REVIEW: Alcatraz (FOX – Monday, 9:00 p.m.)

From executive producer J.J. Abrams (FRINGE, “Lost,” “Star Trek,” and the recent blockbuster “Super 8”) comes ALCATRAZ, a thrilling new series that follows a unique trio investigating the mystifying reappearance of 302 of Alcatraz’s most notorious prisoners and guards, 50 years after they vanished.

When San Francisco Police Department DET. REBECCA MADSEN (Sarah Jones) is assigned to a grisly homicide case, a fingerprint leads her to a seemingly impossible suspect: JACK SYLVANE (guest star Jeffrey Pierce), an Alcatraz inmate who died over 30 years ago. Given her family history – both her grandfather and surrogate uncle, RAY ARCHER (Robert Forster), were guards at the prison – Madsen’s interest is immediately piqued. When the enigmatic, knows-everything-but-tells-nothing government agent EMERSON HAUSER (Sam Neill) tries to impede her investigation, she becomes doggedly committed to it.

Madsen finds herself working with an unlikely partner, Alcatraz expert and comic book enthusiast DR. DIEGO “DOC” SOTO (Jorge Garcia), to help piece together the inexplicable sequence of events. The two discover that Sylvane is not only alive, but he’s loose on the streets of San Francisco, exacting decades-old revenge and leaving bodies in his wake. And strangely, he hasn’t aged a day since 1963, when Alcatraz was ruled by the iron-fisted WARDEN EDWIN JAMES (Jonny Coyne) and the sadistic ASSOCIATE WARDEN E.B. TILLER (Jason Butler Harner).

Detective Madsen and Soto must team with Hauser and his associate, LUCY BANERJEE (Parminder Nagra), to stop Sylvane’s vengeful killing spree. By delving into Alcatraz history, government cover-ups and Rebecca’s own heritage, the team will ultimately discover that Sylvane is only a small part of a much larger, more sinister present-day threat. Because even though he may be the first, it quickly becomes clear that Sylvane won’t be the last to reappear from Alcatraz.

“Sylvane is only a small part of a much larger, more sinister present-day threat”

During the course of the investigation, Madsen and Soto will learn that Hauser has been awaiting the prisoners’ return for nearly 50 years. Soto will witness his life’s work – the history of Alcatraz – come alive, while he and Madsen fight to keep the country safe from history’s most dangerous criminals. – FOX

80 out of 100

Needless, to say, in true Jerry Maguire fashion, they had us at, “From executive producer J.J. Abrams,” and we just automatically assumed Alcatraz was going to be an excellent series and from what we can tell so far it is, but unlike what we originally predicted, it doesn’t look like we’ll be quite getting our Lost fix that we were hoping for (still hoping for this from ABC’s The River).  Abrams recently confirmed that he had nothing to do with the creation or writing of the show and that his role was facilitating its production and bringing it to television.  This is important to note because everyone is expecting that Alcatraz is just going to be a clone of Abrams’ other projects, and even though it’s obvious that the show is inspired by the spirit of Abrams, it is very unique and it is certainly not Lost, even though it might fool you into thinking it is with the Michael Giacchino score that sounds eerily similar to Lost‘s.

Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, either, because there’s two things about Lost that make that kind of magic difficult to reproduce.  First, the fact is that Lost is one of the greatest television shows in history and trying to duplicate it would be a huge mistake, destined for failure.  The second problem is that Lost was a very deep and complex serial and as popular as it was, as the seasons progressed, it lost a significant portion of its audience due to the fact that you couldn’t just miss an episode and pick up the series the following week.  It made for great drama but it hurt the series overall as far as revenue was concerned.  On the same note, Lost came in at the tail-end of the era of serial dramas on prime-time television and if it had debuted two years later, it would never have been picked up for a second season.  That being said, networks are very skiddish about bringing serials to prime-time because over the last half-decade-plus, prime-time network viewers have generally turned away from them.

This is why Terra Nova and Alcatraz work.   Both of these shows have big theme/arc premises with mysteries at their core, however, both shows have made a point to have their series revolve around stand-alone, “monster-of-the-week”-type episodes which has proven to be a successful formula in the past… especially on FOX.  The phrase “monster-of-the-week” was a phrase that was often associated with The X-Files and why that show was so successful was that even though there was the alien abduction/mystery theme at its core, two-thirds of the episodes were stand-alone, “monster-of-the-week” episodes. It’s no wonder why The X-Files lasted for nine seasons over the course of two decades and became the longest running science fiction show in American history.  It appealed to everyone and you could pick it up at any time without feeling as if you were missing anything.

We have to give Kevin Reilly (entertainment president) at FOX credit.  He seems to have a handle on what works with television audiences right now and what doesn’t.  He’s admittedly a big fan of Fringe and he’s kept that show going for far longer than we really could have hoped to expect but he, of course, sees the same problems with that show being able to find the magic it had during the first two seasons compared to where it is now.  Fringe went from being very much in the mold of The X-Files in both content and style to being a serial that’s just completely inaccessible, now, to anyone but the most devoted fan.

Reilly must realize this, as well, and it seems to us that the creators of this show have come up with a Fringe v.2.0, effectively rebooting the basic concept of Fringe and repackaging it in a way  that doesn’t alienate audiences.  Yes, this serves to make it a little more vanilla than what the true fans of serialized SciFi would hope for, but it also serves to give it a better chance with general audiences and more importantly, the 18 – 49 crowd that the advertisers covet.

Fanboys and girls, it’s reality time:  if you want good, serialized SciFi on network TV, it’s going to have to be watered down a bit to appeal to everyone, otherwise it ain’t going to last.

Alcatraz has just the right mix of mystery and suspense combined with action, neatly packaged into hour-long segments to make genre fans and general audiences happy and that’s the smart way to go.

Is it a perfect series?  No  and it does have a lot of things that need to be worked on (like the silly dialogue) but overall, Sam Neill is fantastic and Jones and Garcia, while not winning any awards with their performances during the first two episodes, are certainly serviceable.  Again, we think this is a result of the dialogue.  Neill is such a pro that he could recite the back of a tube of toothpaste and it could be nominated for an Oscar, whereas Garcia and Jones just don’t have those kind of acting chops, yet.

Still, though, at the end of the day, all of its problems notwithstanding, this is a very clever and well-produced series and we expect that it will finally be the show that finds success in the old 24 timeslot.

You can watch full episodes of Alcatraz, here.

3 comments on “REVIEW: Alcatraz (FOX – Monday, 9:00 p.m.)

  1. Pingback: ALERT! 2012 Midseason Network And Cable Schedule! UPDATED! | TV-Tastic

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