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Breakout Kings - Advanced Screening

When I was first approached to review Breakout Kings, I was concerned that the show would be too similar to Leverage, as that's the feeling I got on all the prior advertisements. However, I can tell you that these two shows are not similar at all. Breakout Kings instead take the approach that these criminals are more out for their own gain in agreeing to take part in this arrangement. The premise of the show is that a group of criminals are hand-picked to help out U.S. Marshals Charlie Duchamp (Laz Alonso) and Ray Zancanelli (Domenick Lombardozzi) as they track down wanted fugitives. It seems like a great premise, but the follow-through is a bit rough until the series gains momentum.

Pilot episodes have a lot of pressure put upon them. Not only is it presenting a new show to an audience, it's also meant to give you a quick introduction to the plot and the characters that will be entering our homes every week. Sadly, at the end of this particular episode, I felt as if I was being thrown too much information in not enough time. The case was too complex, the convicts were never given enough background to make you understand them, and the technical aspects of the show prevented it from reaching its fullest potential.

Ray, a problematic cop, had previously presented the idea of creating a task force made up of criminals. Having been pushed aside in the past, now the idea is given the go-ahead as long as Charlie heads it up as well. The audience immediately notices that these two don't really get along. It's the classic 'thrown together, learn to like each other' situation. And then you throw in four convicts to work the team, whom Ray admits were the toughest ones he's ever had to track. If they agree to work with the law, they will be transferred to a minimum security facility. If they also manage to catch the guy they're after, they'll get their sentences reduced. Win-win, right?

My issue is that I don't know these people and I don't understand what makes them special. They were the toughest to track, which I'm guessing means they're good at what they do, but what exactly is that? Gunderson was a big game hunter, Shea Daniels (Malcolm Goodwin) was an "entrepreneur", Erica Reed (Serinda Swan) was a con artist, and Dr. Lloyd Lowery (Jimmi Simpson) was a former child prodigy who was also a behaviorist, a tenured professor, and a problem gambler. That's all the information we have on them as we set out on this case, but what does any of that mean? We lose Gunderson from the crowd early on, since he's not really a team-player, so he's out. It's a good thing, too, since Gunderson seemed to be the most violent. So, we're left with three criminals who appear to have been involved with non-violent crimes if their demeanor is anything to go by. Perhaps this is meant to make it easier for the audience to be on their side. Until I know more about them, I can't decide.

The case they're involved in on their first go-around is that of escapee August Tillman. He had an ingenious break-out maneuver on his way out of prison and I feel this is going to be their hook for the show; see what wacky way we can get the criminal-of-the-week out from behind bars. However, the elements of the case were much too complex for a pilot episode. There were false leads, secondary characters, and a chase that was frankly too confusing when you're trying to get a feel for all the main characters who will matter. Instead, I'm left with many questions. Will there be an explanation as to if Charlie does indeed have a heart condition (as that's what it looked like to me)? Will we ever find out why Lloyd was sentenced to 25 years in prison? Is the team going to start acting out of selflessness rather than working towards getting another month taken off their sentence? And, more importantly, will the audience stick around long enough to get these answers?

To give a glimmer of hope, I did get to see the third episode ("Out of the Mouths of Babes") and the writing gets a bit smoother. The case in this instance was more straightforward and focused, so the exploration of the main characters could take a stronger turn. There was indeed the crazy escape to kick off the case, and I find myself very interested in that, so maybe that will be the hook necessary to get people to tune in week after week. What will keep them sticking around is if we get some much-needed background exploration. I care more about Lloyd than anyone and that's probably because he's shared the most of himself with us. Or maybe I'm just drawn to the socially-awkward character of the show. He's certainly bound to end up being the break-out character of the ensemble at this rate. I just wish I knew the others a bit better, too.

Tune in to A&E on Sunday, March 6th, at 10PM for the pilot of Breakout Kings. Sometimes, it takes a con to catch a con.

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