>TV Round-Up: Prison Break and Vanished

>FOX kicks off the fall season this evening with the return of Prison Break and the premiere of a new serialized thriller, Vanished.

Last year, Prison Break benefited from jumping out of the gate early and hooking viewers on the unique premise–brother who designed a prison gets thrown in there to help his wrongly-convicted brother escape before the brother is given the death penalty. To add to the complexity, there was a conspiracy plotline related to Michael Shoefield’s brother going to prison that was slowly unravelling and might just prove his innocence. Last season ended with a small group breaking out of prison, some dramatic revelations in the conspiracy storyline and the fate of several characters left up in the air.

This year, we pick up right where last year left off and the show quickly morphs from a break out of prison drama into The Fugitive with a lot more people running about. This year’s quest seems to be to get our heroes to Utah, where Schoefield has enough money hidden for he and his brother to disappear to Mexico.

Prison Break is a show along the lines of 24 in that if you think too much, you’re going to ruin it. But at least 24 is happening within the context of one day so you can dismiss some of the things going on and just go with the flow. Also, 24 is just a better show. This year, we’re asked to believe that Scoefield planned out every step not only to escape from the prison but beyond and tatooed all of these memory markers on his body. This comes in handy when a new adversary played by William Fincher comes on-screen and begins his pursuit of Scoefield. The good news is that Fincher’s character may be a better adversary for Scoefield in the cat and mouse game that will be played out this season with our heroes on the lam.

The bad news–the conspiracy plotline inolving the now president of the United States is still as laughable and annoying as ever. Also, the plot of Michael and company nearly getting caught every week could get old fast and the show could become little more than rehash of The Fugitive or The Incredible Hulk if it’s not careful.

As for the fates of characters left on the brink of death–that will be addressed in this episode. Also, there is one major death in tonight’s opener. I won’t spoil it here but all you have to do is read the opening credits and you’ll figure out who will be leaving….

FOX is pairing Prison Break with its new serialized drama, Vanished. (One of two shows this year about someone being kidnapped, the other being NBC’s appropriately named Kidnapped).

When Sara Collins, the wife of Georgia senator Jeffrey Collins vanishes from a charity dinner, the FBI sends in a crack team to find her. The first episode follows the first twenty-four hours of the investigation in which we learn a whole lot about everyone involved. One of the two FBI agents is haunted by a case gone badly six months earlier (a child died he was trying to get back) and the senator’s family has more secrets than Carter has pills. In the first hour, we learn that his daughter is dating a guy who may or may not be connected to the conspiracy to take the wife, that the senator’s ex-wife has been meeting with his current wife and somoene inside the senator’s house is pregnant. (I’m going to call it now and say it’s the daughter since the wife’s parents establish early on that Sara can’t have children).

Meanwhile, a driven reporter has arrived on the scene, determined to make her career with this story. And in standard driven female reporter fashion, she puts the kabosh on sex in order to get out and pursue the story. In fact, she becomes aware of the story while in bed with her younger camera man.

Before hour’s end, we’ve got a lot of suspects and potential leads. But not content to stop there, Vanished throws in a far-reaching mystical conspriacy element with a mysterious religious group that happens to drop a calling card and some weird symbols for our heroes to follow.

You have to give Vanished credit–its putting all its cards on the table early. We already get a scene where Collins confronts haunted FBI agent, giving him permission to circumvent FBI procedures if it means saving his wife (last time with the child kidnapping, the agent sent a memo but it was ignored and he followed orders against his better instinct, leading to tragedy). Also, it seems as if everyone who is in contact with the senator’s family is in on it, from the daughter’s boyfriend to his ex-wife to his son. The show tries to deliver a few shocking twists as the hour draws to a close to hook you into next week and, hopefully, the entire season-long mystery. For the most part, it’s successful, though how long I’ll stay with once there’s other choices on Monday night I’m not sure. I’m intrigued to see why the wife was kidnapped (there are strong hints that it could be about the senator voting for a Supreme Court justice and following “party lines.”) and how far the conspiracy goes. And there’s a whole lot of interesting family drama to this one (though at first glance, it’s very cliched) that might make it worth an investment.

At the very least, it’s got Rebecca Gayheart as the driven female journalist. That alone may make it worth watching…well, at least until Monday Night Football starts up.

Oh and for those of you wondering–no I didn’t “steal” these episodes on-line. FOX sent me a package with preview screeners for their new fall shows last week as a randomly selected reader of TV Guide. (And yes, in case you were wondering, that does mean I’ve seen the season premiere of House and I will get to it closer to the premiere date. )

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