Fox launched their new season tonight, and I think this is the first time I saw two shows jump the shark right out of the gates. (From here on, spoiler warnings apply. If you give half a crap about Prison Break or K-Ville, go read the news or something.)
The big kickoff started with Prison Break. To sum up briefly, we have a main character named Michael Scofield who went to prison to save his brother who was given the death penalty for a crime he didn’t commit. Over the course of the first two seasons, Scofield busts out his brother and an assortment of cons, some of whom are sad-sack good guys fallen on hard times and at least one of whom is an incorrigible scumbag. Said merry band of miscreants is then pursued by alternately by a sadistic prison guard and a bent, drug-addicted FBI agent connected to the vast government conspiracy that framed Scofield’s brother. At the end of season two, and several events of near-shark jump behavior, Scofield, the now-disgraced FBI agent, the prison guard, and the slimiest of slimeball escapees (now minus a hand), all find themselves in a prison in Panama.
Tonight we find out it gets better. First of all, it’s not just any Panamanian prison, it’s the worst prison on the face of the Earth and has been taken over by the prisoners. A year ago, see, the prisoners rioted so bad that the guards cleared out and let the prisoners have the place. The prisoners formed their own society with a sadistic overseer (sensing a pattern?) in charge. Rather than doing something sensible — like, you know, storming the place and taking it back — the military forms a prisoner around the prison and shoots anyone who tries to escape. Inside the prison, then, anything goes, yet they still feed convicts to the place.
Now that we’ve stretched the bounds of reality once more, let’s just bust on through, shall we? The vast government conspiracy is still around, but in a matter of great coincidence (the show hinges on such conveniences) they have some guy who’s already been imprisoned in the place, and they want Scofield to bust him out. He busted out of a prison before, why not make him do it again? And to make sure he cooperates, they have his nephew and his girlfriend (who, by the way, was a nurse who helped bust him out of his original prison) held hostage. And if that weren’t enough, the sadist in charge thinks Scofield’s a threat and wants him dead, the FBI agent is trying to make amends to Scofield, the scumbag inmate is buddying up with the sadist in charge, and the sadist US prison guard (who is now almost comic relief) is mercilessly abused by the other inmates.
Fill up the tank and fire up the bike, boys, because here we go!
Yet I still find the show strangely compelling. It’s not quite train-wreck entertainment like 24, but I do enjoy the overall plot if not some of the crutches and artificial suspense it’s developed along the way. And hey, I’ve watched it jump the shark a few times already, so why stop now? Maybe this time they’ll fall in and I’ll get to see blood.
(Side note: I just saw a commercial for a Mark Knopfler CD featuring a song called “Punish the Monkey”. Whaaa?)
They followed Prison Break with the main event: the series premier of K-Ville. If Prison Break was a shark jump, K-Ville is more like an octogenarian on a moped roaring through the wreckage of a dropped goldfish bowl. There were several points in the show I thought “Ah, there’s the jump,” only to have that moment topped by the next.
The formula on this one is very familiar: two mismatched cops dropped into a crummy assignment, one the dedicated hard-ass loner and the other the hopeful do-gooder determined to make the relationship work. Since that’s been done before, we need a twist, yes? Let’s drop them into the wreckage of New Orleans! Nothing beats a parable about a national tragedy, right?
Right. At least the network execs seem to agree, anyway. Hero one, played by Anthony Anderson, is our dedicated loner who has been deeply affected by Hurrican Katrina. His partner abandoned him in the thick of the disaster, his family doesn’t want to come back, his neighbors are selling their homes, but he sees hope in everything and is frustrated by the squalor that persists two years after the disaster. Hero two is played by Cole Hauser and he’s our hero with something to hide (which I’ll get to shortly), and is also an apparent crusader bent on redeeming the Big Easy.
As Anderson’s character mercilessly slashes at our heartstrings with a dull machete, the dark side of Katrina plays out through the plot. First, we have Anderson’s partner who took off in the middle of the diaster. The guy is totally irredeemable as far as Anderson is concerned, and even when the ex-partner helps save the day at the end and winds up in a car sinking in the river, Anderson has the moment of hesitation and doubt, thinking the sea deserves to swallow up his former friend. Then we have the government angle, with the police department underfunded, undermanned, and generally neglected in every way, shape and form. And finally, we get the cynical view that some have expressed, which says the hurricane wasn’t a disaster, it was a cleansing that rid the city of the dregs of society. This is focused on a woman, the daughter of a rich casino owner (our foil in this plot), who Anderson manages to make a great leap of logic to track down.
Mind this is after Anderson and Hauser throw down because Anderson just doesn’t trust Hauser. And just for an added dash of flavor, the bad guys are employees of a fictional security contractor with a name suspiciously close to Blackwater USA, a real-life security contractor often fingered by anti-war groups. Hey, we’ve got New Orleans politics, why not throw in hints of world politics?
Rolling your eyes yet? I’ll give you one more. Anderson was right, Hauser’s character is not to be trusted! Turns out Hauser’s character is actually an ex-con who has been so deeply affected by the drowning of his cellmate that he is on the streets seeking redemption. He took advantage of the loss of records to pretend to be an ex-Army Ranger from Cincinatti. I guess with Hurricane Katrina, the entire national database was destoryed and the New Orleans PD just couldn’t find a way to run an accurate background check before hiring a police officer.
This is capped off by the best line ever from Anderson, which I’m going to paraphrase because I don’t quite remember it (but it really was this bad):
Deep down inside, if you’re still a con, I’m going to know about it. And I’m going to be there to take you down!
Yes! I’m all aquiver with testosterone and adrenaline! Thanks, Fox, for demonstrating why the summer seasons on cable can rock so hard.
At least I’ve got one less excuse to keep me from writing this fall.