Breakout Kings is a police procedural series that airs on the A&E Network. Currently in its second season, the complete first season is now available on DVD. The four disc set includes all 13 episodes, augmented by a smattering of supplemental features. The basic concept is that a group of convicts has been selected for a special task force. Each of their skills will be used to help police apprehend fugitives. In exchange, the cons will be transferred to a minimum-security prison and receive a reduction in their sentences (one month for each fugitive caught). Should any one of them screw up and break the rigid set of rules, they go directly back to prison with their sentence doubled.
The series was created by Nick Santora and Matt Olmstead, who collaborated previously on Fox’s Prison Break. Though details about each of the main characters begin to add up over the course of the season, each episode functions more or less as a standalone story. The viewer can kind of jump in at any point in the season and figure out what the premise is. Comparisons have been made, not unjustifiably, to shows such as TNT’s Leverage, CBS’s Criminal Minds, and USA’s White Collar. Police procedural junkies are the target audience for Breakout Kings, as there are so many of these shows on TV nowadays that it’s hard to keep up with them all. This isn’t a terrific show by any means, but it’s well produced enough to be a decent time passer.
Of the team members, Jimmi Simpson steals the show as Dr. Lloyd Lowery. Lloyd is the brains behind the task force. He’s a highly analytical genius with an M.D., but he got busted for selling prescriptions to college kids. Lloyd gets inside the heads of everyone he talks to. Simpson plays him with just the right mix of intensity, humor, and creepiness. In fact, he’s so distinctive he’s front and center on the DVD cover, despite being only one part of the ensemble. With the hit-or-miss quality of each “escaped con of the week” plotline, Simpson becomes the show’s most valuable asset.
The rest of the cast is much blander. Laz Alonso heads up the team as Charlie Duchamp. Alonso doesn’t do much of interest with the role. Domenick Lombardozzi plays Charlie’s partner, Ray Zancanelli. Ray comes off as a third rate cross between Michael Chiklis’ Vic Mackey from The Shield and Jason Statham from…well, pretty much any of his roles. However, Ray is interesting because he’s actually on parole, having stolen money while employed as a Deputy U.S. Marshal. Like the task force, he’s another criminal trying to prove himself. None of the other task force members makes a real impression, though the beautiful Serinda Swan adds a little variety as their only female colleague, Erica Reed.
Fans will appreciate the special features. They’re not extensive, but at least it’s not a bare bones release. Two episodes have commentary by the show’s executive producers, Nick Santora and Matt Olmstead. On the commentary for the pilot episode, the two offer a good amount of background on the creation of the show. The deleted scenes are barely worth listing on the package – there’s a reel of less the three minutes of short clips. The featurettes “Good Cons, Bad Cons,” “Bullpen Sessions,” and “T-Bag: Dealt a Bad Hand” are basically commercials, lots of talking head interview clips praising the show to the skies. The latter featurette focuses on episode three, “The Bag Man.” Prison Break fans will be happy to see Robert Knepper back as T-Bag, a regular character on that show.
As cop dramas go, Breakout Kings may not be the most striking series on TV. The writing is uneven, with potentially exciting scenes sometimes turning cheesy without warning. It’s almost like everyone involved is trying too hard. That is, everyone except for Jimmi Simpson, who walks off with every episode.