Let me get this straight…the premise of this series is that there is a special task force of the U.S. Marshalls that uses a team of convicts—each with their own special skills—to catch escaped convicts? And one of the Marshalls is actually a convict himself? And the other Marshall has a bad heart, and could keel over at any minute? Wow. Does that sound as ridiculous to you as it does to me? Because I’ve got to be honest, this sounds like not just a stupid idea, but an incredibly stupid idea. And I suppose that is part of what makes the A&E series Breakout Kings so fun—it is stupid. But when mixed in the proper proportions, stupid and fun can result in something that is actually entertaining.
I’ve got to confess: I became addicted to this show back in 2011 after watching episodes on On Demand while sick in bed. Breakout Kings is built on the idea that “sometimes it takes a con to catch a con.” Deputy U.S. Marshall Charlie Duchamp (Laz Alonzo) heads up an unorthodox task force that uses convicted felons to catch prisoners who have escaped. The idea for taskforce, however, is not Duchamp. Rather it is the brainchild of Ray Zancanelli (Domenick Lombardozzi), a disgraced Deputy Marshall currently under house arrest for stealing money to buy his daughter a car. (See, this makes him reckless, and slightly crooked, but not bad.) And the rest of the team assembled by Duchamp are a bit like Ray—convicts with a greater sense of morality than the typical television criminal. At least that’s the case with the team assembled after the pilot episode, in which two of the four convicts end up bounced off the team. The rest of the team consists of Shea Daniels (Malcolm Goodwin), the streetwise gang leader who knows the game; Erica Reed (Serinda Swan), the daughter of a bounty hunter, and the key suspect in the revenge killings of her father’s murderers; and Dr. Lloyd Lowrey (Jimmi Simpson), the genius psychiatrist whose gambling addictions led him to a twenty-five year sentence. And lastly, but not leastly, there is Julianne Simms (Brooke Nevin), a drop-out from the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, who suffers from a host of psychological disorders, but still manages to hold it all together to serve the team as the head of research. In exchange for their help, the convicts are transferred to a minimum security prison, and for each escapee they help catch a month is taken off their sentences. But if they mess up, they go back to maximum security, with their sentences doubled. As for Ray, he’s hoping to get back in good with the Marshalls, Julianne is trying to overcome her phobias and depression, and Charlie is looking to prove his bad heart can’t slow him down.
With this cast of colorful characters—each one skillfully crafted with the subtlety of getting hit in the face with a brick—the Fugitive Task Force is a team of flawed, wise-cracking badass heroes looking for redemption. How can you not love them? Or at least be mindlessly entertained by their adventures for forty-something minutes at a time?
Breakout Kings: The Complete First Season consists of thirteen episodes. The pilot episode introduces four convicts to the team, but only Shea and Lloyd remain for the remaining twelve shows, joined by Erica. Each episode opens with some prisoner breaking out of prison—usually the most entertaining part of each show—followed by Charlie and Ray gathering up the team and starting the hunt. The job of the team is to “think like a convict.” Lloyd comes up with a psychological profile, Shea uses his street smarts like a form of telepathy, and Erica uses her bounty hunter skills to run fast, while Charlie and Ray are simply tough-with-a-heart-of-gold. This combination of well-developed skills work in tandem as the team tries to figure out why the convicts escaped—there’s always a reason—and what they’re next move will be. Each of the convicts being chased come straight out of World’s Greatest Prison Escapes, and most are homicidal maniacs leaving a pile of corpses in their wake. Perhaps the most compelling and memorable escapee is Theodore “T-Bag” Bagwell (Robert Knepper), who some of you may recognize from the series Prison Break.
Breakout Kings is a show of ridiculous, entertaining silliness. It is largely brainless fun that develops its main cast of characters in broad brush strokes designed to make them seem more complex. For example, each of the convicts has someone in their life outside that helps motivate their actions, and the audience gets brief glimpses of these characters. Even Charlie and Ray have families who factor into the cases. This makes everyone seem more developed, which helps to suck us into the drama. And though the series is not exactly great television—especially when compared to shows like The Wire or Breaking Bad—it is entertaining enough that it is worth watching.