Actors and execution save “Breakout Kings”

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By Tressa Eckermann, Senior Staff Writer

The key to good television is believability. Regardless of the story, the characters have to be people you want to know and the writing strong enough that you’re willing to follow the characters anywhere.

That limitation has killed shows in the past, and will kill more in the future. That’s why A&E is so lucky that its new show “Breakout Kings” has the snappy dialogue and enjoyable characters that make it genuinely fun.

“Breakout Kings” follows two U.S. Marshals: the tightly wound Deputy Charlie Duchamp (Laz Alonso), and the worn-down, lax Ray Zancanelli (Dominick Lombardozzi), who decide that the only way to catch escaped prisoners is to use prisoners. For their cooperation, each of the prisoners will be released to a minimum-security prison, and for each case solved they will get one month taken off their sentence. But if any of them tries to escape, they will all be sent to a maximum security prison with a doubled sentence.

The show’s tagline is “It takes a con to catch a con.” It’s an exceedingly simple plot that would seem silly and contrived if not for the actors and writing, which hold everything together.

Charlie suffers from a heart condition that had him chained to his desk.  He now runs his first field mission. Ray’s unusual methods and dedication to his work ruined his marriage and landed him in his own kind of prison. The two are complete opposites, but there’s a friendship that we can see developing there.

Then there are the cons, who are the heart of the show. Shea Daniels (Malcolm Goodwin) is an unusually smart gang leader, who by the age of 23 has a “franchise” of gangs in 40 cities in 32 states. Philly, a former beauty queen turned con artist, is a character we won’t see after the first few episodes. Erica Reed (Serinda Swan), who at the first episode has yet to be introduced, is a murderer whose father, a bounty hunter, was killed.

And then there’s Dr. Lloyd Lowery (Jimmi Simpson).  Like in every ensemble cast, there’s always the clear standout. That distinction goes to Simpson. Lowery is a genius with an IQ of 210. He graduated high school at 12, college at 16, and then medical school at 20. His expertise is in human behavior, but in search of a new challenge he becomes addicted to gambling and lands himself a prison sentence of 25 years, though it’s not clear what he’s done.

Simpson is probably most famous for his role of Liam McPoyle on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” and as Letterman’s beloved recurring character, Lyle the Intern. He’s easily the funniest, most well-rounded and likeable character on “Breakout Kings.”

“Well, that tastes like melted jelly beans,” he deadpans, after taking a sip of wine. He’s the smartest guy in the room and he knows it, which I’m sure will get him into plenty of trouble as the show progresses. He somehow manages to alternate between slightly creepy but oddly charming and a man trying to fight a profound sadness, the cause of which we don’t know yet.

The people behind this show were the people behind “Prison Break,” a show which suffered the same believability problem that I mentioned earlier. So, that means that everyone involved will have to work extra hard not to fall into the easy clichés and not letting the character’s become one dimensional.

But for all the things that could be considered as shortcomings, there is a general charm and enjoyment to be found in “Breakout Kings.” The writers have done a good job presenting characters that wouldn’t normally be likeable, and the actors, particularly Simpson, do a wonderful job with their parts and playing off each other.

If you’re good at suspending disbelief, “Breakout Kings” is a show If you’re good at suspending disbelief, “Breakout Kings” is worth checking out.

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