Tonight on Prison Break: A guard almost catches the crew digging and/or filling some hole, and then…doesn’t! When the Fox series debuted last year, it had the makings of an addictive drama (so much so, I named it to my 2005 top 10 list). How much was hidden in that tattoo decorating Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller)? Why was evil Captain Bellick (Wade Williams) so obsessed with Michael? What’s the master escape plan? Now, after three months of hiatus-induced lost momentum and endless two-steps-forward-forty-steps-back plotlines, my patience is waning, as is my willing suspension of disbelief. The tattoo shots are getting to be more wearying than intriguing, that obsessed captain is just a Wile E. Coyote-style distraction who talks in Depression-era prison-movie patter (”bunch of shiftless, no-good convicts”), and the great escape often relies on coincidences as hilariously unlikely as C-Note (Rockmond Dunbar) convincing his wife he’s been in Iraq all this time. As for Michael’s myriad misfortunes (the primary one being his brother’s pending execution), some are now just plain ludicrous: The recent shot of him writhing in the background, stuck to a burning pipe while a guard takes a liquor nip, was Naked Gun worthy.
Prison Break’s not quite off the viewing rotation — and I’ll be the first to apologize if the series turns around, because its stylized direction is unique and Miller’s a great deadpan lead. But right now, the close calls and setbacks are getting cheap — the equivalent of a cat jumping from the cupboard in a slasher film — making one wonder if Prison Break would have been a better movie than TV show. Movies can actually climax.