Ashley Warren January 16, 2012
“Hope you had a nice time on the Rock.”
These are the last words Jack Sylvane, young and handsome, hears as he leaves Alcatraz prison on board a ferry . . . 50 years after he first arrived there, young and handsome. Jack — and all the prisoners and inmates in Alcatraz — disappeared mysteriously on March 20, 1963, and no one has seen or heard from them since. All the disappearances were covered up by the government, and Alcatraz was officially closed for business. But now, one by one the disappeared are popping back up on the streets of San Francisco 2012, unaged, and the only people who know about it are a secret government task force headed by Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill, a sight for sore eyes) and young detective named Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones), who happens upon a murder committed by Sylvane (Jeffrey Pierce) and refuses to give up on it. Before long, she’s gotten famed Alcatraz historian and comic book writer Dr. Diego Soto (Jorge Garcia) involved, and the two of them discover that there’s a whole lot more going on with Alcatraz than anyone realized.
As a police procedural, Alcatraz is top notch. The production values of the pilot are extremely high quality, the writing is quick and zippy and never confusing, and the cast is likable and talented (and in the case of Sam Neill’s character, handsomely mysterious). Frequent J.J. Abrams collaborator Michael Giacchino’s score lends a haunting, creepy feel to the scenes in both the present and the past. The slowly returning prisoners provide a weekly structure for the show as our team finds them and brings them in one by one, and the overarching mystery of why they disappeared in the first place — and who took them — provides a serialized backbone to tie it all together.
As a drama however, particularly one in the tradition of Alias, Lost, and Fringe, Alcatraz comes off as a bit of a disappointment.
At one point, Hurley Dr. Soto asks, “Is anyone else’s head about to explode?” And the answer to that question would unfortunately be “no.” There is nothing confusing or mind-blowing about this pilot. That’s not to say there’s anything bad here — in fact, I quite enjoyed myself while watching it — but there’s nothing challenging either. If you’re looking for dense thematic story or unfathomable mystery, Alcatraz will not satisfy you. Plot developments are spelled out with lots of patient exposition, and anything creepy or mysterious sort of loses its edge with all that hand-holding. This is a show that got the memo WEIRD SHOWS = BAD RATINGS and took it very seriously. Of course, that’s not to say that, like Lost and Fringe and Alias (which deployed the tactic to varying degrees of success), the weird won’t come later, but for now with Alcatraz, what you see is what you get.
1. Hauser seems to be keeping his new team members largely in the dark, which is not just frustrating for Madsen (who voices those frustrations frequently). There seems to be no reason a government agent would hire someone to be on his super secret task force and then keep those secrets from them, other than to keep them from us as well. Fill her in, Hauser.
2. I wasn’t sold on Sarah Jones’s portrayal of Rebecca Madsen at first. She came off sort of bland and forgettable. But then the camera did a close up of her face, and the combination of her startlingly blue eyes with a voice that sounds more like it belongs to a hardened 40 year old than a 27 year old petite blonde, and the performance became sort of weirdly resonant for me. Her attitude (saying things like “Thanks for being a dick about it.”) also helped.
3. Confession: I do have a bias against the short hair. They seem to have given Jones (who has absurdly good hair in real life) a boyish haircut and minimized make-up on purpose so that we would take her more seriously. What’s with the assumption that cute blondes with curly hair can’t also be foul-mouthed competent badasses? Shame on you, show. Bring back the hair.
4. Some will probably criticize the casting of Jorge Garcia. They’ll probably say that Diego Soto is just a Hurley clone, or that Garcia’s performance of the character has made him that way . . . but I say to those people: suck on it. Jorge Garcia was the best part of the pilot. He lends a humor and humanness to the show that it would otherwise be lacking, and he brings out the best in his castmates when paired against them. Hurley was one of my favorite characters on Lost, but I’m glad that Garcia has more of a chance to be a lead on Alcatraz.
I’ve seen the first two episodes of the show so far (both of which premiere tonight) and the good news is that it’s consisent so far. The cast hasn’t fully gelled yet, but it feels like they will (sometimes it takes a while for the writers to find out how best to utilize their performers). And — spoiler here — it’s a nice touch that each week’s prisoner won’t just be disappearing. The task force has built a New Alcatraz, and they intend to fill it back up, meaning the guest stars each week will be acting more like recurring cast members than one-offs.
Alcatraz‘s two hour premiere airs tonight on Fox at 8/7 Central.
Categories: TVTags: Alcatraz, Bryan burk, Elizabeth sarnoff, Fox', Jack bender, Jason butler harner, Jeffrey pierce, Jj abrams, Jonny coyne, Jorge garcia, Parminder nagra, Robert forster, Sam neill, Sarah jones