Growing up in the 1980s, in the lambent glow of television, there were a few things I knew about prison life before my 10th birthday. Firstly, female prisoners were obliged to wear dungarees, speak in Australian accents and ignore the cardboard-like nature of their confines. Brutal 'bashings' were worryingly common, as were even more brutal mullets. Skilled dentistry work and feminine-looking women were unheard of. Male penitentiaries, on the other hand, were reassuringly jovial places. Much of the prisoners' time was spent humorously bantering with their mop-headed cell mates or dreaming up increasingly convoluted schemes to get one over on the officious yet strangely trusting guards. It wasn't until I was a little older that I realised Prisoner: Cell Block H and Porridge were not noted for their verisimilitude. The Shawshank Redemption and Escape from Alcatraz suggested prisons were a good deal less jolly than Ronnie Barker had led me to believe, while Alan Clarke's Scum instilled in me such an abject fear of homes for young offenders - and greenhouses - that I never so much as skipped school. And as for Midnight Express ... let's just say I've never picked up a holiday brochure for Turkey. The intervening years have done little to foster a liking for prison-set entertainment, with only the grim and ultra-violent Oz flying the flag for the big house. Prison Break (TVB Pearl, Tuesdays at 10.30pm), however, puts the cool firmly back in the cooler. The biggest hit of last year in the US (yes, it has taken a year to hit Hong Kong screens), Prison Break centres around two brothers - Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell) and Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) - and their attempts to escape from Fox River State Penitentiary. What seems like a straightforward concept is turned into something extraordinary by a meticulously woven plot, dramatic cliffhangers and more twists and turns than a corkscrew in a labyrinth. First off, Burrows is not any old prisoner, but a petty criminal framed for murdering the US vice-president's brother and fast-tracked to death row by a far-reaching government conspiracy. With barely a month to go until his execution date, things look bleak for Burrows until Scofield formulates an audacious plan to bust him out. Scofield, it transpires, is a structural engineer who worked on a refit of the prison a few years earlier and is in possession of the blueprints. He is also something of a tactical genius and so, armed with an elaborate, clue-filled tattoo, information on some of the prison's key figures and a set of cojones that would give Jack Bauer a run for his money, Scofield holds up a bank to get himself thrown in the clink with his brother. Once inside, Scofield sets about putting his plan into action, assembling the necessary components to affect the escape and playing delicately balanced power games with dangerous men, such as former mob boss John Abruzzi (the superb Peter Stormare) and corrupt guard captain Brad Bellick (Wade Williams). Meanwhile, he attempts to win the trust of powerful warden Henry Pope (Stacy Keach) and beautiful prison doctor Sara Tancredi (Sarah Wayne Callies), who could prove vital to the brothers' escape plans - although you have to wonder how many maximum-security prisons have hot, young female doctors in their infirmaries. That sort of thing tends to cause riots in such testosterone-heavy environments. Like fellow Fox production 24, Prison Break is exciting, engrossing viewing from the word go. And, like 24, the against-the-clock pace, highly suspenseful plots and crackling action scenes make this compulsive, addictive entertainment. In Scofield, Prison Break has its Jack Bauer. Boasting steely confidence in the face of danger and a cocky demeanour, Scofield is the kind of improbably brave and resourceful character of which Bauer would no doubt approve. Welcome to your new favourite show. There's more top-quality entertainment on offer over on Cinemax, as the excellent Battlestar Galactica returns for a second series with a three-hour special (today at 9pm). Following the fortunes of a sizeable refugee space fleet as it attempts to locate Earth while tangling with malevolent robot empire the Cyclons, Battlestar Galactica is virtually unrecognisable from the slightly campy 70s series on which it is based. Eschewing the phasers, polished interiors and spandex costumes of the likes of Star Trek for bullets, industrial environs and battle suits, this is sci-fi with a steely edge. The first batch of episodes sees the crew dealing with the fallout from season one's finale, in which Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos) was shot by a Cyclon posing as Lieutenant Valerii (Grace Park). Colonel Tigh (Michael Hogan) assumes command and makes a decision that could have catastrophic consequences. Meanwhile, the crew members scattered on the planets Caprica and Kobol have pressing problems of their own to deal with. Featuring the best space dogfights this side of George Lucas and dramatic plots that skilfully plug into contemporary concerns, such as post-September 11 paranoia, terrorist sleeper agents and the insidious dangers of technology, Battlestar Galactica may well be the best sci-fi show on television - at least until Lucas starts filming the Star Wars TV spin-off in 2008. Also starting this week is Pentagon-set action-drama E-Ring (ATV World, Fridays at 9pm). The title refers to the outer ring of the US Department of Defense building, where many of the most high-profile military operations are sanctioned. Here, Colonel Eli McNulty (Dennis Hopper; above left) and Lieutenant Colonel Jim Tisnewski (Benjamin Bratt; above centre) use their military nous to oversee urgent missions and cut through bureaucracy to get the job done. Tisnewski has the added pressure of having recently made the move from active service, meaning the soldiers he sends into perilous combat are often his closest friends. While political wrangling in the corridors of the Pentagon make up a large part of the show, the action sequences when the plans come to fruition are spectacular and realistic, such as the kidnapping of a terrorist suspect in this episode. The opening instalment is executive produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (Armageddon, The Rock), which gives you some idea of the lightweight, politically simplistic tone of the show, but the high-octane action make this watchable - if jingoistic - stuff. Lastly, there's a chance to catch one of the most original sitcoms to grace the small screen on BBC Prime this week, as series four to six of Red Dwarf (weekdays from Thursday at 7pm) get a welcome airing. Following the adventures of space bum Dave Lister (Craig Charles), cowardly hologram Arnold Rimmer (Chris Barrie), an ultra-vain creature evolved from the ship's cat (Danny John-Jules) and a robot called Kryten (Robert Llewellyn) as they are marooned in a drifting space craft 3 million years in the future, Red Dwarf is impressively intelligent and hysterically funny in equal measures. Be sure to tune in on September 13 for Dimension Jump, one of the show's greatest episodes, which introduces the crew to Rimmer's heroic equivalent self from another dimension. Smoke me a kipper, I'll be back for breakfast.