Alcatraz: 101 Pilot Review
“Pilot/Jack Sylvane” (Double bill premiere – Season 1, Episode 1)
WARNING – FULL SPOILERS
First LOST and now Alcatraz, what is it about J.J. Abrams and mysterious islands? The pilot to his latest TV creation had an array of influences from its predecessor – intertwining flashbacks, puzzling characters and of course the familiar face of Jorge Garcia (Hurley to you and I, or as he’s now called Dr Diego Soto). However, even though Alcatraz takes some of the best features of LOST, combines it with the notoriety of the world’s most famous prison, and then throws in the acting presence of Sam Neill for good measure, it still stumbles out of the blocks.
So why is this the case? Well, one thing is for sure it isn’t the overall plot of the show, this is quite the opposite, it’s original yet familiar but with a nice Abrams twist. The tagline, “302 Vanished. 3 Must Find Them” is enough to draw you in and rightly it should. Alcatraz is a fantastic place to set a story and has been a success for films and TV shows that have gone before it. By taking this and then adding in the disappearance of everyone on the island in 1963 raises a lot of questions and generates a lot of interest. The winning formula that made LOST so addictive, (of course I am NOT talking about the ending though…I still have nightmares about how awful that was.)
What let’s this show down in the Pilot is the set up of this story. The first episode felt too rushed, too formulaic and too easy. There was no real edge to the episode it just felt like we were going through the motions to get the show established.
There was little character development other than a few bits of “what you need to know” back story, it didn’t feel like you wanted to connect with the characters and their surroundings. It was basically – here is the main character, she’s a chick who can kick some ass; this is that funny guy from LOST and unpredictably he’s going to play the same character but with a PHD, a big coat and a different name; oh and this is that guy from Jurassic Park who’s cool, but dark and possibly evil – done now let’s get on with the weekly episodes focussed around each individual inmate.
Sarah Jones (Sons of Anarchy) does a decent enough job as Detective Rebecca Madsen, but her character shows little emotion after losing her partner and for me accepts the impossible situation as a natural event too easily. Further to this her back-story was very generic for this kind of plot – parents dead, raised by a cop, which is why she is a detective at such a young age. It just feels like simple justification for putting a good-looking lead actress in the show. It was cool to hear her shout “S.F.P.D”, that makes a change from L.A.P.D or N.Y.P.D. And what a detective she is, how easy was it for her to pick up the photo, find the prints and quickly locate Sylvane – way too simple.
Sam Neill (Jurassic Park) was great to watch, he’s definitely going to be a strong character in this show and he’s been cast perfectly here. I did cringe slightly though when he said “Welcome to Alcatraz” to the awakening Madsen, it’s an obvious Hollywood line for a main character to say “Welcome to…[insert name of cool, unusual or ironic place here]” and is commonly just there to be used for the trailer. Sean Connery’s “Welcome to The Rock” in (surprisingly enough) The Rock is up there with the best, closely followed by Will Smith’s “Welcome to Earth” (after punching an alien in the face in Independence Day) and talking of Sam Neill I think the best time this has ever been used was by Richard Attenborough when he said “Welcome to Jurassic Park”, classic.
Jorge Garcia looks like he’ll be a lot of fun to watch and will have a decent share of the dialogue but it’s a shame he won’t be anything more than a rebadged Hurley. As for the rest of the cast, most of them did a good job with little standout performances, other than that of Neill.
Overall, Alcatraz has made a rocky start to say the least but with a bit of character focus, some decent individual stories and a few decent twists this show could live up to the hype. It has all the pieces to the puzzle it just needs to figure out how to make them fit. If this is to be the new LOST by utilizing flashbacks then it’s got a long way to go because at the moment it’s more like the new FlashForward.
Scene of the Episode – Not too much to chose from, the stand off at the cemetery was the only real bit of tension. Jeffrey Pierce did a solid job as Sylvane, more of his character will help the show move in the right direction.
Reviewed by Rich Jepson, cult TV enthusiast and author of 24: Terrorism Through Television.