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.

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.

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?

Tube Watch: 3 new shows I look forward to this Fall

Happy Sunday everyone! The Emmy just wrapped tonight and though I didn’t watch it, it makes me think of some shows that are going to be premiering this Fall. I don’t usually have time to watch more than one TV series a week, but these three shows are intriguing enough I might have to blog less so I can watch these shows. This is in addition to Hawaii Five-O which is my guilty pleasure that’s returning Monday nights on CBS.

As some of these shows are premiering the same week as TCFF, I’d have to catch them the following week. But in any case, I’m quite excited for these:

Person of Interest (CBS, Thursdays 9/8c)

The first time I saw the trailer for this, I have to admit that Jim Caviezel’s casting caught my eye. I think he’s an underrated actor and has admitted that playing Jesus in The Passion of the Christ made Hollywood reluctant to hire him. It’s a pity because he’s a talented and versatile actor and he definitely looks bad ass in this one.

This is one of the 10 newcomers worth sampling posted by AP via Yahoo last month, below is the description from that post:

An obscure software genius and an ex-CIA agent believed to be dead: This is the duo who dedicate themselves to preventing bad things from happening — even without knowing what the bad thing will be. This is an edgy thriller that links the video surveillance that blankets modern life with a computer program that identifies each “person of interest” — someone who, whether as a victim or a perpetrator, is about to be involved in a violent crime. Michael Emerson (Lost) is the obscure man with the software, and he recruits Caviezel, playing an off-the-grid ex-spy, to do his legwork.

Another reason this piqued my interest is the Minority Report-inspired storyline and talents behind it: J.J. Abrams (Lost) and Jonathan Nolan (yep, Chris’ brother who’ve collaborated with him on the screenplay of Memento, The Prestige and The Dark Knight). This is Nolan’s first TV project and he’s apparently been long interested in the idea of information-age overload, which enabled in part by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, that led law-enforcement agencies to take surveillance to a new level. Quoted in USA Today, Nolan says, “The show is about two guys interacting with an all-seeing machine that can’t communicate with them beyond a string of nine numbers… We have all this information, but getting the relevant pieces out of it is tough.”

I hope the folks at CBS give this show some time to develop before they cancel this prematurely.

Alcatraz (FOX, Mondays 9/8c)

[This one actually doesn’t air until Fall mid-season in 2012]

This is another one of J.J. Abrams’ TV projects that has a Lost connection as Jorge Garcia is one of the leads. The plot from

Alcatraz follows a San Francisco police detective (Sarah Jones) who teams with an expert on the prison (Garcia) after a murder suspect turns out to be a Alcatraz prisoner who disappeared from the island about 50 years ago. It seems the killer wasn’t the only prisoner to vanish — or the only one to return. And now they must stop the Alcatraz escapees as they re-enter modern society without having aged — and try to solve the mystery of how this is happening, and why.

The trailer looks pretty gripping and I rather like Sam Neill. The networks seem to loooove procedural shows and this one has some of that, but with more puzzles and mysterious twists along with dynamic action stuff. A certain amount of mystery can’t hurt, but hopefully it won’t have too many twists though. I mean the reason I wasn’t too interested in Lost is that it seemed like all the enigmatic buildup gets to be too much that too many questions remained unanswered in the end. This article said ‘there oughta be a TV genre called “J.J. Abram-edies”‘ as this one has that similar formula.

Anyway, the 60s flashback stuff will be interesting to watch as well as seeing the world’s famous prison cell used as the real filming location. Oh, I hope the guy who plays Jack Sylvane (Jeffrey Pierce) is going to appear in more shows besides the pilot. He’s pretty easy on the eye 🙂

PAN AM (ABC, Sundays 10/9c)

The shows above are rather dark, mystifying stuff. So I think this one about the glory days of air travel would be a fun one to end the week. I wasn’t expecting to see Christina Ricci in this but I think she’d add an edgy flair to the show amongst the cookie cutter drop-dead-gorgeous girls on TV.

Set in the ’60s, the drama centers on the loves and lives of stewardesses (led by Christina Ricci) of the iconic titular airline. Although lauded as symbols of sleek, Jet Age glamour, their personal lives are full of turbulence.

This series had a pretty big presence at Comic-con last Summer, at the time I had no idea why there was a faux Pan Am plane in the exhibition hall, that’s when I found out about the series. It reminds me of Catch Me If You Can, the era when working for an airline is such a coveted and cool career and air travel is certainly a heck of a lot more enjoyable 😦 I like the fact that women are the stars of the show here, and the trailer looks pretty amusing. “Are you wearing your girdle?” Oh boy, in that sense, I’m glad we’ve come quite a long way since then.


Anybody else interested in any of these shows? Please also share which series (new or returning) you’re looking forward to this Fall.