This overview encompasses both the first and second episode as they aired together as a two-hour pilot.
Ever since LOST went off the air, several shows have been attempting to recapture the magic of the show (which was completely lost, pun intended, when the show gave us one of the worst series finales ever, a conversation for another day). Just about every one of these shows have failed miserably, usually not making it to a second season. But FOX is banking on Alcatraz being the exception due to the fact that it comes from LOST (sorta, kinda) creator J.J. Abrams and even includes a LOST cast member and a few LOST Easter eggs.
FOX is really pushing the LOST connection but unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) you simply don’t remake magic like that, it just happens. So, does Alcatraz at least have what it takes to make a decent show? At the moment… I’d say maybe. It has potential but at the same time a lot of hurdles to leap. Let’s start, as always, with the cast.
Soto (Garcia), Madsen (Jones), and Hauser (Neill)
Sarah Jones who plays the main character, SFPD Detective Rebecca Madsen, needs to call up Emily Rose of Haven and ask for some tips on how to play a strong female detective character without looking like she’s constantly pissed off or going to punch someone. As for her character, in LOST fashion she has an extremely deus ex machima connection to the overall story and if this was anything other than a LOST style show then I’d find it more than a bit annoying. Otherwise, she’s a thin character, not carrying more than the usual traits for a detective.
The great Sam Neill plays it snaky as Emerson Hauser, the FBI agent who is trying to figure out what is going on. Normally I love Neill but this character is a bit slimy and cruel hearted, and I think he plays it a little too well. Hell, even his suits don’t seem to fit well giving him an even more disjointed presence. But he’s also already been given the sympathetic treatment so I’m not sure where this character stands. It’s interesting at least, and that’s always a plus.
LOST alum Jose Garcia rounds out the top three as Dr. Diego Soto, Alcatraz specialist and comic book freak. Jose is an underrated actor and I’m glad to see him getting a lead, I just which they could give him a few better lines. At the moment he’s a bit of a token/cliché character and I hope to see more character development soon.
As with LOST we have a flashback based story telling format. This bugs me because doing an over-arching story like LOST did does not have to be flashback based, just look at Babylon 5. Trying to recapture LOST does not mean ‘remake the whole thing except replace one island for another’. That sound you here is the thud of my head hitting a desk.
But let’s be honest, not everyone watched LOST, so they are trying to capture a new audience as well as retain some of the LOST demographic. This is one reason they aired the first two episodes together, in order to better explain to the new viewers what is going on, what the concept is, and it ends the show on a better cliffhanger to keep people interested. We all know that LOST was all about the cliffhanger.
Hauser (Neill) is searching for the latest escapee.
But does it have a decent plot? Well, it seems back in 1963, when Alcatraz closed and the last of the inmates were to be sent off the island, they all just went up and disappeared. Literally, every last inmate, guard, and civilian. The government, not knowing what to do, covered the whole thing up, creating paper trails and everything. Even in 1963, post internet age, this is a bit hard to swallow. After all, there was more than inmates and guards on the island as the show willfully acknowledges. While some of the inmates wouldn’t be missed, the guards would, and someone would have figured it out. But hey, this is TV, we’ll roll with it.
Then, inexplicably, the prisoners and at least one psychologist have been returning. (Speaking of which, the likelihood of a female, Indian, psychologist on Alcatraz in 1960… pretty much nil. It’s simply how it was back then but maybe this will come up and not be a case of political correctness.) It’s not clear if they were sent forward, put in status, or dragged forward, but someone is doing it and giving the inmates tasks to complete amongst the usual stuff like taking revenge or following compulsions. Something was going at Alcatraz and it involved taking lots and lots of the prisoner’s blood (unless that was a red herring).
Soto and Madsen sneak into Alcatraz's off-limits areas.
In present time, apparently the government task force to deal with an event as huge as this is Sam Neill and a psychologist. Why is only one FBI agent involved? Why is there not a representative from every government agency? And no way they are hiding this from the NSA and CIA. It simply makes no sense, unless this is a plot point but I’m not sure how. Disappearing/reappearing inmates is a major freaking security risk, everyone is going to want a piece of this.
Through coincidence (and trope), Rebecca Madsen gets involved in a related case and is able to find the answers to track down the wayward prisoner of the week. This is enough to get her onto the squad along with Dr. Soto as her trusty side-kick. Again, the lack of sense is compounding.
But then LOST didn’t make a lot of sense either at the beginning, I mean, polar bear, seriously? I’m willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt, but at the moment it only pulls a solid 3 instead of lower in that it has at least peaked my curiosity… for now.
Score: 3 of 5