Monday, January 16, 2012

Review - Alcatraz

Boy do J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot people know how to do a pilot.  The latest venture from him (Lost, Alias, Fringe, Person of Interest) and Elizabeth Sarnoff (executive producer of Lost) are taking you to another island full of mystery and intrigue - Alcatraz.

"On March 21, 1963, Alcatraz officially closed.  All the prisoners were transferred off the island, only that's not what happened.  Not at all."

This, along with a very cool title opening, carry you right into this shadowy new crime series, the premise of which is this:  On March 20, 1963, two guards walked the halls of Alcatraz prison one stormy night, confused and scared as all hell because all the residents - 256 prisoners and 46 guards - seemingly vanished into thin air.  After all, this is Alcatraz, and no one ever escaped The Rock ... well, except for three men, as dramatized in films like Escape From Alcatraz (great film starring Clint Eastwood), but there's no proof they actually survived the attempt, so I should say "successfully" escaped. 

Anyway, Alcatraz was known for harboring some of the worst of the worst criminals, so when the missing prisoners begin turning up in present day San Francisco - having not aged a day from the time of their disappearances and itching to pick up right where they left off - you know things aren't going to bode well.

**Episode details follow**

Enter Detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones, Sons of Anarchy), a homicide detective whose partner was killed during a foot pursuit and who now works solo.  Arriving at a murder scene, she finds victim E.B. Tiller, who she soon learns was deputy warden of Alcatraz decades earlier.  Prints found at the scene match one Jack Sylvane (Jeffrey Pierce, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, The Nine) - one of the missing prisoners and a man who supposedly died 30 years prior.  At the scene, Masden encounters Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill, Happy Town, The Tudors), a G-Man who does not appreciate her presence and promptly dismisses her.  Like that's going to stop our heroine...

Needing an expert on the prison, Masden meets Dr. Diego Soto (Jorge Garcia, Lost), a comic book vender who holds Ph.D.s in criminal justice and Civil War history and has written four books on Alcatraz.  Together they head out to the island to investigate, but in the process are gassed and knocked out, only to awaken in a bunker (Soto appropriately calls it the "bat cave") underneath the prison where Hauser runs what he calls "a special division in charge of criminals who hold a particular allure for our government,"  i.e., "The 63s" - our missing prisoners and guards.

It's not long before Sylvane is captured and questioned about what happened to him, where he's been, whose behind his and the others' disappearances, etc., but this is the pilot, folks - and an Abrams show to boot, so you KNOW we ain't getting answers so quickly.  No, there's much, much more to come.  And, as said by Tiller in his warden days, "This is Alcatraz.  Things can always get worse."

The show itself has established that it will be a case-of-the-week format with the overlying mythology weaved through, revealing piece by piece and in its own sweet time exactly what happened to "The 63s." (the new Others, Lost fans?).  Each episode will also include jumps between present day and the time the prisoner-of-the-week resided at The Rock.  Other mysteries:  there's the character of "Uncle" Ray Archer (Robert Forster, Heroes, Karen Sisko), a retired cop and the man who raised Masden who, when she informs him about Alcatraz's ties to her case, compels her very strongly to walk away.  Guessing he knows something.  Another mysterious character is Lucy Banerjee (Parminder Nagra, ER).  She's not all she appears to be, as we learn at the end of the second episode.

Then there's Hauser.  Turns out he was one of those two guards who made the discovery of the missing all those years ago and has been waiting for these events ever since.  Seems he always meant to involve Madsen, being that her grandfather, Thomas, was one of the prisoners - and coincidentally the man who killed her partner.  Hence the Alcatraz Secret Task Force is born.  Abrams's shows do seem to like trios:  Alias had Sydney, Vaughn and Jack Bristow; Fringe has Olivia, Peter and Walter.  I like the pairing of Madsen and Soto, an unlikely duo who work well together and have a common drive to unravel this mystery. And Hauser may be a hiccup to them, but you know they need his input.

Oh, and there's another hatch ... well, sort of.  Actually, it's a secret bunker out in the middle of the woods which turns out is the new Alcatraz - a collection of cells just waiting to welcome the returned and newly recaptured inmates.

I liked the pilot a lot.  In just that first hour the writers clearly laid out who the players are, how they relate to each other, what the story is and set up oodles of questions and stories to come as the series pushes forward.  I wondered prior to the premiere how confused I would be - being a huge Abrams fan, I prepared myself for it - but it was very easy to follow and I am interested to see where we're going to go.  The momentum kept up well in the second episode, which aired directly after.  Overall a nice introduction for the series.

I wonder if Katee Sackoff (Battlestar Galactica)was considered for the Madsen role - Sarah Jones and she are like types and the character of Madsen - tough, a bit of a loner, not afraid of the chase and danger - are like that of Sackoff's Kara "Starbuck" Thrace, only less of a powder keg ready to explode.  Curious...

The music score is perfect for the show, it's well cast and well-written and I think it's going to find a good following early on.

Bottom line:  Let Alcatraz "Rock" your world.

Catch Alcatraz Mondays at 8 p.m. on FOX.  I also recommend checking out other Bad Robot shows Lost, Fringe, Alias and Felicity.

1 comment:

  1. Not sure I loved the pilot as much as you did, perhaps because I was expecting brain scramble but DIDN'T get it, so it felt a little simplistic to me. Not a fan of Jones, she doesn't seem believable as a detective to me. But I didn't like the casting of Olivia in Fringe at first either but she grew on me, so I'll give her a chance. It is most certainly WONDERFUL to welcome Jorge Garcia and Parminder Nagra back to my weekly viewing schedule, though! I hope they give Garcia more to do as the story develops and I look forward to what's in store with Nagra's character, cuz I sure didn't see that twist coming. Definitely worth sticking it out.