After an extremely disappointing first foray into scripted television with The Glades, A&E is trying its hand again with a rejected FOX pilot, Breakout Kings. The differences between the two are enormous. Breakout Kings would be better compared to Leverage, except the pilot has me thinking Kings will be a darker, edgier, better developed version. Which is good, because I got bored with Leverage and stopped watching awhile ago. Unlike Leverage, the main characters are immediately given some real depth. Plus the cast is just plain better.
The concept is that several cons will work with the U.S. Marshals to catch fugitives in exchange for reductions to their sentences. Four are chosen, but one is quickly kicked off the team, so we are left with three. Lloyd (the fantastic Jimmi Simpson, Psych, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) is super smart, especially at reading people, which probably contributed to whatever gambling-connected illegal activity got him into trouble. Shea (Malcolm Goodwin, American Gangster) can pick a lock or drive in a high speed chase equally well. Philly (Nicole Steinwedell, The Unit) is a sexy con woman, who regrettably will be replaced in episode two by Erica (Serinda Swan, Smallville, Percy Jackson).
They are joined by Ray (Domenick Lombardozzi, The Wire) a loose-with-the-rules cop that once caught them, now secretly also a con, and Charlie (Laz Alonso, Southland, Avatar), the boss. The two struggle for leadership for much of the pilot, though Ray eventually defers to Charlie. This seems strange, given his personality, until the ending twist that Ray is no longer a cop, and is as much making a deal as the other cons. Also present at their office is Julianne (Brooke Nevin, The 4400, Call Me Fitz), a woman with social anxiety problems whom Ray is protective of for reasons still unknown.
The con the group goes after in the pilot is interesting, as he is extremely smart and keeps them scrambling. However, my main interest in the case of the week is how he tests the central cast. Lloyd, Shea, Philly, Ray, Julianne, and Charlie all have to contribute to his take down, so we get an immediate look at each character’s specialty, and how they will contribute to the whole. I can’t imagine how effective the booted con would have been, as he appeared to be there for muscle, not exactly a need for this task force. I think his presence in the beginning of the episode is merely to show that Charlie means business and will not hesitate to remove anyone who will not cooperate.
My main worry going forward is that Breakout Kings will devolve into a procedural. There is certainly the potential for that, but I feel the series will be stronger if it focuses on each of the central group. What is Ray’s connection to Julianne? Why is Lloyd in jail? Is there a bit of a romance brewing between Julianne and Lloyd, or is he just there to help her with her issues? Why has Charlie agreed to this task force? What is the motive for participating for Ray, other than that he can be a cop again, and this was his idea? We get a little less background on Shea at this point, and I will withhold my questions about Philly, since they likely won’t be answered, sadly. Erica better be as good, and that’s a tall order.
Despite my gut distaste for procedurals, a balance would work okay. There are a number of great shows that blend the serial and the procedural elements together to form a satisfying mixture. As long as there is continuous character development and unfolding background, the show can bring in a new bad guy to catch every week without being a total waste of time. Even cooler would be a bad guy who eludes them for numerous episodes, which just may be on the horizon.
I’m very much looking forward to Robert Knepper reprising his disgustingly sleazy T-Bag on the show for four episodes. T-Bag was a main character in Prison Break, a former favorite show of mine, and Knepper was one of the best parts. It has been announced that T-Bag will be in Breakout Kings. When he last saw the one-handed molester, he was back in prison, after a couple of break outs, so I’m assuming he will escape again. This time without Michael’s help. I will likely refresh my memory with some PB DVD re-watching, and I recommend you do the same. That goes double if you have never seen the show.
Breakout Kings airs on A&E Sunday nights at 10 p.m. ET, and reruns throughout the week, so there is still time for you to watch the pilot before episode two premieres next weekend.