'Breakout Kings' Premiere: Cops and criminals unite! Also, clichés galore.
Image Credit: Mitch Jenkins/A&E Breakout Kings, which premiered last night on A&E, is unfortunately not a Breaking Bad spin-off. It’s a cop show. No, wait, I’m wrong. It’s a cop show about cops who aren’t cops (seriously, ask them) because they’re convicts! But still cops. So, yes, it’s a cop show, but it’s (trying to be) a little different. If Guy Ritchie were stuck in solitary confinement for a month and forced to watch nothing but NYPD Blue and Ocean’s Eleven, this is the television show that he would produce on the 31st day. (Irish fighting sequence? Check. Fast talking criminals? Check. Quick camera moves with freeze and titles to introduce characters? Double check.) It’s a bit formulaic, but what can you expect from such a well-trodden genre? It feels like cop shows have been around since Zworkin patented the kinescope. In a world currently showing three CSIs and three Law & Orders, do we need another detective show? And more importantly, will this fill the Jeremy Sisto-sized hole in our hearts?
Given the fact that pilot episodes can be notoriously shaky, Breakout Kings actually has a number of redeeming qualities. Chief among them is Jimmi Simpson, starring as someone less revolting than Liam McPoyle. Simpson plays one of the cons tapped by Detective Charlie DuChamp to be in a special police task force composed of criminals. Operating off the age-old “it takes one to know one” idiom, the rationale is that convicts will be able to track down suspects more easily than detectives. Okay, I can roll with that.
Character-wise, there’s Charlie, the by-the-book detective who takes his work seriously; Ray Zancanelli, his new partner with an unorthodox style of fighting crime; Lloyd Lowery, (played by the aforementioned Jimmi Simpson) former child prodigy/problem gambler; ex-gangbanger Shea Daniel; and Erica Reed, who specializes in hustling…and beauty pageants! Also, there’s a guy with a voice so raspy I’m wondering if Rorshach himself gave him lessons. (Wouldn’t you want to see that interaction? “Raspier, I say! They can’t hear the gravel, man!”)
I like the characters and I’m intrigued to see how they develop. But there is an overwhelming feeling of familiarity to Breakout Kings. At this point in television history, it might be impossible to produce an entirely original cop series, but the show seems shamelessly dependent on clichés. In fact, let’s count the Top Ten Clichés of Breakout Kings. (Warning: Spoilers follow.)
1. Cheesy nicknames. As in Ray Zacanelli, aka “Zanc the Tank.” Also, and I quote from Detective Charlie, “In the Marine Corps, my nickname was Virgin, ’cause I don’t f— around.” Gold, my friend, pure gold.
2. The fugitives are hardcore, but not hard-hearted. Yes, they’re criminals, but not, you know, bad ones. At the end of the episode supergenius/criminal Lloyd calls his mommy and, beaming with pride, says the following, “I gotta tell you mom, I actually helped someone other than myself today.” And then she says something heart-wrenching and hangs up the phone. We know he threw away his potential and ended up in jail but he’s trying, Mom! He just wants your approval! Oh, the humanity.
3. Bald white dude cop. See: The Shield, Kojak, The Wire (They even got the same dude from The Wire.)
4. Clues written around the crime scene…in blood!
6. This quote: “I don’t need a gun. That’s why the good Lord gave us these.” – Rorshach McGee, while holding up his hands.
7. Self-hating police enforcement. “I hate you cops!” Stone-cold response: “We ain’t cops.” Yes, yes you are.
8. Token sexy con-artist. She’s like the Elaine to their Jerry, George, Kramer and Newman.
9. Bomb strapped to chest. Coupled with a subtle, “I’m leaving now.”
10. This quote: “Zancanelli, you know me!” “Not anymore, Hoss.” (Message to A&E: Lost is over, and NO ONE is allowed to use the term “Hoss” anymore.)
The show boasts head writers whose past credits include Prison Break, The Sopranos, and Law & Order, so despite the cliché madness, I’m willing to bet this show is going to find its footing soon. What do you think? Am I being too harsh? Do you want to see more crime-solving from this motley crew? Will the Breakout Kings find an innovative way out of the buddy-buddy cop doldrums? Is this your new favorite escapist (pun intended!) entertainment? Tell me below.