In a slight departure to our normal content, moviescramble reviews the  Television Sci-Fi drama Alcatraz from executive producer JJ Abrams.

In 1963 three hundred and two inmates and guards disappeared from the prison island of Alcatraz. The incident was covered up. A cover story was devised with all the missing persons moved and conveniently lost in the system. Fifty years later some of the worst criminal America has ever seen are returning to an unsuspecting San Francisco. Where were they and why are they coming back?

The premise for the show was initially quite interesting. It had a lot of potential. The public are looking for another lost type show which slowly unfolds while keeping the interest and intrigue. Unfortunately Alcatraz is not it. After the initial set up where we meet the main cast members the show slips into a standard formula. As part of the team we have the ‘broken’ cop Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones). She has just lost her partner in the pursuit of a perp, blames herself and is trying to regain her mojo. Her investigation into a murder leads to a meeting with a mysterious government agent, Emerson Hauser( Sam Neil) who tries to dissuade Rebecca from continuing her investigation. Obviously this only piques her curiosity. You would think by now that in order to stop an investigation the powers that be would put a really boring, nerdy guy with no social skills in charge instead of an intimidating, sinister man who looks like he has something really big to hide. The investigation leads her to a comic book shop owner Diego Soto (Jorge Garcia). He is an expert on Alcatraz having written several books on the subject. Joining forces they head to Alcatraz to try to uncover the mystery. There they meet Hauser again who happens to be the head of a mysterious government department who are in fact waiting for the inmates to return. reluctantly Hauser accept them into his team and together they hunt down the returning inmate.

The look of the program is very impressive. The budget for each episode is reportedly modest and the on-screen results are very high. As with other JJ Abrams shows, Alcatraz is very well put together in terms of editing, sound and score. It is a real shame that the plot does not match the other aspects. As noted above the premise is good. Unfortunately the execution is poor. What you are prepared for is a mystery Sci-Fi drama. What you get is a standard police procedural. Instead of mystery and intrigue we get a baddie of the week crime drama, and not a very good one at that. The characters are all standard cut out characters. The disillusioned, yet brilliant cop, the nerdy, insightful and brilliant sidekick and the enigmatic, possibly bad, yet brilliant government agent. There is little or no tension as you know that each week the team will get their guy, occasionally reluctantly if he is wronged or has someone still alive that he cares about. All the time a snippet of information will be thrown in to supposedly add to the series long story arc.

This is a real missed opportunity in my opinion. The series was conceived as something different to the broadcast product. The original show runner, Elizabeth Sarnoff quit allegedly over the direction of the show and its move to police procedural. You would think that some one with involvement in both Lost and Deadwood would have been listened to a bit more. Another missed opportunity from a good idea. At the time of writing the future of Alcatraz is uncertain as Fox has not yet announced if it will be renewed for a second season.

John McArthur
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