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Prison Break: Season 1, Part 1 Review

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High concept TV doesn't get more fun than Prison Break

★★★★

Determined to save his brother from being executed for a crime he didn’t commit, a man gets himself arrested and sent to the same prison with an elaborate escape plan up his sleeve. Make that up both sleeves and under his vest. Because the man with the plan — Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) — is a genius structural engineer with the prison blueprints intricately tattooed around his torso and arms, along with various memos, names and tips. Every episode sees another piece of Michael’s puzzle revealed, and another hair-raising (or, in one instalment, toe-amputating) setback test him. “Welcome to Prisneyland, fish!”

If you haven’t been watching Prison Break you’ve been missing one of the most audacious serial thrillers yet from US television. Created by Paul Scheuring and executive-produced by Brett Ratner, it’s sooooo high concept, those of us hooked on it from the pilot have been asking ourselves in disbelief every week just how long this show can sustain its premise; Death Row hunk Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell) is so few days away from the electric chair that he’s already handed in his last meal request (blueberry pancakes).

Obviously, since the programme’s been renewed for a second season, he must get a stay of execution or some startling deus ex machina is in the works. Judging from the first half of the season, it will be something wildly ingenious and unpredictable. Part of the thrill of the show is fretting just how long they can hold off jumping the shark, but miraculously there hasn’t been a fin sighting yet.

After all, Michael’s dangerously felonious recruits to his elaborate scheme are not going to hang in there with him for years. All prison regulars are present and correct: mob boss(Peter Stormare), white supremacist cell-block rapist (Robert Knepper), wisecracking Latino (Amaury Nolasco), naive warden (Stacy Keach), brutal head guard, old lag with cherished pet, and weightlifting, shiv-toting, racially antagonistic gangs in the yard.

Meanwhile, back in Chicago, Lincoln’s high-school sweetie/attorney Veronica (Robin Tunney) is following up Michael’s leads to a high-level conspiracy that sends her and Linc’s teenaged son, LJ, into danger. And there’s the mastermind mystery woman, regularly barking at her henchmen down the phone while we see only her arms furiously hacking veg on a kitchen worktop.

That is, before the diabolical mid-season cliffhanger of who and what she is and why Lincoln was framed are - hooray - revealed. No Lost-like tormenting us with questions, but no answers either, although there are ongoing teases.

A two-part, feature-length prison riot bloodbath is the action highlight of this first half, but we love the dizzying deceits of Episode 5, English, Fitz Or Percy, which houses a jaw-dropping pay-off you cannot possibly see coming. However long the series has life, it surely cannot get more nail-bitingly clever than this.

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