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'PRISON BREAK' Outrageous Fox drama casts an alluring spell



Published: Sat, August 27, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The show is filmed in an Illinois prison that closed in 2002.

LONG ISLAND NEWSDAY

Entertainment when it's inspired can persuade you of anything. Great operas make singing conversations seem normal. Committed rockers can sell nonsense lyrics. TV more than occasionally reaches its zenith in the most ridiculous of circumstances. How enduring are "Green Acres" and "The Dukes of Hazzard"? Great art, they may not be. But we can't stop watching.

Into that club, we soon might welcome "Prison Break." Fox kicks off the 2005-06 TV season Monday night with an adventure drama almost surreal in its absurdity, even gag-inducing in the contrivances it expects you to swallow. Yet it's one tasty piece of lunacy.

In the mold of "24," the producers keep ratcheting up the characters' motivations and schemes. Actually filmed in Illinois' forbidding Joliet Prison, opened in 1858 (and closed in 2002), its maneuverings quickly take on an operatic outrageousness, casting a strong spell through resolute performances and taut direction.

Chess game

The title is true to its word, but this is no action thriller. It's a twisted chess game that starts with Michael Scofield, a self-possessed young engineer (Wentworth Miller, seen last season on "Joan of Arcadia"), holding up a bank for no reason. Or is there one? He's sent down the river, where he and we are plunged into vengeful assaults, prison politics and the sort of national conspiracies that no longer require the aliens once employed by "The X-Files."

Our hero Scofield makes buddies with all sorts of fellas, good and bad, for all kinds of reasons, which become both clearer and more ambiguous by premiere's end -- in the best "24" fashion.

How perfect would these two shows be as Monday night mates when "24" returns in January? (Fox instead plans to give "Prison Break" a rest, moving "House" to Monday at 8 as the "24" lead-in.) Both are propelled by the pedal-to-the-metal certainty of heroes who observe no bounds. They even share resentful family members getting in the way of their work.

If "24's" Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) is always trying to prevent some disaster, Scofield is accelerating toward one, determined to break out one high-profile death-row prisoner.

He's no ordinary prisoner, but neither are the others. One might be D.B. Cooper (Muse Watson), the extortionist hijacker who parachuted into 1970s legend. Another certainly is a mob kingpin (Peter Stormare). And there's the street-savvy cell mate (Amaury Nolasco) who eases our hero's way into this nasty world.

The warden turns out to be a soulful dude (Stacy Keach) with a yen for the Taj Mahal, and the prison doctor is, naturally, a gorgeous young thing (Sarah Wayne Callies) with her own crucial connections.




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