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The Tension and Turmoil of ‘Prison Break’ is Back on Fox
April 4, 2017  | By David Hinckley

If you imagine life in the Middle Ages was short, ugly and brutish, there’s a corner of television today that doesn’t portray it much differently.

Take the return of Prison Break on Fox at 9 p.m. ET Tuesday.

Life has never been easy for Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller, top) and his older brother Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell, top).

The first four seasons of Prison Break, which ended in 2009, revolved around Michael getting himself sentenced to prison so he could break out Lincoln, who had been framed for murder and sentenced to death.

Michael finally succeeded, but not without consequences. There were also indications Michael had a fatal medical condition, and by the end of the fourth season, he was apparently dead.

We base this on a tombstone that bore his name and where his wife Sara (Sarah Wayne Callies) took their son to see Daddy. She placed lilies there.

Now, for this new nine-episode limited series, it looks like Michael could be back, confirming that dying seems to be increasingly negotiable on television these days.

Still, Michael doesn’t pop up right away. The show starts with the assumption he’s dead, which makes it a significant surprise to Lincoln and Sara when Lincoln gets a message that he just might be alive.

The delivery of that message is also clever. It comes from one of the show’s most enduring characters, Theodore “T-Bag” Bagwell, played by Robert Knepper.

Yes, T-Bag is back and so is C-Note Franklin (Rockmond Dunbar, above) and some of the other charmers that Michael and Lincoln met behind bars.

The first episode follows Lincoln and C-Note to Yemen (played here by Morocco), where their information tells them Michael might be imprisoned.

Along the way they meet some new characters, including the mysterious Sheba (Inbar Lavi), and it’s clearly going to take a while to sort out the salient questions, like why is Michael still alive and how did he get here and what he’s up to and what unseen forces don’t want Lincoln to find or spring him.

And that sends Prison Break back to where it had its popular run a decade ago: in the dirty, sweaty, cold-blooded world of guys – almost all guys – who survive through muscle and brute power.

They’re not stupid. In fact, they’re often quite smart. But no one except an occasional weasel like T-Bag seems to survive five minutes without being able to beat other people up.

Tuesday’s episode includes, for instance, a savage fight conducted in part with garage implements like tire irons and lug wrenches.

It’s a world closely akin to the one we see in 24: Legacy or USA’s Shooter, which have a direct link to all the Arnold Schwarzenegger and Steven Seagal action movies that Hollywood used to make before it rediscovered comic book superheroes.

So Prison Break starts with a comforting sense of familiarity for fans. While the setup might be a little more convoluted this time around, Purcell and Miller and their comrades do this stuff well.

The limited-series format may also be a bonus because it will focus the story and presumably deliver some resolutions alongside the tense drama.

The greatest certainty, though, is that we won’t be getting much relief from the grim, hostile, threatening world in which Prison Break is set.

When life is always potentially this short, you won’t be tempted to waste any of it relaxing.

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