PREMIERE REVIEW: ALCATRAZ

WRITTEN BY MAX

The cast of Alcatraz on Fox.

Alcatraz, the latest TV offering from Producer/Director J.J. Abrams, starts off in a pretty good way, surprisingly attempting to build some character traits.  Our leading lady, Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) loses her partner, which we learn as a flashback.  Rebecca is a young hotshot detective.  While director Danny Cannon does do a good job of developing her character in the first few minutes, that character is a pretty, annoying cliché. I’ve seen this trick before, where the hot shot young female lead spouts one obscure video game or nerd core fact, and suddenly it’s supposed to give her street cred.

This is immediately apparent in the first fifteen minutes when Madsen meets up with Dr. Diego Soto (Jorge Garcia, or Hurley as you may recall from Lost).  She immediately drops some knowledge on getting double scores on his vintage game, and she gets an immediate marriage proposal from Diego.

Strangely enough, Jones and Garcia have great chemistry.  (NOTE: After watching two episodes, it would actually be pretty cool if they drummed up a love interest between these two.  More on that if I continue to watch the show.)

The first two parts were pretty boring, honestly, but then they started killing people.  It picked up with a nice pace, although procedural, until the end when we the viewer are actually privy to most of the premise of the series, related by the usually excellent Sam Neill, who plays Emerson Hauser.  The premise is absurd.  Someone stole all the prisoners from Alcatraz in 1963, and now they are showing up, un-aged, and killing.  The goal of the show is to figure out who stole them, and why they are bringing them back.

Does the show have potential? The chemistry is there.  I hope they bring some real character traits and idiosyncrasies to the Rebecca Madsen character.  I’m afraid that they may have downplayed many of the strange things happening which really could have shown great characterization.  Madsen is bombarded with new info at the end of the issue.  First, they are battling a mysterious person/entity that took 300 people from the past and are now dropping them into the future.  Second, she finds out that her grandfather, whom she thought was a guard, was really a prisoner, and not only that, he’s the guy who killed her partner in the beginning. My issue is she plays it real cool, like this type of shit happens twice a week.  Where’s the freak out?  Where’s the emotion?  You just found out that time travel is possible and your psychopath gramps not only killed your grandma, but he killed your partner in the present day.  I think it is acceptable to show a little emotion.

So other than the characters starting of as clichés, and people showing no real human emotion, I think this show is off to an okay start.

Part two started where one left off, with Rebecca and Diego getting hired as part of the Alcatraz Task Force.  A sniper shows up and blows away some kids in an amusement park.  While Hauser and Parminder Nagra (Hauser’s second, Lucy) interrogate the criminal from the first episode, Sarah and Diego are moving into their basement digs in Alcatraz.  The hunt is on for the sniper, and everyone’s attitude is just as cavalier as it was in the pilot.

Much to my dismay, they gloss over the lack of emotion in episode two.  Diego asks Lucy how she can deal with this happening when it’s the biggest thing that has ever happened.  She gives him a line about how her feelings on it happening don’t change the fact that it is happening.

HOLY SHIT THEY JUST KILLED LUCY!  THIS SHOW IS AWESOME!

They are taking her to the hospital, but she just took a high caliber bullet to the heart.  She. Is. Toast.

Hauser is the driving force at this point behind stopping the freak outs.  He checks Madsen and Diego with dramatic flair, and they are off to catch the Shoot Shoot Man.

It needs to be noted at this point, I’ve seen a commercial for Ghost Rider Two, staring a flame-headed Nic Cage, and a Progressive Insurance commercial with SONIC THE HEDGEHOG!  Wow, I love(d) 1996!

The bad guy in this episode, the sniper, is great.  He is so messed up and such a perfectionist.  I love that he enjoys a picnic lunch before raining down death.  If show runners are slow to develop the leads, they do a great job of making this guy a creep right away.  Hauser spends a lot of time acting more pissed than upset that Lucy got shot, and he goes to his ‘Underground Alcatraz’ to integrate Jack Sylvane, the pilot’s first villain.  He doesn’t know anything.  Big shock there.

We do get to see a little freak out from Rebecca fairly early.  Then she locks in to a real thinkin’ broad mode, and spends all night in the sniper’s cell with his effects, and eventually figures out that he made a scope with a magazine, a lens from his glasses and a little magnifier.  This guy is a crazy MacGuyver!

WOW!  Hauser just shot the sniper in the right hand.  That’s so awesome I bet no other movie or TV show ever did that to a sniper.  WHAT THE HELL?  LUCY IS FROM THE PAST!!!

Overall this episode, they did a much better job developing our heroes, especially Diego, who has major doubts about his role to the team.  From flashbacks, we have learned the old warden was a sadistic son of a bitch, and as Hauser takes over as his own warden of the new Underground Alcatraz, we learn that, while possibly more altruistic, his motives are based in getting results, and he is not above being a bit sadistic himself.

This series is so formulaic; it is going to take superior writing and character development to keep it afloat.  There are three hundred criminals and guards missing.  That means they have a different villain every episode.  It’s a lot like when Smallville had the meteor strike in season three or four.  That show even became self-aware, calling them the freaks of the week.  What would really make this show interesting to me is if writers would let some of these guys get away, creating more mystery and running the show plots out for more than one or two episode.  I would gladly give this show more of a chance if they are willing to take a chance.  Perhaps the mystery even bigger than who stole the prisoners is whether or not the writers can develop a story that flows without needless confusion, while still employing the allure of time travel and dangerous hijinks without turning off viewers.  That’s a mystery only time can solve.

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~ by maxaverage on January 16, 2012.

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