By Caitlin Antonios
Two things were made clear with the revival of Fox’s hit show “Prison Break:” the power of streaming and the return to classic, nail-biting drama was a massive success.
The show’s premise begins with architectural engineer (and genius) Michael Schofield getting sent to prison to break out his innocent brother, Lincoln, who is on death row for allegedly killing the vice president’s brother. While the show didn’t have many moments of levity, the core of the story was the love between the two brothers which, elevated it beyond just an action show. Created by Paul Scheuring, “Prison Break” originally aired in 2005 and was met with critical and commercial success. The show was initially rejected by Fox but after the success of shows like “Lost” and “24,” Fox decided to back production. The show lasted four seasons ending in 2009 on an objectively terrible note — the protagonist dies. But worry not! In the era of revivals, no one ever really dies.
This revival is different, however, because it would have never occurred without Netflix. Streaming sites that produce original content seem to be swinging their final blow to television. They can detect which shows stand the test of time and continue to grip audiences. When all four seasons of “Prison Break” became available on Netflix, the site noticed a huge influx of bingeing. Because “Prison Break” is notorious for its cliffhanger endings, people were going through the seasons within a few days (yes, I was one of those people). Netflix then reached out to Fox to inform them that maybe the story hadn’t finished yet, and the two companies began production on season five. Their gamble paid off. While the revival, which premiered April 4, was only nine episodes long, “Prison Break” reached one of the top trending world-wide topics on Twitter. It remedied the “final” season’s terrible ending and returned to what made it great — the crazy, brilliant drama.
The decision not to revive the show on Netflix like it did with “The Killing” and “Arrested Development” and instead air weekly on Fox was imperative to keep the show’s classic structure. Each week, the episode would end on an agonizing cliffhanger that reminded viewers what it was like in the mid-2000s. The tables are turned as Michael is now the one that needs to be broken out of a prison in Yemen. This allows the show to explore the cultural geography of Yemen as well as the politics that plague it. This is not the first time the show has used an international stage, but it relies heavily on cultural politics in a way previous seasons have ignored. For the first half of the season, one of Michael’s main adversaries is ISIL. The show doesn’t shy away from difficult topics and provides a particularly modern feel that grounds the show. One of the characters is sentenced to prison in Yemen because he is gay, and another is held captive for teaching young girls to read. The show balances a cultural commentary without detracting from the entertainment.
Perhaps most importantly with this revival, and where many revivals falter, is that it sticks to the world it has created in the original series. When the audience meets these characters seven years later, their lives make sense. It doesn’t feel unnatural or like some bad fanfiction that somehow made it onto the small screen. There’s a plausibility that allows the audience to be sucked back into these characters like they never left. It’s hard to imagine this show is done for good considering the cash cow I’m sure it is for the studios. Regardless, it did the fans justice and gave them an ending they deserved.