“Alcatraz” – A Letter of Recommendation

I am about to go on an anti-rant, so forgive me if I sound like a hyper fanboy. That’s because I am one.

Once in a while, you find one of those television shows that is blessed with just the right casting, concept, and a whole lot of intrigue that glues you to the seat. More than that, the storytelling is so engaging that you reliably (and willingly) tune in every week.

What is it with J.J. Abrams and enigmatic islands? The show's still awesome, though.

For me, that show has been Alcatraz on Fox. After the decline of the (in my opinion) vastly underappreciated Terra Nova, this new show from J.J. Abrams might be just the thing for me to get my Fox sci-fi kicks. I hope and pray that it sticks around at least for another couple of seasons.

So, most of you have either watched the show at least once, or have seen its considerable hype. But just in case you didn’t, it involves the inmates and guards mysteriously vanishing from Alcatraz Island in 1963. The US government covers it up and fabricates stories of how everyone was transferred away from the prison due to unsafe living conditions. In the present day, the inmates are returning without having aged a day. As if this wasn’t odd enough, the time-traveling jailbirds seem quite comfortable in 2012, and go right back to committing the same crimes they were arrested for. The show follows government agent Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill), tough-as-nails cop Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones), and Dr. Diego Soto, an Alcatraz historian/comics store owner with two PhDs (Jorge Garcia – seriously, whoever created that character was a genius). The three of them simultaneously track down the inmates and piece together the growing mystery surrounding Alcatraz.

Where has this show been all my life? It has Dr. Alan Grant and Hurley from Lost, hunting down time-traveling killers from America’s most infamous prison. What’s not to love about that idea? They really did have me at “hello.”

And for the most part, the show totally works and lives up to the potential of that concept. What we have seen in the first season is part cop procedural, part science fiction, part mystery. We get a breakneck introduction to the major characters, blended with a hunt for the criminals as they trickle into the present day one by one, and substantial flashbacks to the prison’s heyday in the early ’60s. I won’t give too many details, to ruin the joy of experiencing Alcatraz. If you haven’t bothered seeing the show yet, please. Get off my blog. Go find it on Hulu or somewhere. Forget about me, and watch it. Now.

Of course, like any show still finding its sea legs, there are a few kinks. Rebecca is pretty much a one-dimensional cop, even though Jones plays the part very convincingly. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I just hope in the second season she will get more chances to grow and develop more of a personality. And sometimes the flashbacks to Alcatraz when it was still in use can be a little long, even if the situations and characters they show are utterly fascinating.

Overall, though, this is one show that has not even finished its first season, and already it has earned my loyalty. The storytelling is unique and generally fast-paced, Jorge Garcia and Sam Neill are always a delight to watch, and bit by bit the mystery is getting revealed. Unlike Lost. Don’t get me wrong, I loved that show too, but there were too many shocking “surprise!” moments that never got answered. As poignant as the finale was, I still wanted to know what was up with that freaking island.

In any case, Abrams has given us a strong series with tons of life, soul, and potential. Fox, please don’t cancel this one for a couple of years. The show is too good for that treatment. Besides, the opening music gives me chills every single time I hear it.

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