Tuesday, January 17, 2012

REVIEW: Alcatraz

Fox - 9/8 Central

In 1963, Alcatraz prison was shut down and all the inmates transferred.  At least that's what was reported, and even Bobby Kennedy signed off on it.  Apparently, though, this isn't what happened, as all the guards, prisoners and administration disappeared.  And now they are returning in 2012 to do some mysterious evildoer's evil business.

What we get is a cross between the procedurals on CBS and the fantasy shows that appear on Fox and ABC, as our young blonde detective (Sarah Jones) teams up with an Alcatraz historian and a mysterious FBI agent (Sam Neill) to bring all the prisoners back and keep them from killing anyone.  Fantastic!

1.  Does it entertain me?
For the first time during this mid-season, I can wholeheartedly say yes.  The pilot and first episode (both of which aired Monday night during a special 2 hour episode) were entertaining, energetic and full of twists and turns.  The characters were interesting, and the show was not bogged down too much with mythology, although it appears that it will be very myth-heavy, which is fine.

There were many things to like in these first two episodes, not the least of which is Sam Neill's Emerson Hauser, who was one of the guards assigned with shutting the prison down in 1963, only to find it already mysteriously empty.  Now his FBI task force has set up shop beneath the prison to make sure no one comes back "dead."  He also has built a state-of-the art prison in the middle of the woods to put the reclaimed prisoners away (also, I think he keep Magneto there).  What Hauser knows is another story, as he could know everything, or nothing.

Jorge Garcia's historian/comic book nerd is essentially a branch off from Hurley, which is fine, because he plays the Reluctant Hero once again, and he does so wonderfully.  In fact, if there is one negative to be said, it's that episode 2 did not have enough Dr. Soto.

The weak link might end up being Sarah Jones' detective Rebecca Madsen, who is the typical young heroine who wears the white top buttoned down to her cleavage.  Which, you know, all detectives do.  It's part of their professional code.  However, what she might lack in acting bravada, the writers may make up for, since her partner was killed by her grandfather 4 months ago.  Her grandfather was one of the prisoners in Alcatraz when it shut down and they disappeared.

A good pilot is one that asks a lot of questions, and sets up a season long story (and possibly series long).  "Alcatraz's" pilot did just this.  We're left wondering:
How did the prisoners get out?
How did they come back?
When they come back, why haven't they aged in 50 years?
Who is behind all this?
Why did they come back, and what is their target?
How much does Emerson Hauser know?
What were those doctors doing to the prisoners back then?
Is the government involved?
What's the key for?
Who shot at the outrigger?

To help us out, we have the return of Michael Giacchino's excellent musical score, as well as Jack Bender (hands down Lost's best director) and Elizabeth Sarnoff (although she was responsible for writing some of Lost's worst episodes).

The acting is good, the writing is good, the pacing is good, and the dialogue is good.

2.  Is it Realistic?
If you buy the science-fiction premise, it is realistic.  These shows always require a willing suspension of disbelief, and "Alcatraz" is no different.

The big problem I have right now is the handling of the prisoners.  For instance, they set up the first prisoner to come back, Jack Sylvane, as a family man who robbed a post office to feed his family and ended up in Alcatraz.  However, he then comes back and immediately kills the former Chief Guard (who abused him, so that's ok) and then another seemingly random guy in cold blood, not knowing the reason why.  There needs to be motive here, and we may find out what later on, so I'll hold off judgment for now.

Other than that, only Detective Madsen is not realistic, but other people were already questioning how she got to be detective so young, and I understand the need to appeal to audiences.  So I'll let that fly for now, too.

3.  Are immoral actions defended?
No, they are not.  People are sent to prison for crimes they commit.  That's justice.  (Thanks, Lee Adama, for making sure I know what justice is).

The doctors in Alcatraz were up to something fishy, but we are not led to believe that they were correct in their experiments.

The only thing to be wary of is that "Alcatraz" seems fairly violent, with gunshots and blood everywhere.  Moreso than a lot of other shows on network, so that is surprising.  But is not the bloodiest show on television, just be careful when watching with children.

4.  Are traditional family values upheld?
We get two instances of family: Madsen's uncle works in bar and seems to know more than he leads on, and Sylvane's brother married his ex-wife when he was pronounced dead.  But if Homeland taught us anything, it's that you should never mess with your friend's (or brother's) wife.  But this isn't too bad.

There is no sex, no adultery, no cheating, no swearing, nothing that would threaten the traditional family.  Except for murder.  That threatens families.
Overall, "Alcatraz" is a very entertaining show with a lot of potential.  It's mysterious and well-written and has a lot of great potential plots.  It appears that each week is going to follow the capture of a new criminal, but we're also going to get further into the why of the escape, disappearance and later reappearance of criminals.  Which all makes for a good television experience.

Grade: B+

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