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Prison Break - Ogygia - Advance Preview

If there's one word to sum up this season in broadcast TV, that word might be nostalgia. The main five networks have been crammed to the rafters with reboots and remakes of old films, like Lethal Weapon or The Exorcist, or classic TV shows, like MacGyver and 24: Legacy. It's not a surprise that last year's big summer smash in TV came in the form of 1980s homage Stranger Things. And while it's easy to reflexively condemn this new trend as laziness, there's value in reboots, and an understandable explanation for their existence. In a fragmented time, it's undoubtedly comforting to dip back into what you know.

Prison Break was a ludicrous idea that struck gold with a superlative first season that made up for its lack of thematic interest with a furiously entertaining story before slowly flaming out as its innovations dried up - in its time, a perfect example of binge-worthy popcorn TV made for Netflix before Netflix even existed.

It's perhaps no surprise that the show's 2017 reboot begins with a season premiere that is evidently aimed at evoking those pangs of nostalgia, and of recapturing that formula of endless twists and turns that catapulted the show to fame in the first place. It succeeds in recapturing the formula to a certain extent. The question is whether recapturing a formula is a creative justification for its actual existence.

Ogygia moves at such a furious pace that to describe it in any depth would quickly head into spoiler territory. The premise here is simple: Michael Schofield (Wentworth Miller), presumed dead seven years ago, might be alive, locked up in a Yemeni prison. It's up to Lincoln (Dominic Purcell) and co to decipher why, as they quickly find out that they've riled up some shadowy, faceless organisation with ill intent.

That's the starting point for an episode that's quickly taken on several convolutions by the end. It's certainly, on a basic level, entertaining. The episode moves like a rocket from set-piece to set-piece, throwing out hints about the overarching conspiracy like confetti, and that propulsive pace allows the episode to ride over some of its moments of clumsiness, especially the blindingly obvious dialogue that's a constant presence here. Ogygia's central difference from the usual formula is that it's a mystery first and foremost, almost to a maddening extent.

Roughly everything is shrouded in mystery regarding Michael, and the obfuscating and hinting about the truth of his situation robs Ogygia of the chance to re-introduce its characters in greater depth. We check in with Sara (Sarah Wayne Callies), C-Note (Rockmond Dunbar), Sucre (Amaury Nolasco) and T-Bag (Robert Knepper), but that's all the episode really has time for; checking in with how they are before they assume their position on the chess board Prison Break sets up, ready to be pushed around when the plot demands.

It's fun to see them again, and each of the actors slips back into their roles as if they never left. And there's some valuable evolutions that have occurred in the seven years off C-Note, for instance, has reformed a life in his way that makes his character a thematically interesting prospect for the following episodes.

 However, there's other characters who feel unnecessary to the plot, appearing in either insubstantial cameos or a tangential sub-plot. They appear in the episode because we expect them to, not because all of them are necessary to the story Prison Break is telling.

That's the rub with Ogygia. It looks and feels like a classic episode of  Prison Break, down to Ramin Djawadi's pulsating score and the act-break cliffhangers that are resolved within a few seconds, but it doesn't add anything particularly new.

A good point of comparison is Jason Bourne, last summer's continuation of the franchise that was competently entertaining and had a keen eye for the chief appeal of the series in order to check off tropes and motifs that would please fans of the series, yet lacked narrative substance and a compelling reason for existence. Like that movie, there's nothing wrong about Ogygia's existence. It's simply that it's content to play out a new rendition of an old tune, and that in of itself has problems - TV has moved on drastically since Prison Break left, and many of its favourite habits have become tiresome cliches that frustrate rather than shock.

As a fan of the show, I did enjoy Ogygia. It's fun and fast-moving in a pulpy way that'll be welcoming for any old viewer of the show, and there's enough intrigue piled up by the end of the episode that the next episodes still seem like an appetising prospect. I have no doubt that it'll please fans.

Yet the premiere is hamstrung by a constant lack of ambition, and never manages to articulate quite why Prison Break needed to come back and tell this new story in 2017 on a creative level. This revival still holds plenty of potential, but it has an awful lot to prove over the following eight episodes.

Prison Break returns at 9/8C on Tuesday on FOX.