The basic description for the show was somewhat like Shawshank Redemption, except that the people involved were actually worthy of incarceration. Prison life, some redeeming qualities, etc. The reality of the show is quite different.
The show takes place in 2015, and looks to be a single season show, starting with January of 2015 and running through to June of the same year. Separate from the notations in the show, I hadn’t realized it is actually based on real events. Two inmates escaped in June and two workers at the prison were charged with assisting them. I won’t spoil the ending as the episode picks up in June with the inmates gone and one of the workers being interrogated by the Inspector General, but then flashes back to January to tell the story of how they got there.
Overall, the show relies on five main characters. First, you meet Tilly. She works at the prison in the sewing shop, supervising the men who work there. There’s a guard or two around, but she’s the worker bee managing the production. She’s played by Patricia Arquette, That is definitely not a draw for me, although it’s hard to believe it’s her, given her age and size in the show. She looks like a middle-aged bordering on retirement age overweight frump, nothing like her Medium days. But she rarely speaks other than to be a miserable negative biddy. Tilly is married, humping one of the inmates, and being interrogated for helping someone escape.
Second, the inmate she’s humping is David, played by Paul Dano. He is an aspiring artist, helps out running the sewing shop, and diddles Tilly in the storeroom whenever he can. I don’t know Dano from previous work, but he plays David pretty passively. This is a recurring theme. The only time you really see him animated is when he is on the phone with his mother, trying to get a transfer. And for the first time you find out that he’s a cop-killer. Not a poster child for a simple criminal.
Third, his near roommate and mentor is Richard, played by Benicio Del Toro. Del Toro is amazing in almost everything, and if he was awake in the show, I might like him here too. He sleepwalks through the episode, the consummate criminal in the prison who knows everyone and runs a bunch of favours, bribes guards, etc. But he’s sensitive, apparently, because they show he’s an artist. And maybe wants some of the action from Tilly too. Yet he is incredibly passive almost the whole episode. Right up until he sees that there are gaps in the walls next to the cells, and then his interest is piqued.
Fourth, David Morse plays a guard on the take, Gene. Now Morse has made a niche for himself playing the bad guy destined to lose, and just about every time I see him now playing a good guy, I think, “Okay, he’ll be a traitor or something.” Typecasting, I know, but I’m not wrong very often about him. Which is odd, because I loved him way back on St. Elsewhere. He was okay in Hack (ex cop turned cab driver), although the premise was hard to sustain. He did a run of episodes on Blindspot last year, and I didn’t mind him at first, but then he started to grate on my nerves. I just can’t watch him for long. I thought he was okay in the episode, but again, kind of passive. Almost lightweight.
So I said there are five main characters, and I’ve covered four of them, almost all of whom are passive players. So who’s the fifth? It’s not a who, but a what. Dannemora prison. Or, as it is properly called, Clinton Correctional Facility in the village of Dannemora, Clinton County, New York. It’s a maximum security prison known for being isolated, cold as sh**, and big. I have ZERO clue who wrote this script, but if it actually reflects how the prison is run, no wonder someone escaped. Tilly arrives at work, bypasses anything resembling security, goes into the sewing shop, plunks personal effects and her coat down, and starts working. If she was smuggling in drugs, she could be making a mint. The inmates travel from the prison area to the sewing shop or an outdoor working area each day, wearing regular clothes and hats, jackets, etc. Except for the barbed wire and fencing, you’d swear it was a bunch of laborers entering the factory. Supposedly maximum security, but you see very little evidence of it, and I felt like it was missing. It should be big and imposing, something to ramp up the stakes a bit, and even a shakedown of everyone’s cells seems tame and boring.
The episode is slow, plodding, and almost no one does anything. It’s BLAND. There’s nothing to really recommend in terms of CANCELLATION or RENEWAL as it turns out to be a mini-series, not a series, but I would have stuck with CANCELLATION if it was relevant. And I won’t be going past Episode 1.