One of the few new shows to create buzz over the water cooler is Prison Break (Mondays, 9:00 ET, Fox).
It tells the story of a man who stages a crime that gets him sentenced to the same prison where his brother awaits execution for a crime he did not commit. That way he can break his brother out. It helps that the hero is one of the designers of the prison, whose blueprints he has tattooed on his body. Thickening the plot is a government conspiracy, headed by an evil female vice president.
With its external mystery ("What is the vice president trying to cover up?") and the internal suspense ("How are these guys going to break out of this maximum security prison?"), the show can certainly suck viewers in. If, that is, they can suspend disbelief. (This middle-class white guy takes over the prison subculture rather easily.)
Though there are some scary convicts, most of them are rather lovable. Yes, prison is presented as a lawless place of brutal murders, extortion, and intrigue. But so is the world outside the prison. And just as the guards are as evil, if not more so, as the convicts, those on the outside charged with enforcing the law-the executive branch of the government-are the most evil of all.
The show, of course, has its political subtext. The source of evil in our nation and the place where all conspiratorial strings are pulled is the office of the vice president.
And capital punishment is bad. The show has a bishop who is trying to stop the brother's execution. The Men in Black ask him if he opposes the death penalty. "I'm a man of God," he replies. "How could I not?" Whereupon the government agents murder him.
Prison Break is neither realistic nor meaningful. But it does offer . . . well . . . escapism.