Episode Title: "Pilot"
Writers: Nick Santora and Matt Olmstead
Director: Gavin Hood
Operating under the assumption that "it takes a con to catch a con," U.S. Marshals Ray Zancanelli (Domenick Lombardozzi) and Charlie DuChamp (Laz Alonso) form a task force of four highly skilled convicts and put them on the trail of some of the deadliest criminals in the country.
In a highly secure correctional facility in New York, an imposing looking con named August Tillman (Jason Cerbone) practices holding himself up on his bunk. And later we see him intentionally damage a license plate while in the prison factory and stash it with a pile of other licenses. One month later, Tillman puts his plan in action and uses the assembled license plates to hide his presence underneath a truck departing the prison. Then he brutally assaults the driver and scares his female passenger. Shortly thereafter, Deputy Charlie Dechamp finds Ray Zancanelli threatening a drug dealer to stay away from a school. Charlie watches Ray in action before bringing him in.
At the U.S. Marshal’s office, the boss tells Ray about Tillman’s escape and puts his previously discussed plan of recruiting cons into action, under the direction of Charlie. They choose four cons: Dr. Lloyd Lowery (Jimmi Simpson), Philly (Nicole Steinwedell), Gunderson (Brock Johnson) and Shea (Malcolm Goodwin) and give them an ultimatum. If they try to escape, they get sent back to prison with double sentences. But if they help them track down cons, then they earn a month off their time served. Naturally, all four readily agree to their terms. Back in Brooklyn, they review Tillman’s case and discover that he’s just killed one of his high school friends.
At the crime scene, Lloyd instantly realizes that Tillman staged it to appear as if the victim left the cops a message to pursue Tillman in Mexico. Meanwhile, the team is unaware that Tillman is spying on them with a hidden cell phone. Using his expertise, Shea determines that the victim was part of a bank robbery, possibly with Tillman. Back at the office, the team’s neurotic secretary, Juliane (Brooke Nevin) is paralyzed by the prospect of leaving the office to collect Tillman’s high school yearbook and insists that the high school send her scans. Meanwhile, Philly does a small con at a diner by putting a hair in her soup, while Gunderson swipes a knife… and earns a one way trip back to prison.
Through the yearbook scans, the team determines who Tillman’s other close friend in high school was, but they are too late to save the man from Tillman’s vengeance. They work out that the three men were part of a highly successful bank robbery, but they cut Tillman out when he was arrested. Ray also notices Tillman’s hidden phone this time and threatens him before the man hangs up. After following a false lead with a bank teller, the group figures out that the robbery’s inside man was another teller named Kyle Farrow. Although the man has moved out of state, the team pursues him as Tillman’s next target.
Once again, Tillman beats the team to his destination. From Kyle’s wife, the team learns that Tillman kidnapped her husband and daughter. They track them down to a gas station and fake an accident to force Tillman out of the car. But in a nasty surprise, the girl is rigged to a bomb. After some tense moments between Ray and Charlie, the latter takes out Tillman and the former keeps him from detonating the bomb. Later, the three remaining cons are dropped off at a minimum security prison and given one month off of their sentence as promised.
In a twist, Ray is revealed to be a convict as well, for stealing money from a drug bust to pay for his daughter’s car. Despite his status, Charlie allows him to act as if he is still a U.S. Marshal while on the job. But when the job is finished, even Ray must report back to a halfway house.
There are two big problems with "Breakout Kings": concept and character.
Starting with the first item, how plausible is it for the U.S. government to send a group of cons on a manhunt for an even bigger con? Is that really the best use of resources? Because so far, the team of supercons doesn’t seem to have any set of skills that doesn’t have an equivalent already in law enforcement. With one exception, which I’ll get back to. It requires a large suspension of disbelief. But then again, this is set in the world of "Prison Break," the same show where a motley group of cons were recruited into a government ops program over actual trained agents.
And then there are the characters, or lack thereof. I never really liked Domenick Lombardozzi on "The Wire" and I hated him on "Entourage." He does a little bit better on this show, but Ray comes off as a low rent Vic Mackey. And that part takes a sense of charisma and charm that Lombardozzi just doesn’t have. I don’t believe that he has much range aside from acting as variations of himself and most of his scenes were kind of irritating.
But as imperfect as Ray is, Charlie is far worse. He’s just so… bland. Charlie only gets one really great line in the entire thing about his nickname in the marines, but other than that, nothing seems to stick with him. This is a show that needs strong personalities. But I’m not even sure Charlie has one beyond his "respect mah authority!" moments.
However, the biggest brightspot in the cast is the all-knowing nerd, Lloyd. Jimmi Simpson is so good in the role that he almost carries the rest of the show by himself. Lloyd gets to show off that chess club brain of his more than once and when he finally goes tol the cons, he actually seems to have the capacity for compassion. His advice to Juliane was quite good and his unconventional interrogation techniques also worked. Lloyd even had the most human moment of the hour when his mom quietly chided him by saying he could have done more with his life. We don’t even know what he’s in for yet.
Malcolm Goodwin’s Shea has a few good moments of comedy and demonstrated some potentially interesting character traits. On the other hand, Nicole Steinwedell’s Philly was kind of flat. And I don’t mean her physical appearance. In fact, her brief twist in negligee is actually one of the more entertaining moments. I also assume that the producers/network either didn’t like her or she wasn’t available for the series. But for whatever reason, she’s being written out of the show after this episode and replaced by a new female character in the second episode.
In the end, "Breakout Kings" main crime is that it’s simply okay. It’s not great by any means, but it could be entertaining with some tighter plotting and better dialog.
Bring on T-Bag!
Crave Online Rating: 6.5 out 10.