J.J. Abrams brings us another mystery series about an island, this one being Alcatraz, the federal prison that closed its doors in 1963. The two hour premiere on Monday night (actually the first two episodes) showed potential of being another water cooler series like Lost. Unlike that show, Alcatraz has its feet planted in one genre: procedural dramas. Despite the overall mystery that will stretch throughout the season, right now it seems like each week seems is going to follow the pattern of Criminal Minds or CSI: cops chasing down bad guys before they commit their next crime. Granted, the criminals being hunted are convicts from Alcatraz who disappeared in ’63, but the methods being used for tracking these criminals are the same. We’ll see how long Abrams and company stick to this format before they decide to shake things up (see Alias and Fringe).
The mystery of the show should intrigue viewers to return, at least for now. The set up: In 1963, 302 convicts from Alcatraz vanished into thin air just before they were to be transferred off the rock. Now they’re reappearing in the 21st Century, unaffected by father time. What happened to these men? Where did they go? How is it that none of them have aged? Finally, who is responsible?
Investigating these reappearances are a small group made up of San Francisco detective, a comic store owner/PHD expert on Alcatraz, a mysterious federal agent, and a doctor/scientist of some sort. As San Fran Detective Madsen, Sarah Jones is quite good. Spunky and tough, Madsen isn’t just another pretty face playing cops and robbers. Sam Neill, he of the ominous tilted head stare, plays Emerson Hauser, an FBI agent responsible for tracking down the “63ers,” as they’re dubbed. Hauser is running the show and brings Madsen into the fold. We soon learn that he has an ulterior motive in wanting the young detective involved. Madsen recruits Dr. Diego Soto, an expert in all things Alcatraz (he’s the PHD). Jorge Garcia plays Soto and he might as well be playing Hurley from Lost because the part sure is written the same. Finally, Parminda Nagra (ER) completes the special task force as Lucy Banerjee, Hauser’s assistant/technician. She appears to have some medical experience; that has been completely explained just yet.
It’s going to be difficult for Alcatraz to avoid the Lost comparisons, and I’m not just speaking about the Hurley, er, Soto character. Michael Giacchino’s score, while evoking the great music of Bernard Hermann, still has some of the same qualities of his work on Lost. Also, each episode if Alcatraz is structured so that the story is told in the present and in a flashback. The transition between the two isn’t an airplane sound like in Lost. Instead, it was the clanging of a jail cell closing. As a fan of Lost, I felt that the way they cut back and forth started to get a little predictable.
The pilot episode was considerably tighter than the second hour. Hour two’s plot felt rushed, as did the producer’s attempt to make us care for the characters. In the second episode, Nagra’s Banerjee gets shot and put into a coma. I found it difficult to care since her character had little to do and we hardly got to know her before she was shot. Since this is a mid-season show, the producers are working with a shorter number of episodes than a typical season. Perhaps if they’d had more time to establish the character this event would have had a greater impact.
For now, finding out what happened to the 63’s and whose behind it all holds my interest enough to keep me watching, possibly for the rest of this year. However, if it becomes just another routine cop show, with clues to the mystery sprinkled throughout just to appease people, I doubt I’ll return for a second season, if it gets one.