“Breakout Kings” started life last year as a pilot for FOX, which passed on it. After a little while in limbo, the show was rescued by A&E, which is making a push back into scripted series, and it winds up on your screen Sunday night (March 6).
Watching the two episodes A&E sent out for review, it’s not hard to see why the cable network wanted the show: It’s got a solid premise — a team of convicts is recruited to help U.S. marshals apprehend fugitives — and allows its characters to indulge their quirks. But it’s also not all that hard to see why FOX didn’t want it: Once you get past the idea that the bad guys are working for the good guys, it’s a pretty by-the-numbers crime show.
U.S. Marshal Ray Zancanelli (Domenick Lombardozzi of “The Wire” and “Entourage”) is a lone-wolf sort — in that no one really wants to work with him — but he has an idea: Recruit a few convicts who were really good at escaping the feds’ grasp and have them help track down other fugitives in exchange for getting time shaved off their sentences. His bosses agree, but only after putting another marshal, Charlie Duchamp (Laz Alonso, “Avatar”), in charge.
The cons are Lowery (Jimmi Simpson, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”), a genius behavioral expert/inveterate gambler; former gang member and prison hustler Shea (Malcolm Goodwin, “American Gangster”); and, in Sunday’s pilot, con artist Philly (Nicole Steinwedell, “The Unit”). Steinwedell is replaced in subsequent episodes by Serinda Swan (“Smallville”), whose character, Erica, is an “expert tracker.” A civilian named Julianne (Brooke Nevin, “The 4400”) provides logistical and technical support.
The marshals establish early on that they’re going to keep their charges on a short leash, but once that happens, there’s very little tension. “Breakout Kings” pays lip service to the idea that any one of the convicts could run at any time, but it never really feels like one of them actually will.
And other than Lowery, none of the characters really get to show off the skills that either A) made them criminals in the first place or B) made them such tough cases when they were fugitives. Because Lowery gets the most to do, Simpson creates the most fully realized character among the convicts — he’s brilliant, socially maladjusted and incredibly self-centered — but neither Shea nor Erica make much of an impression.
Ray and Charlie have the standard loose cannon-straight arrow-begrudging respect relationship you’ve seen in a hundred other buddy-cop movies and shows, although there’s a bit of back story with Ray that, if it’s explored a little further than in the premiere, could add a little more depth to the show.
“Breakout Kings” was created by “Prison Break” veterans Nick Santora and Matt Olmstead, and it takes place in the same world as the previous show did — in fact, a future episode will feature the team tracking down the odious T-Bag (Robert Knepper). But it lacks the go-for-broke spirit “Prison Break” had, which is kind of a shame. A slightly more unhinged version of “Breakout Kings” might have been more fun to watch, but in the bad-guys-doing-good subgenre of crime shows, it falls short of contemporaries like “Leverage” and “White Collar.”
“Breakout Kings” premieres at 10 p.m. ET Sunday on A&E.