I’ve changed my mind about why I dislike “Alcatraz.” It’s not because it underestimates its viewers. It’s not even because it takes itself too seriously, because almost all shows are guilty of that at some point. The real reason is that it feels all too familiar. All three episodes seem like the result of “Lost,” “Fringe,” “The X-Files” and “Law and Order” puréed together into a mishmash mess.
Sure, “Alcatraz” remains watchable, thanks mostly to the talented cast. But otherwise, the third episode of “Alcatraz,” entitled “Kit Nelson,” felt more a mediocre CBS procedural than the clever thriller that I wanted from this show.
“Kit Nelson” fails to bring much of anything new to the table for the show’s plot or characters. The prisoner du jour is the murderer of a child—a disturbed man wrestling with his own demons. Again, the show insults its viewers by repeating yet another plot about a prisoner from 1960 who has escaped to 2012. This premise already seems worn-out, especially as the title card flashes throughout the episode, never failing to remind viewers that they are in fact watching “Alcatraz.”
The episode is filled with lots of bang-bang, red herrings, and boring conceits. And as expected, they “get the bad guy” in the end. Well, sort of. Soto accidentally shoots him and Hauser isn’t pleased with that, because he’s concerned with putting ex-prisoners back in his new, refurbished, (albeit creepy) neo-Alcatraz.
A show like “Alcatraz” really deserves better than such a thin plot. For a show that seemed so enamored with mythology in its first two episodes, “Kit Nelson” seems like a major misfire. Last week’s major shock moment, in which Lucy was revealed to have been present at Alcatraz in 1960, wasn’t even referenced. Whether that will connect with the plot remains an irritating question, as the ongoing mythology meant for returning viewers seems to be less important to the writers than serialization.
Part of the problem is that the writing remains too wooden. Even with an average plot, the third episode could have been saved if the characters weren’t so flat. There are attempts made to create well-rounded characters, although they are largely missteps. Towards the end, Soto reveals that he was kidnapped as a child, something that has scarred him for the rest of his life. That may have been powerful if it wasn’t delivered in such a plain, contrived manner. Just as with “House,” “CSI,” “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” and several other shows, “Alcatraz” relies on the tired cliché of epiphanies being told through victim’s problems.
“Alcatraz” finds itself so entrenched in contrivances that it can’t escape the formulaic procedural structure. I feel as though I’ve been duped into watching the leftovers of a J.J. Abrams show rather than a real TV show itself. “Kit Nelson” remains a frustrating experience for fans of genre television seeking something more than the average FOX drama. If the show continues this way, it will become a casualty of the 2012 television season. It will be cancelled and disappear, but unlike its prisoners, it won’t return from the dead.
Alex Greenberger is a staff writer. Contact him at email@example.com.