There’s a particularly irritating kind of review out there – the kind that usually includes the line ‘if this sounds like the kind of thing you’ll like, you’ll like this thing.’ It’s irritating because it’s so fundamentally lazy. In reviews of this type, the reviewer will fill a few paragraphs with examples of what makes ‘this kind of thing’ before concluding, with a weary sigh, that if this kind of thing sounds like your thing, then this thing will be your thing.
But it’s not just lazy. It’s snotty. It boils down everything that makes a property enjoyable (if not unique) for readers who legitimately like them, and then tacks on the implication that the person who likes them has, you know, questionable taste.
The reviewer, we are given to understand, doesn’t really like this kind of thing but can see why someone else might. But not just any someone else: no, the kind of someone else who likes things such as this thing that the reviewer does not. You know. You and me.
All of which is unfair, given that ‘if you like this kind of thing, you’ll like this thing’ is a totally valid recommendation when it’s expanded upon. Do you like John Grisham’s books, with their action and noble lawyers and legal puzzles and moral quandaries? Then it’s reasonably safe for me to tell you that you’ll probably also like Brad Meltzer’s books. And I mean that as a legitimate recommendation! (I really do; The 10th Justice is good fun.)
All of which is a roundabout way of winding into today’s point: Breakout Kings is the kind of thing you’ll like if you like this kind of thing. And I mean that as a good thing.
Jared found Breakout Kings on Netflix and we wound up getting through the entire series pretty quickly; it had enough going for it to keep our interest and, by the end of its run, actually got pretty good. It was initially produced as a pilot for Fox but wound up on A&E (which is weird to me, but that's because I still remember when A&E was famous for showing Biography) and quietly cancelled after only two seasons.
The premise is basic and entertaining: a disgraced federal marshal puts together a crack team of prisoners who have themselves all broken out of prison at one point or another. (Symbolic of some of the show’s larger problems with writing and characterization: the main characters can each be boiled down to a single, reductive feature. You’ve got the hot girl, the nerdy guy, the black guy, the noble marshal, the suspect marshal… and so on and so forth.) The crack team tracks down villains of the week after they break out of prison; each person they send back to jail means another month off their own sentences. See? Easy!
Let’s not beat around the bush: the first season is really weak. Not terminally so, no, but if we hadn’t been watching a few episodes at a time on Netflix we almost certainly wouldn’t have finished it. Happily, the second season introduces a season-long arc and boils down its focus on the characters’ flexible morality, resulting in a darker, more enjoyable show.
In its second season, Breakout Kings also lets its strongest actor, Jimmi Simpson (who plays the nerdy guy, natch), carry more weight – again, to the show’s benefit. Simpson elevates his material enough to improve the entire show; it’s no accident that the second season is better than the first, given that the season-long story centres around his character. Simpson, whom we previously only knew from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, is good enough on Breakout Kings that I hope he eventually gets his own (legitimately good) show – one that’s worthy of his not insignificant abilities.
If you like: prison breaks; cop dramas; actors you vaguely recognize from other prison break/cop drama shows; monster-of-the-week stories; primarily episodic story-telling; strong character acting; occasionally ridiculous setups
Then you’ll like: Breakout Kings