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Prison Break: Season One

When it comes to addictive, escapist television, you can't beat Prison Break. The high-concept Fox series is based on a frankly ludicrous premise: Pathologically clever Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) gets himself sent to jail in order to help his older brother, Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell), escape before he's executed for a crime he didn't commit — murdering the U.S. Vice-President's brother. Scofield arrives at the fictional Fox River Penitentiary with a variety of tricks up his sleeves. Or, rather, under them — his primary tool in planning the breakout is a full-torso tattoo that hides the jail's blueprints...which Scofield handily had access to, since his architectural firm designed the facility. Scofield methodically recruits a carefully chosen group of fellow cons to be part of his inner circle, from hot-heated, lovelorn cellmate Fernando Sucre (Amaury Nolasco), to ruthless Mob boss John Abruzzi (Peter Stormare). As the motley crew plans their getaway, they must contend with unexpected wrinkles in the plan, including the constant suspicions of dogged guard captain Brad Bellick (Wade Williams) and unwelcome additions to the group — like slimy pedophile T-Bag (Robert Knepper). Meanwhile, Scofield makes a connection with pretty prison doctor Sara Tancredi (Sarah Wayne Callies), and, on the outside, Lincoln's ex-girlfriend, Veronica Donovan (Robin Tunney), tries to unravel the possible conspiracy that landed him in jail in the first place. It's all completely preposterous, of course. But as long as you can suspend your disbelief, it's also a fun, first-rate thriller with a strong cast. Miller's steady, piercing gaze and unflappable demeanor make Scofield a compelling leader; like his fellow inmates, you quickly start to believe that he really has planned everything out with savant-like precision. Almost everyone else in the ensemble cast turns in convincing performances as well — stand-outs include Knepper's charismatically depraved T-Bag and Stormare's merciless Abruzzi, as well as Stacy Keach as firm-but-sympathetic Warden Henry Pope (it's nice to see a prison warden character who's not evil incarnate for once). The weakest link in the cast is Purcell; Lincoln is one of the few characters who never seems to develop much depth. But even that doesn't diminish the show's appeal — who cares if Lincoln is a bit of a one-note lunkhead, as long as Scofield knows exactly which screw he needs to start the breakout ball rolling? It remains to be seen whether Prison Break is more than a one-season gimmick, but as long as Scofield has a plan, the show should be worth watching.

Fox's Prison Break: Season One comes to DVD in a six-disc set that includes all 22 first-season episodes and a healthy list of extras. Ten episode-specific commentary tracks are scattered throughout the set (various cast and crew members contribute to each, though Miller is nowhere to be found), along with several take-them-or-leave-them deleted and alternate scenes. Most of the supplements, though, are saved for Disc Six, including a 30-minute "making-of" featurette, a profile of the real prison where the show is filmed, a featurette about the pivotal tattoo, an anatomy-of-a-scene featurette, TV spots, and a Season Two promo. All of the featurettes are worth watching (the "making-of" veers into love-fest territory, but it's still interesting), particularly the tattoo-centric one, which reveals the intricate planning process that went into creating the show's signature work of art. All episodes are presented in strong 1.78:1 letterboxed widescreen transfers, with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (English, Spanish, and French subtitles are available). Three dual-DVD keep-cases in a paperboard slipcase.
—Betsy Bozdech

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