‘Alcatraz’ Series Premiere Review & Discussion

Published 3 years ago by , Updated February 15th, 2014 at 8:47 pm,

Sam Neil Sarah Jones Jorge Garcia Alcatraz FOX Alcatraz Series Premiere Review & Discussion

Of all the television programs J.J. Abrams has produced, none have left a more indelible mark on the cultural landscape than Lost. So, naturally, once word broke that the famed director/producer would be involved in another island-based drama with a time-travel theme, Alcatraz inevitably, and perhaps unfairly, became the heir apparent to everything (positive and negative) associated with that series.

So it feels appropriate that Alcatraz should come with something of a disclaimer stating: Despite all the outward appearances and the inclusion of Lost star Jorge Garcia, Alcatraz bears little or no resemblance toward the program it finds itself most associated with. In fact, to Alcatraz is really more of the same ilk as Abrams’ other FOX effort: Fringe.

From the onset, Alcatraz has the same small-screen playfulness that Fringe had when it debuted in 2008, as opposed to the large-scale theatricality that was likely part of the initial draw to Lost.  And while there is a larger mystery to be unraveled in Alcatraz, its appeal is that it can be doled out in tiny morsels through the naturally episodic nature of the series – rather than be built up week-in-and-week-out in a serialized format that, after several years, begins to repel new audience members because the core story is simply too dense.

With what looks to be the killer-of-the-week format that Alcatraz has started, it’s clear this new series won’t have to deal with confusion or plot density right away.

But it is time to dispense with the comparisons, because Alcatraz does manage to stand on its own with an intriguing premise that presents itself as both immediately palatable and easy to understand. Regrettably, the delivery of the series is approached without the kind of gusto and vigor that demands the audience beg for more. For the most part, Alcatraz just comes off as another passable hour of television, but nothing too remarkable.

It’s a shame, really, because the three main leads: Sarah Jones’ Detective Rebecca Madsen, the aforementioned Jorge Garcia, as Dr. Diego Soto and Sam Neill as the mysterious Emerson Hauser all come off perfectly likeable and capable in their performances – however, there is a nagging feeling that the audience should be compelled to feel more about any of the three.

Det. Madsen is our link to the strange happenings surrounding Alcatraz and the prisoners who disappeared there nearly 50 years ago, but have recently begun to turn up in the present without so much as a wrinkle. Of course, for her, the returning inmates aren’t simply a bizarre phenomenon; there is also a personal connection Madsen has with the prison, as one of her relatives was an inmate in the prison.

The trouble with Madsen is that because she’s asked to play something of the everyman – which is likely why her character is given the most backstory – we should expect her to react to the situation with a certain amount of surprise, or disbelief – as most naturally would. Instead Madsen confronts the situation – every situation, actually – with earnestness unseen in seasoned cops 30-years her senior. That steely resolve may maker her good at her job, but it also makes her something of an emotional void for the audience. Madsen is so automatic in her duties that even being faced with the impossible doesn’t seem to faze her much. Unfortunately, besides Madsen’s natural attractiveness and dogged determination, there isn’t really anything to latch onto, character wise.

The two other leads Garcia and Neill, both carry their respective roles and characters quite well, providing a mix of levity and mysterious authority that will no doubt drive the non-Rebecca Madsen moments of each future episode.

Though he’s a little too much an amalgam of all that is geek, Garcia’s Dr. Soto is a nice alternative to the usually older character that performs similar duties in these kinds of programs. He still comes off as Hurley with a PhD, but looking for anything different would mean looking past Garcia in the role – one that he fits quite nicely, actually.

Neill, on the other hand, is the key to the mystery of Alcatraz, as he holds all the answers, but isn’t willing to share everything, just yet. It’s easy to marginalize Neill when he’s playing heroic roles as he did in Jurassic Park, but here, playing a secretive and duplicitous manipulator, Neill is so far the most thrilling character in the series. And by establishing a clandestine connection between Hauser and his technician Lucy Banerjee (Parminder Nagra, Bend it Like Beckham), two potential one-note characters become all the more intriguing.

Actually, as it stands, the most intriguing and entertaining aspect of the pilot was the 1960s flashbacks to when Alcatraz was still a functioning prison – and not a tourist attraction. While the sepia tones of the flashbacks in the pilot were a little obvious, the brief depictions of life on that island, and the cruelty of the warden, manage to engage a bit more than the actual modern day storyline.

Sadly, this may be only a short-term plus, as the thought of being introduced to a new ‘60s criminal each week does pose a problem in terms of keeping the idea of Alcatraz fresh. The novelty of men with Buddy Holly glasses and slicked back hair (or what have you) wreaking havoc in the present, only to be imprisoned by Sam Neil, may wear a bit thin after a few weeks. A fact made evident by the second episode, ‘Ernest Cobb’ which airs immediately after the pilot.

Sam Neill as the enigmatic Emerson Hauser

Though it’s a fun episode with a nice twist at the end, ‘Ernest Cobb’ hits all the same perfunctory, and ultimately hollow notes that the pilot does.

For all the hubbub and speculation, it turns out Alcatraz is essentially just another procedural, but with a sci-fi twist. While that may be a let down to some, the larger questions posed in the pilot then reiterated, and expanded upon in the second episode are certainly enough to keep most viewers coming back – if only for a glimpse at what’s really at the center of this story. Hopefully, the writers will be able to craft episodes engaging enough, or more engaging than the pilot, at least, to satiate the audience in between delivering those morsels of information.

And even though audiences are basically looking at another bad-guy-of-the-week series, keep in mind programs like The X-Files, Supernatural and Fringe all started out the same way, but managed to grow into something larger, and more compelling than a mere procedural. Here’s hoping Alcatraz also has something special hidden up its sleeve.


Alcatraz airs Monday night @8pm on FOX.

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  1. thought show was well done can you tell me how many weekly shows there will be

  2. I enjoyed watching Alcatraz and look forward to the next episode. I worry though that it will become a little too predictable, time will tell.

  3. I liked it. Abrams has a way of telling a story without telling too much at once.

  4. I thought it was pretty good one of the main reasons im watching this is cause of Jeorge Garcia aka Hurley :) so far the premeire was good but they need to build on rebbecas character she was ehh other then that it was good

  5. Sorry the lead actress I dont care about at all and the acting so far really is mediocre. I was hoping for a bit more substance and story. Jorge Garcia does pretty well, but all I see is Hurley haha Ill give it another week.

  6. remember, their are over 40 prison guards missing too…

  7. didnt watch the show at all. I saw a preview for it and read soemthing about the people who did Lost and was like hell no! I hated Lost and this looks like another Lost type show by what I have seen but who knows.

  8. I hope FOX doesn’t kill this like most of the other shows it starts and never finishes.

  9. To many negatives to enjoy it. I really wanted to give it a fair shot and did, but with all the problems it has I just can’t make it a regular watch for me. First I can’t stand the fat guy from lost it was hard enough to even try to watch it knowing he was in it, but gave it a shot. Then you add in the fact that’s it’s nothing more than your average run of the mill procedural with nothing really special or stand outish about it and it’s a major let down, but top that all off with the fact that it was dull and lacked any real entertainment value and it’s a no watch for me.

    It was well polished and well directed, but dull and predictable.

    • You’re one of the very few in my experience who didn’t like “the fat guy from Lost.”

  10. They could have went with another title, Fringe: San Francisco. The lead actress is terrible, Fox should hire FX’s casting director and learn how to get people from HBO series.

  11. My wife really, really wanted to watch this so we ditched going to the movies. She made it through the first hour and we ended up watching the season premier of “Being Human” instead of muddling through hour 2 of “Alcatraz.”
    It barely held my interest and lost hers. I need something other than “I was told to kill him” as a motive, especially from a person who isn’t a killer in the first place. I also loved how the two returnees didn’t even flinch at the 48 year gap in tech and culture… especially in San Fran.

    • Well, I assume that no one really knows how or exactly when they came back so they could have been here for a while and adjusted to the tech and stuff. I felt the same way about Fringe and Supernatural when i first watched them. Luckily Supernatural is still kinda good but Fringe lost me with all that alternate universe crap!

  12. I saw the pilot on a plane a couple of weeks ago, and now I’m struggling to remember what happened. Pretty forgettable.

  13. Instead of giving it ratings, i will wait for it to hit dvd for it is interesting but not interesting enough for me to add it to my line up on Monday’s which only has Five -0 and maybe wrestling.

  14. Amazing show, great cast, and good story telling is what i came away with. Im sorry this show had a great pace and even though the killer of the week thing is kinda played out they manage to deliver. There are still alot of questions and i cant wait to get the answers.

  15. Found it a little dull. If they blatantly ripped off the tone of Shawshank Redemption and Green Mile it would have been much more engaging. Why each returning criminal wasn’t more surprised by the change in his surroundings 50 years later stumped me as well as the equal lack of surprise by the Detective at discovering the impossible and improbable. She reacted as if discovering her shoes in a place different then where she took them off. I might give one more episode a try if I’m bored and incapacitated.

  16. The first episode was decent, but by the second one I was pretty much bored and found myself catching up on news. Like the review says, it’s the villian of the week premise that losses me. Been there, done that.

    • +1

  17. Interesting. From the comments, it sounds like people are possibly overlooking clues about who the detective may really be.

  18. I enjoyed this show. I found it thrilling and exciting. Wanted to fast forward through commercials but couldn’t because it was live T.V. I cannot wait until next week. I do not watch CSI, or any detective shows but this one was a hit in my mind! Thanks

  19. I loved X-Files, and also liked The Event. The Event, however, while good, was kind of like X-Files’ little brother that, if reincarnated as an airplane, could go down the runway good enough, but had a bit of trouble getting enough altitude to get off the ground. Hopefully that won’t be the similar problem with Alcatraz. It also looks good, but I hope it doesn’t fall into a rut with the police-procedural, baddie-of-the-week mold it walks a bit close to. However, I did like X-Files and The Event enough to buy the whole series for both, so we will see with Alcatraz, which I am willing to give a chance to.

  20. They ought to have at least admitted where they stole the idea from and had 4400 returnees….

  21. I loved it!

  22. Enjoyed the show. Music sounded familiar. Is the composer the same as the composer in Lost?

    • Yes, its Michael Giacchino!

  23. I liked it! I’m excited to watch this show on live TV when it airs. I usually just watch what my DVR recorded, but this show is worth sitting through commercials! So my list of questions are…

    How did the prisoners leave Alcatraz? Or did they even leave? Maybe they never left and stayed in there all this time but was invisible?
    Why did that happen? Maybe it was someones plan or way of freeing the prisoners 49 yrs later without actually getting them off the island. You saw how easy Jack Sylvane walked out of Alcatraz in present day. He looked like a tourist, not a prisoner.
    Why are they suddenly appearing one by one now?
    What happened to them during the time they disappeared?
    Why did they not age? Are they like Jacob and Richard? =D
    Were they suspended in animation or were they stuck in a different time line where time goes by slow but in our world, time goes by faster?
    Is Dr. Lucy in on it? She hasnt aged either.
    Im still wondering if the prisoners disappearance was because Ben moved the island lol..
    And did anyone else notice when Hurley said “When we were on the island…” Did anyone think of LOST? lol
    Jack Sylvane is good looking =) … another character named JACK!

  24. I could not stand that implausibility of hiring A. this rookie cop, I don’t care if she was related to the former inmate. B. A writer. I mean, they sat there and said, “this cannot leak out,” and the conspiracy writer is sitting right there. No federal clearances nothing. “Ok, you are hired.Y yeah, right.

  25. After reading all the comments, some of the plot holes/open questions do seem a bit weak, but overall I found Alcatraz entertaining to watch.
    Sam Neill is always great and Sarah Jones didn’t do a bad job either. She used to be in Sons of Anarchy, too.

  26. I think it is just too early to condemn this show. Let’s face it, folks, there will never be another “Lost”. It was one of a kind. I am hoping everyone can watch this on its own merit and not dislike it because it isn’t “Lost”. I’m just happy to have something with a little mystery to it to watch on Monday nights.

  27. Some 300 prisoners disappeared in 1963 and now they are re-appearing one prisoner at a time, per episode? Do the producers really expect this show to last for about 300 episodes?
    As laughable as when a ninja heor is attacked by a dozen or so villain ninjas, they attack one at a time.
    Why can’t the prisoners re-appear all at the same time? Oh, wait, there’ll be no series.
    I hope that this series will not be ended unresolved because by 50th prisoner no one is watching anymore and the show has to be canceled. Just like those two couple spies that was not helped by the travelogue.