While “Lost” may be the most popular show to feature an island, incorporate the reappearance of seemingly deceased characters and star Jorge Garcia as an unlucky nerd, Fox’s “Alcatraz” is actually the most recent show to include these same concepts. The initial episodes promise just as intricate a set-up as “Lost” with possibly even more intriguing elements. But this might prove to be the show’s biggest problem. Heightened complexity doesn’t necessarily earn “Alcatraz” bragging rights. Nevertheless, the first two hours of the series are watchable and entertaining enough. It may not rank with other mythology-laden shows like “Fringe,” but how many shows can live up to the puzzling craftiness J.J. Abrams has produced in the past?
“Alcatraz,” too, is a show that receives the J.J. Abrams brand, though he serves as a distant executive producer. “Alcatraz” contains some of Abrams’ favorite touches — long-winded plot twists, a powerful female protagonist and a mysterious island. The concept, however, feels fresh and intriguing. Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) is a detective who uncovers a paradox concerning the remote Alcatraz prison. With the help of Alcatraz expert Diego Soto (Jorge Garcia), she learns that the 300 prisoners who left Alcatraz when it closed were not actually transported to other prisons. The prisoners somehow disappeared, and are now surfacing again.
“Alcatraz” would need amazing writing to support such a tightly wound concept. But unfortunately, it lacks the tautness the plot deserves. The show delivers a few standout moments, as several unexpected twists are revealed within only two episodes, but the show remains too grounded in its serious tone.
That tone appears to be something that the writers of “Alcatraz” love. The first two episodes are nearly humorless — the characters rarely smile — and Rebecca’s introduction encapsulates the lack of levity. About five minutes into the pilot, the show flashes from an eerie memory of Alcatraz in 1960 to a scene of Rebecca superhumanly jumping from rooftop to rooftop in hot pursuit of a criminal. Her partner is more human than she, however, as a miscalculated leap causes him to fall to his death. Like many of the show’s subplots, the scene feels out of place and flashes by all too quickly.
While the story moves along at a speedy pace, this does not exactly translate to a fast-moving viewing experience. The main problem with “Alcatraz” is that it underestimates its viewers. Each episode opens with a reminder of the show’s concept, and many scenes are presented with a location and year. The show is easy enough to follow without this unnecessary information. “Alcatraz” does not trust the viewer’s intellect, and almost everything about the show feels protracted.
“Alcatraz” stands at a crossroads. It needs to put faith in its audience to understand the story while fully diving into the mythology in order to join the ranks of Abrams’ older, monumental dramas. Otherwise, it can fritter away its potential like Abrams’ imitators, such as “V” and “The Event.” “Alcatraz” displays great promise, but what it will do from here remains as large a mystery as the disappearance of those 300 prisoners.
Alex Greenberger is a staff writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.