Alcatraz Pilot Series Premiere Review
Quick Take: James rips into Alcatraz based on the first hour.
Alcatraz is Fox’s latest “hit” show and Bad Robot’s latest offering to the world of sci-fi/mystery/procedural crime television. It has already been hailed by some critics as the best new show on TV and a game changer for the Fox network.
I watched the first half of the pilot, then had to stop viewing and attend to some fatherly things. As I watched the first 30 minutes I was excited at what I was seeing, like I was bearing witness to the next Lost, which having Jorge Garcia in my face definitely helped. When I sat down to finish watching the show, I decided to watch it all anew, no interruptions, no distractions. I am probably going to get a lot of guff for this, but this may be the worst pilot episode I have seen, ever, and I watched the pilot for Four Kings.
There is a lot of style in Alcatraz. The way it is shot and structured, the time-jumps, the dialogue, the character set-ups; they all seem to be tailored for me to like the show. It was like I was being hypnotized and conditioned to see this as cool when, in reality, it was a completely meaningless and empty void of self-congratulatory pithy dialogue, lame “mysteries,” and a complete waste of the aforementioned Garcia, not to mention a completely out of place Robert Forster.
The first time traveling inmate is Jack Sylvane, whose name alone is annoying. You can’t say it separately as it sounds like it should be Jacksylvane, some town in Kentucky where people are disappearing in the local mine.
Jack is apparently a World War 2 veteran who got a raw deal, ended up in Alcatraz, was severely tormented by the Deputy Warden, and ends up waking up in “The Hole” but in our time rather than 1963. He finds a locker key, some cash, and a boat ticket in his coat when he wakes up.
Before going about whatever business he is in our time to do, he kills the one man he blamed for his torment, the Deputy Warden. His prints are left at the scene which is where our heroine Detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) enters the picture. Madsen is suffering some issues as she watched her partner die after he was pushed/stomped off a roof by a perpetrator while in chase. She gets shushed away from the crime scene by Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill), a mysterious Fed with some seriously expressive eyebrows.
Rebecca stashes some evidence and pulls the lone print that is available on a picture frame. When she runs the print, the name that pops up is Sylvane’s. She also finds out the Tiller, the dead body at the scene, was the Deputy Warden at Alcatraz the same time Sylvane was there.
Rebecca tracks down Dr. Diego Soto (Garcia) who is a comic nerd and Alcatraz expert to ask him some questions about the whole thing. The two also chat up Madsen’s “Uncle” Ray who was, shock of all shocks, a former guard at Alcatraz. When she mentions that her grandfather was a guard as well, both Soto and Ray clam up and move on to a new topic.
Soto and Madsen go back to Alcatraz to check out some hidden boxes of stuff only to get gassed and wake up in an underground “Bat-cave” like facility which Hauser runs with the help of Banerjee (Bend It Like Beckham’s Parminder Nagra). Hauser tells them all about Sylvane and the crimes that he’s committed, which was roughing a punk at the place where the locker key fits, and killing a man named Barclay Flynn for a mysterious key in a bag.
When Madsen finally tracks Sylvane down, he says that he was only doing what “They” told him to do. She never finds out who “They” are. Hauser comes in after Sylvane is wounded by a sniper and takes him away to a New Alcatraz deep in the mountains. When Hauser, Madsen, Soto, and Banerjee are all together again in the underground Alcatraz battle center, Hauser tells them all about the ‘63s who are the missing inmates and guards that they will now have to track down. Madsen finds her grandfather’s picture on the inmates side, which is a shock, then realizes that he’s the man who killed her partner. We also find out that Hauser was one of the two guards that we see in the very beginning of the episode (young, wide-eyed, and naïve of course) who discover the place is empty.
I really wanted to like Alcatraz, especially after the colossal letdowns of Torchwood and Terra Nova, but there are way too many cliches and not nearly enough substance to compensate. I don’t care about any of these characters, the conspiracies surrounding them; nothing. The only saving grace is Garcia, but then again who doesn’t love a little Hurley now and then?
I really hope Alcatraz picks up and finds itself a little more. Less lame banter and more plot progression. Less over-stylized editing techniques and more quality writing. Less Sam Neill trying too hard to look mysterious and more of anyone BUT Sam Neill.
– James Zappie