International adaptations of beloved television shows are far from uncommon. Breaking Bad spawned Columbia’s Metastasis, The Big Bang Theory inspired an unlicensed Belarusian copy called The Theorists (Теоретики), and, of course, we have a pair of great shows both titled The Office on either side of the Atlantic. Seeing as there are few places in this world worse than Russia’s prisons, a Russian adaptation of Fox’s Prison Break was of immediate interest.
The first season of the original Prison Break is an absolute classic. It was great when it first aired in 2005 and it still holds up as great today. The show narrowly missed the era of television defined by binge-watching and you could make the case that Prison Break would be an even bigger phenomenon had it been released today.
The show is propelled by its central premise, which sees Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell) sentenced to death for murder and his brother Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) devise an elaborate tattoo and origami-filled plan to help him escape. The show definitely jumped the shark during its four-season (five, if you count the weird revival in 2017) run, but that first season is still must-watch television.
The Russian response to Prison Break was titled “Побег” (pronounced “Pobeg”), which literally translates to “The Escape”. It was produced by Channel One and premiered on September 20, 2010, the year after the original concluded for the first time. It ran for two seasons; the first contained 22 episodes while the second contained 16. A planned third season was eventually scrapped, which devastatingly left the story unresolved for Побег fans everywhere.
Russian Prison Break is actually pretty faithful to the original story. Some scenes and dialogue are directly copied from the Fox show, with brand new Ruskified names. Michael Scofield became Alexei Chernov and Lincoln Burrows became Cyril Panin. They also just recycle Ramin Djawadi’s score from Prison Break without crediting any composer, which was definitely… a choice.
It’s not as violent as you probably expect it to be. It’s just bleak and badly made. Any moments of violence are hilarious in a way that is clearly unintentional. It’s worth noting that I don’t speak Russian, which somehow both enhanced and limited my enjoyment of the parts that I watched.
For what it’s worth, they have also completely taken out any semblance of diversity from its cast. This is true of nearly every other Russian remake of an American TV series that you may encounter as well. Whether it be The Nanny, Malcolm in the Middle, Married with Children, Who’s the Boss?, Law & Order, House M.D, How I Met Your Mother, Full House, Everybody Loves Raymond, Jersey Shore and even Homeland (which is itself adapted from Israeli program called Prisoners of War).