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How 'Prison Break,' 'iZombie' are bringing back the TV dead

In television, dead means dead. Until it doesn't.

In television, dead means dead. Until it doesn't.

With the return Tuesday of Fox's Prison Break as a nine-episode, limited series, Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) joins Game of Thrones' Jon Snow (Kit Harington) in the still-exclusive club of TV characters who've come back from the dead without becoming vampires or zombies.

Prison Break itself, though, has a whiff of the z-word.

Premiering opposite the third-season opener of the CW's iZombie, which is about zombies, Prison Break represents another attempt by Fox to revive a once-popular franchise. But 24: Legacy replaced Kiefer Sutherland's Jack Bauer with a new main character. Break, which had its tattooed hero, Michael, dead and buried in its May 2009 finale, needs to dig him up so he can plan yet another insanely complicated escape -- this time from a prison in Yemen, the same country on the Arabian Peninsula that figured in the launch of 24: Legacy.

Because if you're going to do insanely complicated, you might as well do it in a part of the world that most of us find confusing already (and that can be filmed in Morocco).

The good news about Prison Break's zombie edition is that it's only nine episodes -- so far -- and reunites us with other old friends from the original, including Michael's widow, Sara Tancredi (Sarah Wayne Callies, The Walking Dead); his brother, Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell); and fellow escapees Sucre (Amaury Nolasco), C-Note (Rockmond Dunbar), and T-Bag (Robert Knepper).

(Knepper, who coincidentally has a recurring role in iZombie, also appears as a general in the season finale of Showtime's Homeland on Sunday and is in the cast of the network's limited-series reboot of David Lynch's Twin Peaks, which premieres May 21.)

The not-so-good news about Prison Break is that the suspension of disbelief it requires is simply a bridge too far. And that's saying something for a show that began, way back in 2005, with its structural-engineer hero getting himself sentenced to prison so he could break out his brother, wrongly sentenced to death row in the  killing of the vice president's brother.

The four episodes I've seen are action-packed but emotionally unsatisfying, possibly because Michael's motives are so far much less clear.

Having  his death rob the sweetness from an improbably happy ending was a brave choice in 2009. Reviewing it at the time, I called it "one of the most satisfying [finales] I've seen for a series I'd long since stopped watching."

Resurrecting him in hopes of a quick hit means I'll remember him, and Prison Break, a little less fondly.

'iZombie,' iLoveyou

I'm far happier with the third-season premiere of iZombie, which begins to advance the story of undead medical examiner Liv Moore (Rose McIver) and her companions, living and undead, in a way that makes death seem as though it might really mean something.

Which is a lot to get from a show that mixes romantic comedy, witty dialogue, and murder victims' brains -- sometimes using a blender.

This season, Liv is learning that Seattle has a lot more zombies than she'd thought, and that some of them are working toward the inevitable day when their human neighbors look up from their coffee long enough to notice. It doesn't hurt at all that Detective Clive Babineaux (Malcolm Goodwin), her unofficial partner in crime-solving, now knows her secret, or that her boss, Dr. Ravi Chakrabarti (Rahul Kohli), is working on his love life as much as on his potential cure for Liv's condition.

Zombie-challenged as I am, I can no longer stomach The Walking Dead.  iZombie, inspired by a comic book series, cares as much about its post-life characters as it does its pre-dead ones. And though it may serve up brains in a variety of ways, it never loses its heart.