In September 2010, NBC launched a TV series called Chase, which starred Kelli Giddish whose now on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Giddish played a blonde, gun-wielding, U.S. marshal tracking down really dangerous criminals. Alcatraz
is basically a rip-off of that series. The star is Sarah Jones who
plays Rebecca Madsen, a blonde, gun-wielding, San Francisco cop tracking
down really dangerous criminals.
Instead of a couple of really sexy Latino co-stars, Alcatraz only has one, Jorge Garcia whose sexiness is right up there with Jesse Metcalfe (Desperate Housewives) whose actually more Italian or Amaury Nolasco (Prison Break). That's really the only difference. That, and the whole time travel thing! But, the show seems to be downplaying it, so I guess the audience is supposed to do the same. It's like the way Terra Nova downplayed time travel and used it as a throwaway plot device to do something else, namely having people running from dinosaurs.
Alcatraz doesn't need the time travel element, if for the most part it's going to be a weekly criminal chase. Fox might as well just re-run the Chase episodes and call it a day. Yet, this show was created by Elizabeth Sarnoff, a writer-producer from Lost, along with Steven Lilien and Bryan Wynbrandt, both writers from Kyle XY, so clearly sci-fi is something near and dear to these people's hearts. Somehow though, they feel the need to distance themselves from it because apparently sci-fi isn't en vogue on network TV, but Alcatraz has to distinguish itself from the million other police procedurals.
Maureen Ryan, TV critic for The Huffington Post, makes a sentiment about the show that I think is spot on. I basically agree with her that this show feels middle-of-the-road. Because it rides along the same path as so many police procedurals, it doesn't really have characters that stand out or are all that unique from characters we've seen in all those other cop shows. The exception is Jorge Garcia who does stick out like a sore thumb, again mostly for all his sexiness.
I also agree with Verne Gay of Newsday and Nancy DeWolf Smith of The Wall Street Journal who assess that this series is The 4400 meets Lost. I agree premise-wise that this assessment is accurate, but to reiterate, Alcatraz fails on the interesting and compelling characters front. The main characters do have the potential to be interesting and compelling, but the first few episodes don't do much to help us empathize with them or connect to them emotionally.
Jorge Garcia tries to do so, but his attempts feel strained even under the conditions that the writers set for him. The mystery that they establish is intriguing. As Sam Neill states, on March 21, 1963, Alcatraz, the maximum-security federal penitentiary, closed and all of its near 300 prisoners were transferred off the island where the penitentiary resides, except that's not what happened.
Boiling it down, those 300 prisoners time traveled from 1963 to 2012 about 50 years into the future. These prisoners pick up from where they left off, committing horrible and violent crimes, mostly shooting deaths. The obvious questions are, "How did they escape? What was the mechanism of time travel? Who orchestrated their escapes and why?" Because of its lackluster characters and predictable or crumb-following, police procedural construction, I don't think Alcatraz is worth staying week-to-week to learn those answers.
Two Stars out of Five.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Mondays at 9PM on FOX.