January 17, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Previously… On ALCATRAZ:  San Francisco cop Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones), whose partner was recently killed, finds herself embroiled in a mysterious case in which an Alcatraz inmate from 40 years ago, apparently long dead, has turned up not having aged a day and committing new murders.  Rebecca learns that all the Alcatraz prisoners who were supposedly transferred to San Quentin when the prison closed in 1963 actually vanished, and now they’re popping up, on violent missions no one can understand.  By the end of the hour, she’s joined the top-secret Federal task force investigating the crimes headed by enigmatic Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill), himself a former Alcatraz guard.  Also on the team are scientist Lucy (Parminder Nagra) and multi-tasking geek Alcatraz historian/comic book author Diego (Jorge Garcia).  Also:  Rebecca learns that her own grandfather was the back-from-the-dead Alcatraz prisoner who was involved in her partner’s death.

Episode 2:  The first hour of Monday’s 2-hour premiere was the original pilot, with the second hour the initial regular episode.  Somewhere during the process of producing the season’s episodes, Executive Producer Elizabeth Sarnoff, a writer on uber-producer JJ Abrams’s Lost who co-created the series with Steven Lilien and Bryan Wynbrandt, and who served as showrunner, was removed for the traditional “creative differences.”  It’s not clear when or whether that change will be reflected in the tone or content of the show.
Episode 2, written by producer Alison Balian and directed by another Lost veteran, Jack Bender, demonstrated the limitations of the show’s concept.  The series is, not unlike Abrams’s CBS series Person Of Interest, trying to meld a procedural with a continuing (and in this case somehow supernatural or sci-fi) storyline.  But the nature of the concept, in which every week’s criminal comes from the same pool of former Alcatraz prisoners, allows for a limited amount of variety.  And the fact that the show is going to be very tight-fisted with its mythology (in this hour, there was no new information until a big reveal about Nagra’s character in the last 30 seconds) means that there’s very little to chew over.
Like most procedurals, Alcatraz so far has little appetite for characterization:  Rebecca is gritty and determined, Emerson Hauser is aloof and clearly knows more than he’ll admit, Diego is humorously neurotic and brilliant.  We’ll see if the episode’s news about Lucy means some additional insight into her, but more likely any knowledge will be hoarded and parsed out along many episodes, since Rebecca and Diego don’t yet know what we do about her.  The individual episodes are professionally executed but not particularly interesting (this hour involved a sniper with OCD who killed people because his mother had chosen to live with his teen sister but not him), and since the criminals don’t seem to know themselves how they were transported from the 1960s or who sent them, there’s little to glean from them.
Alcatraz has an intriguing concept, but so far it’s mostly unmemorable.  The show will need to find something to engage viewers if it hopes to sentence them to a long sentence in front of the set.
ORIGINAL VERDICT:  If Nothing Else Is On…
PILOT + 1:  A Weak Timeslot Gives It Some Time

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."