Josie and I have recently went through the entirety of BREAKOUT KINGS, a small show that lasted a little under two seasons on A&E. The premise is gimmicky at best: two U.S Marshals, Charlie DuChamp (Laz Alonso) and Ray Zancanelli (Domenick Lombardozzi, better known as Herc, from THE WIRE) are leading this new special team where cons help them catch other cons. Instead of following the old saying that "you have to think like a killer to catch a killer", DuChamp and Zancanelli hire consultants to do it at a rate of one month off their sentence at each capture. I know, it sounds like cynical capitalism put like that, but I promise it's not that bad.
You might be wondering why I cover to little television. See, that's the thing I do with Josie and we have this nasty habit of not finishing series we started whenever the quality drops a little. It's a hobby that takes a lot of time and we rather do something productive than sit through something we don't like. MAD MEN for example. Great first season. There is an aura of duplicity around Don Draper, which he uses to be good at his job. But that's it. We threw the towel early into third season. Anyway, without further ado, here are my observations about BREAKOUT KINGS.
- This show was made in the wrong era. If BREAKOUT KINGS had been produced in the nineties, it would have been way more popular and went on for ten seasons, or at least until the cons wiped off their sentences. Between the post-Sopranos era where television fiction has to be complex and deep and the CSI era, where spectator are flooded by the episodes of the same damned show, structured the same damned way *, BREAKOUT KINGS had very little place to exist.
- It's a good show. It's simple and not very deep, but you don't need much to make good television. Good writing. Original ideas. Patient casting. That's it. BREAKOUT KINGS is not high art, but it's not mindless entertainment either. I loved how it blurred the line between law enforcement, control and power. The cons are clearly the lead characters here and they're written with one purpose in mind: make you understand they're brilliant, charming human beings too. It doesn't do much more than that, but it does that very well.
- Speaking of which, can somebody explain to me why Jimmi Simpson is not a superstar yet? The guy is brilliant. Of course, he had the best-written character in the show, but his interpretation was deep, subtle, vulnerable and hilarious. When the credit to the series finale rolled, I knew Dr. Lloyd Lowery would be the thing I would miss the most about BREAKOUT KINGS. The character could have been obnoxious and annoying, but Simpson made him an endearing, asocial freak.
- That finale. Anybody else saw it? Knowing that the series got hacked before its originally scheduled ending, is it me or that finale was the biggest fuck-you from a show producer to network executives? They leave you right in the middle of a huge moral dilemma. Probably the biggest moral dilemma of the entire show's existence and they just slam the door at you without giving you proper closure. I guess it was meant to get the fans all riled up and wanting more, but truth to be told, it's not hard to imagine what went on from there.
- One of the biggest weakness in those a-crime-a-week shows is that over time, every week turns out the same. BREAKOUT KINGS does a good job at working around that, by finding great ideas for antagonists. Amongst others, there were: an ultra-nationalist white power dude, a Ted-Bundy insipired figure, an ultra-violent momma's boy, a Bonnie-and-Clyde inspired duo, a psychotic crime lord who happens to be a woman, a man who went off the deep end with religion...there is a lot of variety to the antagonists and it helps keeping the show fresh. It's not a strong feat of originality, per se, but the screenwriters took the time to research, brainstorm and do things properly in general.
- The show got weaker towards the end as it reached for a continuous story line. That reeked of network executive interference. Other shows were doing it, so they wanted BREAKOUT KINGS to do it too. But it wasn't what the show was good at. Clichés started popping up with more regularity. Screenwriters started taking easy decisions to keep the drama growing. They took weird decisions along the line too, like eliminating lead characters. I tried to research if the actors took other engagements that would have explained these decisions, but came up short. They just liked to kill off their darlings like George R.R Martin.
- I don't have any major criticism of BREAKOUT KINGS. It is what it is: a small time, comedic crime series. It understands its nature very well. Domenick Lombadozzi playing almost the same exact role than in THE WIRE was a let down. The marshals could have been written better also, I suppose. Screenwriters kept alternating between the realistic let's-not-mingle-with-the-inmates-and-be-dicks-to-them stance and the more dramatic let's-listen-to-the-inmates-we-could-learn-something. That made for two half-baked characters that didn't incite much interest. But the show is not about them. It's about the cons and their chance to earn their freedom by doing good.
* You know, the a-crime-a-week thing.