Alcatraz - season premiere (episodes 1 and 2)

Is Alcatraz the new Lost? Or the new FlashForward?

 

5 stars

 

Spoiler alert

Air date - UK: 13/20 March 2012, 9pm Watch

 

"The new TV show from JJ Abrams!" we were promised with Alcatraz. "From the makers of Lost!" Fox shouted.

 

Truth is, JJ Abrams has as much to do with Alcatraz as Steven Spielberg had with, say, Back to the Future or Gremlins. But Abrams' geek-friendly name helps fill column inches more than if this one had been marketed as "from the creators of Kyle XY," which is more the case.

 

Jorge Garcia crosses San Francisco Bay in Alcatraz

It's a neat idea, that in 1963 the prisoners of Alcatraz went missing and are only now reappearing. What's lousy about it is the formulaic approach laid on top of a concept that demands a less rigid storytelling style.

 

Though the central mystery remains intriguing, and its slow reveal appears nicely paced so far, the series has, even after two episodes, settled into a dull story-of-the-week rut, fettered by anaemic characterisation and all-too-pat plotting. Given what's actually happened/happening, new girl Rebecca Madsen (a hyper-bland Sarah Jones) hardly finds it difficult to join this bafflingly tiny team, that has been put in place for what they term "the '63."

 

And even when Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill) and Lucy Banerjee (Parminder Nagra) take in this fairly unremarkable homicide detective, they then blithely acquiesce to her choosing a squeamish comic book artist as her partner. It strains credibility more than anything in the time travel plotting.

 

Even when Madsen, who's believed all her life that her grandpa worked at Alcatraz in the 60s, discovers that he wasn't a warder after all, but an inmate, and then recognises him as the person who killed her former partner months before, it hardly causes a face flicker.

 

Sam Neill investigates in Alcatraz

Just because we, as an audience, can buy this high-concept guff doesn't mean we'll accept characters just shrugging it off like they've just found out the supermarket's shut.

 

Of the cast, only Jorge Garcia seems to have been sketched with humour and a back story, though his comic geek credentials look as though the writers are courting the nerd vote a little too eagerly.

 

But - please - do something with Sarah Jones' character. She's like a fifth level ensemble player, unjustly promoted to lead.

 

Still, there's enough reason to keep on watching. The Big Story is compelling enough to forgive some of the other blemishes. But they could do with lightening up and finding some time to write some characters that don't so obviously live to tell somebody else's story.

 

Steve O'Brien

 

Click here for the trailer:

 

 

 

Alcatraz -season premiere (episodes 1 and 2)
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