign, but because Breakout Kings isn't actually anything like Prison Break. Other than in a couple of superficial ways (police officers and prison convicts make up the bulk of the characters; breaking out of prison is a major narrative device) the show is actually completely different.
For a start, we're meant to sympathise with law-abiding citizens on Breakout Kings; characters like Ray and Charlie work in service of the law, while most of the story is told from the point-of-view of police. If you can remember Prison Break, our point-of-view was the prisoners; the whole point of the show (and the reason it succeeded early on) was that we were sympathising with characters we would normally find morally reprehensible.
The structure of the shows are different too: where Prison Break appealed to the serial drama fan, Breakout Kings is a more straight-forward procedural - a prisoner escapes, the team comes together to track him down, the final act contains an impressive set piece which ends with the prisoner back in custody, Charlie says something emotional, and we're done. Stylish though it may be, it's really just another variation on the format used by Criminal Minds, NCIS, and all those other cop shows we've come to embrace over the years.
The comparison is also interesting because Prison Break isn't a show you'd want to be compared to anyway. I mean, I know the promotion is intended to drum up an audience ("if you liked Prison Break, check out this other show you might like") but is it a good idea if the audience still has a bad taste in their mouths from that earlier show?
I can't speak for anyone else, but my opinion of Prison Break is pretty low. After a decent first season, Paul Scheuring and his team dragged things along for a not-quite-as-good second season, then jumped the shark by conveniently landing the escapees together in a Panama prison and introducing a long, drawn-out conspiracy and a series of pointless twists that never seemed fully resolved and didn't lead to any satisfying pay-off.
In the serial drama boom of the mid-noughties, Prison Break is a close second behind Heroes on the list of shows that should have worked but wrote themselves into a ridiculous corner.
To be honest, when I heard the name Prison Break being bandied about in relation to Breakout Kings, I was expecting the worst. As it turned out, as I mentioned before, the latter is nothing like the former; the Kings are pretty forgettable in their own right, and I won't be making a point of tuning in every week. But it does make me wonder if a comparison - especially to a show that doesn't really compare favourably - can damage a show's chances.
What do you think: are you wary of promotions that compare a new show to an older show? Have you been watching Breakout Kings? What do you think?
(*) Last night's episode was a minor crossover between the two shows - and a welcome one, since Knepper might have been the best thing about Prison Break. I'm stunned that he hasn't done more in the time since.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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