Post with 1 note
An improvement over the previous two, for sure, but it’s too early for even cautious optimism yet. Because let’s face it, child endangerment is a better emotional draw than the thin gruel served up as characterization and plot thus far (the con whose brother married his gal, the sniper who really, really likes to snipe). Jorge Garcia is a decent actor, and he’s certainly in his comfort zone as the cuddly but wounded teddy bear manchild. I also like that Madsen didn’t press him for what is clearly an abduction/molestation story in his past, and how even this early in their partnership, she goes out of her way to be upbeat and supportive, and to plead his case to their new boss. I like her chipper more than the usual strained, haunted, haggard chick cop they were setting her up to be, although I would be fine with that if they went back and put some effort into it.
There are still problems. Sam Neill’s assistant was injured too early for us to give a crap, and the tiny parceling out of clues about the secret behind the Alcatraz disappearance leads one to think there isn’t a lot of there, there. This episode didn’t really provide clues, exactly; we see that for some reason, Madsen’s grandpa, inmate #202, gets to hang out behind a divider in the infirmary at all times to tease, hector and otherwise bother injured inmates (and the viewer) with hints about the real goings-on in the prison, and at the end, we see that the doctor from that time is working in the new, underground prison, unaged. Is the prison just underground in our time, or does it exist outside time? I don’t really care, just give me better stories and characterization to want me to continue the ride to find out.
J.J. Abrams is basically this generation’s Spielberg, in that anything he has a hand in is written/thought about as his creation. He didn’t create Alcatraz, he just executive produces it (he got it made), the creators being a whole bunch of other people like Elizabeth Sarnoff, who I think wrote the pilot and has already left the show runner position on the series.
Never mind all the would-be clever comparisons to Lost and the fact that Alcatraz is another island—this series spends much of its time in San Francisco proper, with Sarah Jones as Madsen, a cop who’s been in a funk since she failed to save her partner from falling to his death (shades of Vertigo, also set in SF). She quickly gets over her blahs when she gets involved with a murder case, as a retired old Alcatraz warden is killed in his home. With a grandfather and uncle having worked at Alcatraz, she’s interested, and soon hooks up with Diego Soto (Jorge Garcia), an Alcatraz expert and comic shop owner, and they soon get pulled into a secret organization helmed by Sam Neill, former Alcatraz guard, and Parminder Nagra, who is his second-in-command but whose role isn’t really clear. Madsen and Soto find out one Jack Sylvane, an inmate who supposedly died decades ago, is alive, unaged and his prints were left at the warden’s place.
ABC has run both the pilot and second episode together, trying to make the start of the series more of an event than just running the pilot might have done, I guess. The first episode gets Sarah and Diego on the team, making clear the premise from the start: in the early 60s, all the inmates suddenly disappeared from Alcatraz, and now they are going to start reappearing and need to be caught. So, explanation for how this could happen aside, this is basically a police procedural, which is emphasized even more in the second episode, as Sarah and Diego go after an Oswald-like sniper who is going on a killing spree. Despite many flashback scenes to old Alcatraz, neither of the inmates become two-dimensional or sympathetic, even though the warden is cruel to them, and presumably every other inmate we’re going to meet in the future.
Jones is cute and perfectly fine in the lead role, but thus far hasn’t been given any unusual characteristics or backstory to dig into, and the same goes for Garcia, who is basically Hurley. Neill is pretty good and has potential for some complexity, as he seems to be doing the right thing but is pretty rough doing it, and it’s not clear yet what he intends to do with the recaptured inmates in his new, high-tech underground prison. By the end of the second episode, Nagra’s role becomes a little clearer, but we’ve yet to see much of her. There are hints that Sara’s uncle, played by Robert Forster, may know something about the real story of Alcatraz, because he way overdoes the “just let it go!” scene, and because he’s too good an actor to just play the harmless bartender character who sets up the main character with booze and lets them figure out the plot out loud. It’s going to be a question of whether the show gets weirder and more interesting fast, or whether Abrams & Co try to avoid making things more complicated. Based on some of the reviews I’ve read, others are in agreement with me that they’ve erred in making it too conventional early on. I don’t need another Cold Case or other cop show. I’m not asking for another Lost, but they’ve got to do more with this concept than they have so far, and though Abrams praised the emotional qualities of the pilot script, it didn’t make it to the screen. We need to care more about these characters.