TV series review: Alcatraz – Series 1 (2012)
“On March 21, 1963, Alcatraz officially closed. All the prisoners were transferred off the island … Only that’s not what happened … not at all …”
Take the people who made Lost and make them do a new show, add Sam Neill to the mix and it’s a recipe for “OMG I HAVE GOT TO SEE THIS!” Okay, fair’s fair, Sam Neill alone would have me say that. The show being made by the creators of Lost is a nice bonus, as is the return of Hurley.
As it turns out, the infamous San Francisco prison Alcatraz didn’t so much close in 1963, as all the prisoners – and prison staff – vanished overnight. As a cover-up, the prisoners were said to be transferred and eventually even given official explanations for their demise in their new prisons.
In actual fact, the entire lot ended up in modern times. Determined police detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) has a partner die because of one of the Alcatraz time travellers, and she’s pulled in to work on the team set to retrieve the prisoners and put them back in jail.
The team is headed by Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill), and also consists of a psychologist, Dr Lucy Banerjee (Parminder Nagra). To their aid comes the owner of a comic book store, who also happens to have written books about Alcatraz and is a huge Alcatraz nerd – Dr Diego Soto (Jorge Garcia).
Also starring Jonny Coyne as Warden Edwin James, Leon Rippy as Dr Milton Beauregard, Jason Butler Harner as Deputy Warden E.B. Tiller and David Hoflin as Alcatraz inmate Tommy Madsen.
There are both good things and not-so-good things about Alcatraz. It’s an interesting concept, first of all, and full of mystery. Unfortunately, it wasn’t renewed for a second series, so we will never know if the mysteries they worked so hard to build up would ever be explained, or if the show’s creators would just shrug and say “hey, it was all about the characters, really” after the final episode. Again. You know, like Lost.
Many question marks arose, but at the same time, did the show really feel like it brought anything new new to the table? I’m not so sure. After all, the format seemed to be “fugitive retrieval of the week” with a bigger story arc in the background.
At the end of the day, it’s a cop show, and if we’re looking at other “catch the baddie of the week” shows with a supernatural/mystery element to it, there are other shows that do it better, quite frankly, because the characters and events are more interesting. NCIS still works after all these years despite being so extremely formulaic, because you’re really watching for the characters rather than the actual “event of the week”. Although, of course, NCIS doesn’t have anything supernatural about it, so perhaps that was a bad example. Warehouse 13 is a better one, or Buffy, or even Haven. Those shows work because of their characters.
Here, you have the Stubborn Female Cop, the Nerd, the Psychologist with a Secret and the Scowling Veteran Agent Who Is Obviously Hiding Something. On the other hand, I goshdarn love Sam Neill, and Agent Hauser kicks some serious behind. On the other hand, Doc Soto is just a better dressed Hurley. As much as I enjoy both Soto and his actor and loved Hurley … Garcia feels a little typecast. Dr Lucy doesn’t leave much of an impression, aside from things that I shouldn’t go into because they would be a spoiler.
The show makes good use of Alcatraz, though, and apparently they’ve had to put up signs and things in the prison to stop tourists from going around trying to find the incident room underneath the prison. Which, of course, doesn’t exist in real life.
In a way, it’s a shame that the show wasn’t given more of a chance to show us what it could do, but at the same time … I’m not heartbroken it was cancelled either. It’s more of a “goshdarnit, I was watching that! Why did you have to go and do that for? Oh well” rather than a “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!! MY LIFE IS RUINED!!!”
Maybe it was all just a bit too samey. Every week, going after a different escapee who has re-appeared in modern day San Francisco and putting them away. Meanwhile, some of the storylines were darker than expected. It starts off easy and nice with a guy who ended up in prison for trying to feed his family, and then there were OCD murderers and child molestors and goodness knows what else. Not to mention a creepy prison warden who was certainly up to something.
So yeah, I’m not sure what to make of it, and seeing as how there’s not going to be a continuation of this story, series one of Alcatraz was a decent watch, but not the most memorable one. In a dozen years, it might be remembered as “hey, did you ever watch that show about the time travelling prisoners? What was it called again? I wondered what happened to that show.”
Kind of enjoyable, but kind of predictable. And don’t get me started on the “OMG collodial silver!!” thing, because that was a tiny bit silly, considering you can buy it in health shops and take to aid healing.
3.7 out of 5 blood transfusions.