OK, so they broke out of prison. Now what? In essence, “Prison Break” has morphed into “The Fugitive(s),” with a race to buried treasure adding an extra kick. Having stumbled somewhat creatively in last season’s final leg, this sophomore series benefits from “Invasion’s” cancellation, freeing up Bill Fichtner to become its Inspector Javert, an FBI agent brought in to track down the escapees. Tautly paced, the first two episodes provide a solid foundation, though between the elaborate government conspiracy and steady demand for nail-biting encounters, the formula remains a perilous high-wire act that requires a delicate touch.
Eight prisoners made it over the wall, led by Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller), the architect who hatched the intricate scheme to spring his framed brother, Lincoln (Dominic Purcell). Yet while their dream of flying to safety in Mexico evaporated at the close of season one, Michael’s contingency plans are equally ingenious, setting up a battle of wits with Agent Mahone (Fichtner).
In the mix, too, is $5 million hidden in Utah, the last legacy of a slain inmate who may have been the legendary D.B. Cooper. So the race is on, in a kind of “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World” way, with Michael, Lincoln and their misfit former fellow cons on the go and Mahone, law enforcement and the shadowy minions of the corrupt U.S. president who set up Lincoln all in hot pursuit.
The Scofield-Mahone duel is a strong centerpiece, especially as the dreamy Miller and sinewy Fichtner are both fascinating performers blessed with piercing eyes. The disclaimer is that as with most serialized cat-and-mouse games, the G-man — with all the advantages at his disposal — is going to look considerably less brilliant the longer the convicts continue to elude him, and if he catches the central duo, goodnight, show’s over.
For now, however, “Break” seems well positioned as a kind of poor man’s “24” — a series whose fun factor hinges on a willingness to suspend disbelief and not question the more preposterous moments, which include cops who have yet to master the concept of cordoning off an area.
Based strictly on the episodes previewed, at least, it’s so far, so pretty good. It will be interesting to see what escape routes the producers can find as they seek to turn this sprint into a marathon.