It's Time to Give Prison Storylines a Life Sentence

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What is with the current obsession with prison storylines on TV?

Within the last couple of years, it has been blown entirely out of proportion. Shows across all genres from drama to comedy to procedural jumped on the bandwagon and attempted to offer a new take, but regardless of the "spin" they tried to put on it, it just felt repetitive. 

It all started with HBO's The Night Of which was an incredible miniseries completely deserving of all the awards and acclaim it received. The problem is with all of the shows that came after that tried to replicate its success. 

Protecting His Cellmates - The Flash

Criminal Minds Season 12 spent half the season on Reid's time in prison after being framed for murder. Jake and Rosa also went to jail for a crime they didn't commit on Brooklyn Nine-Nine Season 5 Episode 1. The Flash framed Barry for murder as well, and Suits sent Mike to prison for an arc, though at least in his case he was actually guilty. 

The major problem with all of these plotlines was that in each case, the viewer knew the outcome from the very beginning. 

Related: Get HBO via Prime Video Channels for Addictive Dramas, Hilarious Comedies, & Hit Movies! 

Maybe we didn't know exactly how they would get out, but we knew all of them would eventually.

Let's be realistic; no Flash fan was ever going to believe that Barry would rot in prison. Somehow, he and his friends would find a way to clear his name.

The Brooklyn Nine-Nine crew wouldn't rest until they did the same for their locked-up team members. Emily Prentiss put her career (and her freedom) on the line to ensure Reid wouldn't be found guilty of a crime he did not commit.

Legal Advice - The Night Of

Part of what made The Night Of so successful was the fact that it was a limited series. Viewers were enthralled in each installment by the superb writing and acting, but it also helped significantly that we had no idea whether Naz would be found guilty or not.

The possibility that Naz could spend the rest of his life in prison was very real, and that just was not the case for any of these other characters. 

The Night Of was so compelling because we weren't sure of the outcome. 

That's the beauty of a miniseries. Anything can happen, and our preconceived notion that good guy always wins doesn't necessarily apply. 

Now with so many shows jumping on the prison storyline bandwagon, it's becoming tired and dull. Criminal Minds dragged it out the longest, and while it did give Matthew Gray Gubler a chance to showcase his talent, we all knew how it would eventually end. 

This Is My New Home - Suits Season 6 Episode 1

Suits sending Mike to prison was a little bit different. He wasn't framed or wrongfully accused; he was guilty and deserved his sentence. To be honest, that almost made it worse. 

In his case, viewers still knew Mike would somehow find a loophole or make a deal to get out early. There was just no way one of the main characters would serve his full sentence without a time jump. In much the same way that the other characters' friends and co-workers fought to save them, Harvey did the same for Mike. 

Knowing Mike would most likely cut a deal and receive a "get out of jail free" card made having to endure those installments a little infuriating. He deserved to be there!

Related: Get CBS All Access via Prime Video Channels for Hit Shows, Exclusive Originals, & Live TV!

This is not to say that all of these prison arcs had no value. They all had their moments, but the trend itself is becoming so overdone that it is becoming groan-worthy. 

The Night Of was so influential because the ending stuck with the viewer. The characters were irrevocably changed, and the experience had a lasting effect on them. It also made a point to expose the problems in our criminal justice system. It tackled an vital issue head-on, rather than merely using prison as a plot device.

Thankfully the series did not get a second season, because in all honesty it probably would have ruined it. 

A Welcome Visitor - Criminal Minds Season 12 Episode 16

In these other shows, can we honestly say the experience severely impacted the characters? Criminal Minds probably did the best with this, as they didn't just ignore the effect the experience had on Reid or the ramifications it had on the team, but even they laughably wrapped it all up in a bow on Criminal MInds Season 13 Episode 16

In the end, nobody lost jobs despite the extreme measures that were taken to ensure Reid's freedom. 

Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Flash have pretty much forgotten it ever happened. There wasn't much point to those storylines other than to find a convenient way to split the teams up for a period of time. 

I don't watch Arrow, but I attended the panel at Comic-Con where they debuted the trailer for Arrow Season 7. Lo and behold, Oliver was in prison! That means two series within the same universe are pulling this stunt within one year of each other! 

Related: Arrowverse Crossover: Elizabeth Tulloch Cast as Lois Lane!

I don't know the parameters of Oliver being in jail, but I assume that he was either caught or turned himself in as a vigilante. What I do know without even needing to watch is that chances are he won't be there for long. 

Somehow, someway, he'll get out, because watching the hero deal with prison life and being surrounded by those he put there can only be interesting for so long. A vigilante putting criminals in jail and then joining them is not much different than a cop or lawyer doing it, and we've seen more than our fair share of that recently. 

Moving On - Arrow

After some research, it appears Riverdale Season 3 is going in a similar direction. Again, I don't watch it, but fans will be treated to Archie awaiting trial for murder, and it looks like he's being framed too. 

So, what do you guys think? Is it time for TV to put an end to this trope? Arrow and Riverdale fans out there, are you looking forward to Oliver and Archie's stints in prison, or are you tired of seeing this done over and over again? Did any other recent shows pull this stunt that I missed?

If you disagree and love prison storylines, feel free to let us know in the comments!

Stacy Glanzman was a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She retired in March, 2019.

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