I have no idea if Alcatraz will turn into another FlashForward or The Event. So many high-concept dramas open with a bang but quickly turn into a whimper.
This new series is even executive produced by J.J. Abrams, whose triumph Lost is often maligned as the show that dragged out its plot for too long and departed with an unsatisfactory ending (for the record I was unhappy with the ending too, but despite some frustrating episodes it was still a groundbreaking series).
There’s a fair bit of Lost‘s DNA in Alcatraz. The cast includes Jorge Garcia (he was ‘Hurley’). Composer Michael Giacchino again scores the series. There are flashbacks aplenty, science fiction themes -and you may even see something resembling a hatch.
But Alcatraz works hard to address criticism of the genre that episodic storylines were too frustrating. While it has a vast series arc, each episode also contains a self-contained procedural plot.
In this Alcatraz, over 300 inmates disappeared mysteriously one night in 1963, only to reappear in present-day San Francisco. Shades of The Philadelphia Experiment perhaps?
There’s no explanation as to their disappearance, instead leaving its mystery to the series arc.
Homicide detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) is pursuing a killer in the city when she stumbles onto evidence that suggests he was an Alcatraz inmate in 1963 -but inexplicably he doesn’t look a day older.
FBI Agent Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill) knows more about the re-emergence of the inmates and he has scores to settle.
Doctor Diego “Doc” Soto, (Jorge Garcia) helps fill in the blanks about Alcatraz and teams up with Madsen as she becomes more deeply entrenched in the mystery.
Alcatraz is almost two shows in one: a weekly crime procedural, and a gloomy serial. While it doesn’t match the plotting of Prison Break or the complexities of Lost, it does succeed as Sunday night (or in this case Monday night) popcorn-fare.
Flashbacks to the island prison in the 1960s are ominous and darkly-lit, making the most of theatrical performances. Giacchino’s score adds a cinematic edge, but at times overwhelms the drama.
Sam Neill has loads of fun playing an FBI baddie -but Neill doesn’t have a good track record of small screen series. Let’s hope he doesn’t jinx this one.
Nine is premiering the series with a double episode, as FOX did last month in the US, and it works up to a strong final scene in the second episode.
Alcatraz will also expect you to suspend disbelief to enjoy its occasionally over-the-top storyline, but we don’t mind doing that when the pay-off is worth it and so far it ticks the boxes.
Alcatraz airs 8:30pm Mondays on Nine.