Season Two premiers on HBO April 1.
Monday, January 30, 2012
Monday, January 16, 2012
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.
Sunday, January 1, 2012
Browsing through my Netflix options for viewing TV series instantly, I came across a show that I had originally watched from start to finish when it first aired back into 1998, a quiet but poignant little series by J.J. Abrams, the genius behind other great series like Lost and Alias - Felicity.
The WB series (pre-CW days) put actress Keri Russell (and her trademark, luscious golden locks) on the map and supported her a terrific cast that included Scott Foley, Amy Jo Johnson, Greg Grunberg, Amanda Forman and Ian Gomez, among others. Beauty Russell was a natural in the role of Felicity Porter, a shy, smart high school graduate from Palo Alto, Calif., who forgoes a predetermined, pre-med college destiny laid out for her by her achievement-obsessed parents for an uncharted future as an artist at the fictional University of New York.
Her initial motivation? Ben Covington (Scott Speedman), a boy she fell in love with from afar who, on the day of their graduation, wrote something so deep and meaningful in her yearbook, she immediately dropped all previous plans and made the leap into a scary, unpredictable journey thousands of miles away both physically and academically.
The pilot, written by Abrams, is strong in setting up Felicity's story - why she makes her 11th hour choice to switch schools, the uncertainty she feels during her first weeks in the Big Apple, the rollercoaster of emotions she feels as she tries to reconcile her feelings for Ben, her spur-of-the-moment confrontation with him about why she made the move, her doubts and fears about her choice and ultimately, why she decides to stay. Russell shines in the role, bringing believability and authenticity to the character, and you can't help but root for her to stay and make it work.
Right from the jump, Abrams sets up the inevitable, albeit classic love triangle in Felicity, Ben and resident advisor Noel Crane (Foley). I was on Team Noel from the start, but you knew Felicity would bounce between the two over the course of the series - it was a WB drama after all. But week to week great writing and plot points, along with well-structured B-storylines with other characters, made it an enjoyable ride (you'll have to watch to see who ends up with whom).
What I always liked about the series was that it lasted exactly four years, each season representing Felicity's four years in college. It was the right length for the show and I never felt like I wasn't watching a group of young people going through all the trials, tribulations, joys, sorrows, ups, downs and all that went with finding yourself through the college experience. It stayed real, the drama never reaching or pushing too far (unlike, say the original Beverly Hills, 90210, which jumped off every over-dramatic cliff it could find). It was nicely paced, well acted and written, beautifully shot and was a very enjoyable series.
So whether a first timer or a re-viewer as I am, Felicity is definitely worth a watch. Available on DVD and through Netflix streaming.