by Alex Greenberger
It has recently come to my attention that “Fringe” is, for the third year in a row, on the chopping block. I write you this to say that you can renew “Fringe,” but in doing so, you may want to axe another show of yours, “Alcatraz.”
When “Alcatraz” makes “Law and Order” look like a varied drama there’s something seriously wrong. Every episode of “Alcatraz” begins the same way, progresses the same way, and ends the same way. Each weekly installment feels like it was shamelessly made from the same cookie-cutter format, a format that was flawed to begin with. It should come as no surprise, then, that the sixth episode of “Alcatraz,” “Paxton Petty,” was just more of last week, and the week before that, and the week before that.
I may be selling “Paxton Petty” a little short, though. The sixth episode has its finer moments. It’s a lot more suspenseful than last week, and a lot less “cop-drama-of-the-week.” The beginning of the episode includes a pretty unsettling action sequence involving land mines set up by our antagonist, Paxton Petty. Petty was put in Alcatraz for setting off land mines in San Francisco, and now he’s doing it again. If you’ve been watching “Alcatraz” at all, you would’ve probably expected that much.
The mythology of the show manifests itself only briefly in this episode, though I am interested to know where it is still going. When Lucy (or Dr. Sangupta as she’s referred to in 1963 Alcatraz) speaks to a doctor regarding Petty’s frequent visits to the infirmary, she inquires about previous illness… and why they’re taking so much blood from him. I have no personal speculations because I honestly have no clue—a sign of a good mystery—but when questions like this are so deeply entrenched in something so contrived as an episode of “Alcatraz,” it hardly feels worth it.
And that is just the problem with this show: I feel like I’ve seen each episode before I’m even finished. There’s really no point in watching this show weekly when you can safely discuss it with your friends without having actually seen it. “Paxton Petty” may have its suspense, intrigue, maddening mystique, and decent storytelling, but for all that, there are also dull, underdeveloped characters and some pretty terrible writing. (There is a gem in this one that goes something like this: “How could so much death come from something so small [as a land mine]?”)
The show’s weak writing shows through again by jumping the line between intentionally open storylines and loose ends. It seems that at the end of the episode, when Hauser steals a comatose Lucy from the hospital, there is meant to be some sort of twist when he brings her to the doctor at neo-Alcatraz. But I expected that one, too, and I found that I didn’t really care whether Lucy died or not. This is not a loose end so to speak, but it certainly is not the polished twist ending I want from each episode. And what of the Madsen connection from last episode? And the warden’s underground door? Has the show already forgotten about the many questions it’s asked?
“Alcatraz’s” problems are even clearer when comparing the show to “Fringe’s” first season. “Fringe,” one of my favorite shows currently on air, started, like “Alcatraz,” as a procedural. Admittedly, “Fringe” has much, much better cases than “Alcatraz,” but that aside, they were pretty similar in their beginnings. “Fringe” then changed its game plan by creating a dense mythology, one that really interested me, and by using that mythology as an overarching theme. There you have it: Place a greater emphasis on mythology, and you can have a stronger sci-fi narrative and even keep your procedural format while you’re at it. There’s still time to change “Alcatraz.” But we’re halfway through the first season and it seems doubtful that change will ever come. So FOX, please dump this run-of-the-mill show, and renew “Fringe.” Because your viewers deserve good television. It only seems fair.
Alex Greenberger is a staff writer. Email him at email@example.com.