Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Alcatraz Revisited

The only new show of the midseason that I stuck with is Alcatraz, which was erratic at best, and at times was entertaining, but never approached the realm of brilliant that we had all hoped for.  This was due, most likely, to the nature of the show.  The criminals got the focus each week, as we followed one in 1960, and then again in 2012.  This device led to the issue that there was a new main character every week, and it was nearly impossible to get emotionally invested.

As the season wore on, we started to have recurring non-prisoner characters: the three main characters of 2012 (Hauser, Madsen and Dr. Soto), Dr. Beauregard, Lucy and especially the enigmatic and fascinating Warden James.  This made the show easier to watch, as we delved deeper and deeper into the mystery of the prison in 1960.

The problem is that the mystery remained a mystery, with new places and clues every week.  Sure, we cared about what happened to these prisoners, but only as far as you could swing a cat.  There was no deeper philosophical or emotional rub to make the times between revelations seem like they matter.

Which brings us to the finale.

Using the "door" as "Alcatraz's" version of "Lost's" hatch, we finally broke in.  But rather than wondering if we should break in, or even using the door as some larger metaphor, Hauser just opened it right up with three keys.  Inside, he found...something.  A way to track the prisoners with a giant Light Bright.

The question now exists: Does any of this matter?  I understand the point of most shows is to make money and to keep the story going for as long as possible.  The story is usually secondary to staying on the air and keeping people interested, and in that regard, "Alcatraz" may have succeeded.

It would have been a mistake to bring the warden into the present, so I applaud that decision.  But the big revelation of this finale was a Manchurian like corporation controlling money and possibly more.  And if the writers are smart, they will play this up.

Shows have recovered from poor first seasons in the past.  The best example is "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" which is in the top part of many people's lists, certainly at the top of many people's network shows lists.

"Alcatraz" has a good premise in place and an established audience.  It's brave and ambitious, and can learn a lot from other genre shows.  It needs to stick to the shortened seasons, though, and needs to flesh out its characters.  Madsen dying isn't the worst thing it could do, as long as it doesn't treat her inevitable resurrection incorrectly. 

1 comment:

  1. I think the main problem with Alcatraz is the same problem that is plaguing most shows these days.  Too much dedication to plot, not enough to character.  Writers are focused on making every scene move the plot along, even if the plot isn’t that interesting.  There are never exchanges that show multiple dimensions or multiple facets of a character.  You need to give the characters personality.  Not just show them relating to other people, but give them something interesting to say.  Make them likable.  Or unlikable.  Make me feel something about them.  Same problem that Terra Nova, Flash Forward, V, and the Event have had.  Plot isn’t your problem.  Write dialogue that isn’t essential to the plot.  I don’t need a character study, I need characters that I enjoy watching.  Is there anything more interesting about the plots of Mad Men, Justified, or Luck than Alcatraz?  No, but someone remembered to make their show enjoyable to watch.  Giving Hurley a few quips every episode is a start at creating a human, but doesn’t go far enough.  I don’t think Sarah Jones is the problem either, she just isn’t given enough life in her dialogue.  The four main characters are more than capable of pulling off a compelling group of characters, but they aren’t being asked to.  As you mention, they try harder with the prisoners to give them personalities, but they’re not sustainable personalities. And still everything they do sets up plot.
    And why did the Light Bright have people placed all over the US?  It was a tracker, not a predictor.  And I didn’t see any evidence it had been touched since 1963, so it certainly wasn’t tracking people in Chicago.  And why did all the prisoners have such an urge to kill in 2012?  They weren’t all serial killers with a lust for blood.  Even the guards came out swinging.  I fully expect Dr. Gupta to go on a killing spree if there is a Season 2.