Alcatraz “Pilot/Ernest Cobb” Review

Well, this is it, ladies and gentlemen! J. J. Abrams’ much hyped return to an “Island-based” TV show: Alcatraz! After so much hype and speculation, we finally get to see what this show is all about. Is Abrams staying within his wheelhouse, developing a new show involving an island and starring Jorge Garcia? Or is this something entirely different? Well, after watching the two hour premiere of “Pilot/Ernest Cobb”, one thing is for sure: This is definitely not LOST. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, read on to find out!

It sure starts out promising enough, as we hear Sam Niell’s ominous baritone voice telling us that the infamous prison Alcatraz was in fact not closed due to lack of funding like we all thought. Instead, two guards arrived to the island only to find that all 302 of the inhabitants of The Rock had mysteriously disappeared. They really sold the heck out of this scene, with Academy Award winning composer Michael Giacchino’s sweeping score blaring through our speakers as the guards examine the empty cells. It was a great scene that sets up a compelling mystery, and it’s up to the characters to maintain our interest and sell this opening.

Unfortunately, just about all of the main characters missed the mark for me. Our lead, Sarah Jones’ Rebecca Madsen, just comes off completely flat. I think we were supposed to think that she was so distraught and jaded after she let her old partner die, and that she would take a long time to warm up to the idea of taking on another partner. However, she seems to have absolutely no problem with the completely untrained Diego Soto tagging along with her to dangerous crime scenes. Speaking of Jorge Garcia’s Diego Soto, I have a really hard time buying that he has multiple degrees and has written all these books, but whatever. What really bugs me is how quickly he picks up the whole thing. I mean, I get that he’s a big Alcatraz nut, and I buy that he’d be interested in this whole conspiracy and everything, but he just runs right on into these dangerous crime scenes and starts breaking and entering on restricted Alcatraz property? He has some hesitation in the second half, but that lasted about a minute and a half.

Then there’s Sam Neill. Oh, Sam Neill. When this guy’s not chewing up scenery like a woodchipper, he was making some mighty inconsistent character choices. So he meets Rebecca at a crime scene and he’s all “Bug off”, then he catches her later at Alcatraz and drugs her and takes her to his top secret lair? Wouldn’t it have been better to just drop her off at her house, or monitor her until she finds something substantial, then bring her in? Then he’s all “Bug off” again, and she’s like “No, I’m coming with you”, and he’s all “Cool beans!” Then she goes and finds this guy they’re looking for, and he’s like “Hey, I still don’t trust you (?), but I’m gonna let you and this random civilian in on the biggest secret in our country’s history!” So he officially appoints a 5’3″ blond chick and an obese comic book nerd as the task force to track down the most dangerous criminals in our nations history. Good call, Houser. It’s my theory that he’s also the guy responsible for canceling Firefly and blocking the Chris Paul trade, but I’m hoping that will be revealed on a later episode.

So I may not have been a very big fan of the characters, but how was the rest of the show? Well, Alcatraz is one of those new shows that is trying to be part procedural/part serialized. What this means is that they want to be the show that all of the nerds theorize and speculate over like LOST, but it’s also trying to be a show that you can watch any episode of and be entertained like CSI or Criminal Minds. Terra Nova did this pretty well last year in Alcatraz’s old time slot, and J.J. Abrams’ other project over on CBS, Person of Interest, is doing that extremely well. However, I’m just not quite sure if the hook of Alcatraz is going to be enough to keep me coming back every week. Person of Interest has the great action scenes and fun characters, and Terra Nova had freaking dinosaurs, but all that Alcatraz is going to do every week is introduce us to a new inmate (If the episode titles are any indication). Once you get past the initial novelty of the inmates being from the past, it just devolves into a completely paint-by-the-numbers procedural. Obviously I’ve just seen the pilot, but judging by the second half of this episode, I’m not sure what they could possibly do.

The first two episodes weren’t completely without their merits, though. I’m interested in the overall mythology of the 63s, and exactly who is employing them to kill these people and how why. Also, what’s up with Lucy?! I was also genuinely impressed by how much indiscriminate killing there was in episode two. I mean, on a network TV series, when somebody is looking down the scopes of a rifle at a happy couple on a ferris wheel, you don’t actually think they’re going to get shot. But then they did! Then he shoots like 5 more people! I’m not getting all giddy at the deaths of innocent people, but I do like it when shows are unpredictable, and this sure was!

I’m interested to see what comes next on Alcatraz, but I’m not exactly holding my breath after the somewhat disappointing premiere. What did you think? Sound off in the comments section below!

Random Thoughts:

– I’m not familiar with any of Sarah Jones’ previous work (The chick who plays Rebecca), but MAN does she look like Jodie Foster. It’s almost distracting to me how similar they look.

– I was pretty excited to see Parminder Nagra back on TV as Lucy. I was a big fan of her on ER. I’m still a little bit sad that Gallant died in Afghanistan. Feel better, Neela!

– I laughed out loud exactly once during these two hours. It was to Sam Neill’s incredibly delivered line: “STOP…TALKING!” One of the best line reads in recent TV memory.