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The Crime Drama Hidden Gem You Can Catch On Hulu

In the early-to-mid 2000s, the dramas 24 and Lost revolutionized serialized storytelling on broadcast TV. Before those shows, dramas on broadcast networks were mostly episodic in nature instead of telling one story over the course of an entire season or even series. Maybe there would be an overarching story in a season, but episodes mostly stood on their own, and viewers wouldn't be lost if they missed a week. 

That changed with the premiere of the Fox network action thriller 24 in 2001, in which each season told a continuous story as every episode represented an hour in the day of counterterrorism operative Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland). Then, in 2004, ABC's Lost introduced the concept of a broadcast TV story so complex that viewers would have to follow every detail for years just to make sense of it. Broadcast shows had been serialized before, but never so tightly. Prior to the 2000s, it was an article of faith among TV creatives that over-serialization alienated audiences and led to poor ratings. 

The seismic cultural impact of these shows led TV executives to try to replicate the serialized formula. One of the most successful post-24 serialized broadcast shows was the crime drama escape thriller Prison Break, also on Fox. It premiered in the summer of 2005 and became an instant hit. It ran for four seasons, and was revived for a single season in 2017. All five seasons are currently available to stream on Hulu, with the notable exception of Prison Break: The Final Break, two episodes that went straight to DVD in the form of a movie after the end of season 4. (The broadcast finale also serves as a finale, and is arguably the better coda to the series.) It's a little confusing, but ultimately it's a moot point, since both endings now exist in the world.

Anyway, Prison Break doesn't get talked about as much as 24 or Lost anymore, and it's entered the realm of being a half-forgotten hidden gem from a different TV era.

Prison Break is a great serialized thriller

Prison Break follows a man named Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller), whose brother Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell) is imprisoned and about to be put to death for a murder he didn't commit. Lincoln's appeals are exhausted, so Michael comes up with a new, high-stakes plan to free his brother. Michael robs a bank and pleads no contest at his trial and gets sent to Fox River State Penitentiary, the same prison where Lincoln is being held. Inside, Michael reveals his plan: He has the prison's construction blueprint tattooed on his body, and he's going to use it to figure out exactly how to break them out. Further seasons follow the brothers as they try to unravel the conspiracy around who framed Lincoln, while trying to avoid being captured. There are at least two more prison breaks after the first one over the course of the show.

The show has an average critical score of 60% on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, with the highest score for season 1 (77%) and the lowest for seasons 3 and 4 (50%). It got repetitive after a while, but Prison Break's certainly not the first show to see its concept wear thin after season 1The Wall Street Journal's Dorothy Rabinowitz called Prison Break "a show worth watching if only because it is one prison series with a coherent story line, propelled forward, weekly, by a substantive plot and the talents of Wentworth Miller."

Fan ratings on Rotten Tomatoes are comparable in their pattern of higher ratings for the early seasons, followed by a decline in seasons 3 and 4 with a slight uptick for the revival season. There won't be a second revival; star Dominic Miller said he wouldn't do it. But the five seasons on Hulu are plenty.