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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2010-2011 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
BREAKOUT KINGS (FOX)
(written by Matt Olmstead & Nick Santora; directed by Gavin Hood; TRT: 42:20)
The network's description: No official description has been released...
What did they leave out? ...so everything.
The plot in a nutshell: When serial murderer/bank robber August Tillman (Jason Cerbone) improbably escapes from the Fishkill Correctional Facility in Beacon, New York, the U.S. Marshals Service decides to move forward with an experimental task force in which cons assist them in recapturing fugitives in exchange for time off their sentence. The initiative's author, tough-guy Ray Zancanelli ("The Wire's" Domenick Lombardozzi), however is less than thrilled to learn he'll be supervised by ex-Marine Charlie DuChamp ("Southland's" Laz Alonso) from Criminal Program Analysis. And with that we meet their candidates, all among Ray's toughest skips: Gunderson (apologies as I didn't recognize the actor), a thick-skulled brawler; Shea (Malcolm Goodwin), a smooth hustler; Philly (Nicole Steinwedell), a beautiful con artist; and Lowery (Jimmi Simpson), a child-prodigy-turned-degenerate-gambler. Once assembled, Charlie explains that in addition to their sentence reduction (one month off for each con they catch), they'll be transferred to a minimum security facility where Ray and Charlie can assemble them in a moment's notice. However, should any of them try to escape, their sentences will be doubled.
Good deal or not, our quartet (or "animals" as Ray calls them) is more than thrilled with the prospect of spending some time on the outside. And sure enough they prove to be useful: they manage to see through a staged crime scene in which Tillman recently visited - and murdered - an old high school friend, leaving behind evidence which made it appear he was making a run for Puerto Vallarta. It turns out however Tillman is actually tracking down his old running buddies in an effort to find the cash from their first score. Eventually, all of the aforementioned cons - despite their criminal predilections - get their chance to shine, whether it be Shea showing off some of his driving skills, Lowery displaying his distinctive interviewing techniques or Philly putting on a show for one of their targets. Lone wolf Gunderson however can't resist lifting a knife from a diner, which quickly lands him back in jail - a swift reminder how tenuous their current situation is. Ultimately, the "Breakout Kings" - a moniker suggested by Shea for their crew - get their guy and start their first steps towards redemption... or escape.
What works: The show plays a lot like a more violent, less entertaining version of "Leverage" - colorful characters on the fringes of the law doing slightly ridiculous things in order to stop the true bad guys out there. To that end, "Kings" has its moments, from the occasionally snappy dialogue (Charlie: "In the Marine Corps my nickname was 'Virgin' because I don't (bleeped) around."; Gunderson, while flexing: "I don't need a gun, that's why the good Lord gave us these"; Lowery during a scuffle between Ray, Charlie and a suspect: "Who are we rooting for?") to some fun character work in general by Jimmi Simpson whose Lowery is equal parts pervert, genius, momma's boy, smart ass and crying on the inside kind of clown.
What doesn't: The various pieces of the show however don't quite fit together. The task force is inexplicably assigned a civilian aide, Julianne Simms (Brooke Nevin), who has a paralyzing fear of human interaction (exactly who you want helping hunt down dangerous criminals); Ray is ultimately revealed to be a con himself (no, I'm not joking), living in a halfway house (but he still gets to carry a gun and give orders... riiiiight); and each of the cons freely uses cell phones and the internet without consequence (just don't steal a steak knife or you'll be back in jail with Gunderson!), all head scratching moments to say the least. If anything "Kings" feels like a bunch of big ideas never realized as the square pegs of imagination don't quite fit with the holes of reality. That's not to say somewhere in here isn't a real show, it's just as it is...
The bottom line: ...it feels very wonky.