Tube Watch: Thoughts on JJ Abrams’ ALCATRAZ

All right, after months without a show to get excited about, finally Alcatraz arrives. I blogged about this back in September. Basically it’s a procedural mystery thriller with elements of time travel thrown in… the trailer promises all kinds of twists and turns only JJ Abrams & co. could muster, what with Alcatraz prisoners disappearing from 50 years ago and suddenly showing up on present day and bent on a shooting rampage.

So, is it worth watching?

Well, the short answer is YES. The 2-hour season premiere did its job  trick as based on what I’ve seen so far, I’m hooked. Now, I didn’t watch LOST so I consider that a good thing as I won’t have ‘LOST fatigue’ like some TV reviewers mentioned, and I also won’t be keeping tabs on how the two shows are similar, well apart from the fact that both shows involve an island and a boat load of unexplained scenarios.

What I like about the show:

The Premise

One benefit from not watching hardly any TV is that I’m not burned out by procedural shows. Yes I’m aware there are a plethora of it out there, and that this one involves a police detective trying to figure out the strange killings happening in the city, but the mystery/time travel elements sets it apart from the pack. The contrast setting between the ghostly, eerie atmosphere of retro Alcatraz island and the panoramic Bay City also adds visual interest.

This pilot tells us that each episode will focus on one prisoner (perhaps also the guard?) and how his story will help shed some light to the overall mystery. Just what in the world happened to that night in 1963 and why are they back in the present day? For what purpose?? The two prisoners so far seem to have totally different ‘missions’ if you will, that don’t seem to have any connection with each other. At least that’s how it appears right now.
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The Players

The most intriguing character so far is Sam Neill’s Emerson Hauser, the lead investigator of this whole Alcatraz enigma. He’s been there from the start as he was a young guard back in 1963 when 300 + prisoners and guards vanished from the island. It’s obvious that he knows more than he’s letting on, and so does his sympathetic scientist partner Lucy Banerjee (Parminder Nagra). Meanwhile, Detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) gets unwittingly dragged into Hauser’s team whilst investigating the murder of Alcatraz’s former Deputy Warden E.B. Tiller. With the help of some Google search (isn’t it nice to be living in the 21st Century?), she finds Dr. Diego Soto (Jorge Garcia), a comic book writer/Alcatraz expert who ends up becoming her partner on the case.

So far Garcia gets the best lines like “You’ve built the bat cave under Alcatraz. Why would you do that?” or “Anyone else’s head exploding right now?”, which is a nice balance to Jones’ serious demeanor. I’ve never seen Jorge before but he’s perhaps the most well-known TV actor here because of his role in LOST. I like him right away and he’s funny without being overly quirky (I’m looking at you Masi Oka).

Neill, Jones & Garcia on Alcatraz

It’s quite an eclectic mix of people and you could say the same about the cast. I quite like Neill in this role, a bit prickly but highly mysterious… oh and bad ass, too. At the end of the second episode he doesn’t hesitate to shoot the prisoner’s hand to keep him from shooting people at random. I can see how Neill can have tons of fun with this character if the writers did their job well.

Sarah Jones reminds me a bit of a Battlestar Galactica‘s Katte Sackhoff (Starbuck), but a softer, less tomboy-ish version. She seems believable in the role but lacking a bit in the charisma department (especially against a veteran like Neill). But hey it’s early yet, I’d give her some time.
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The Time-Travel Elements

Time travel movies are inherently intriguing and there are so many possibilities to explore! If there’s anyone who can freshen up a tried and true formula, that’d be Abrams. As proven with the Star Trek movie, good writing can somehow make something you’ve seen before feels new again. Now I’m not saying he’s got the formula down pat yet, it’s still too early to tell, but so far he’s done a good job in making us want to know more what happens next.

The alternating timelines between the 60s and present day keeps it interesting as well as gives us an insight into what each of the disappearing prisoner’s all about. I especially like the Jack Sylvane (Jeffrey Pierce) storyline, ok so Pierce is eye-candy material too, always a nice bonus 😉 I think the fact that he was imprisoned for something trivial (stealing at a grocery store) but ended up being jailed on The Rock is just as bizarre as him suddenly waking up in 2012.

I do have an issue with how the disappearing prisoners who suddenly pop up in present time don’t have that much trouble adjusting to 2012. When Jack stepped out of the prison after being awaken by a visiting tourist girl, he seemed disoriented for a while but recovered quickly and went on with his mission. I think it’d be more interesting if the writers explore the discombobulated ‘fish out water’ period a bit more, which is always the most interesting factor about time travel stories.

The Verdict

Well, now that they got me hooked, we’ll see how long it can keep me interested. I have a short attention span with shows, the last TV series I watched was Hawaii Five-0 but Alex O’Loughlin’s hunkyness aside, I got bored with it pretty fast as there is really nothing to look forward to week after week. With this one, there is almost a sense of urgency to find out just what the heck is going on, and with every episode, we (hopefully) get just a little bit closer to the heart of the mystery.

For example, as the first hour ended, we found out that Madsen’s grandfather was actually a prisoner, not a guard as she was led to believe. So there is a personal connection there that makes it all the more intriguing. The premiere ends with a WHOA moment involving Lucy’s character. I definitely didn’t see that coming! Does Hauser know all along that Lucy is the same person as Dr. Lucille Sengupta? Was that why the sniper prisoner targeted Lucy? Well, Abrams’ done the job well as I REALLY want to know the answer to those questions.

I just hope that there are sufficient pay-offs to the build-ups. I think the trouble with these types of shows is that the writers have too much fun thinking of all the twists and conflicts but in the end don’t know how to solve them. I sure hope that won’t be the case here.


So did anybody else watch this pilot? Well, what did you think?