It’s hard to sit down to this show without any preconceptions. An ensemble cast that includes Jorge Garcia trying to solve a mystery pertaining to a creepy island, to the backdrop of a plinky-plink piano score courtesy of Michael Giacchino. These comparisons are a bit easy and obvious, but make them we must.
But it turns out Alcatraz bears more resemblance to another Abrams production; it’s more Fringe-y than Lost-esque. Fringe and Alcatraz are both case-of-the-week-police-procedurals with a core mystery and a rag-tag team of experts mysteriously operating below the radar. Just look at the character similarities: the hard-as-nails blonde police protagonist who has a central involvement to the mystery that she is unaware of, the knowledgeable and humorous sidekick, the older, wiser figure who knows more than they’re letting on, the ethnic lab assistant who doesn’t really say much. This is the Fringe B-team.
I say B-team, because even from the off, the Fringe cast had more chemistry and charm than Alcatraz’s group of time-travelling-convict-hunters. Alcatraz might have the star power card with Sam Neill, but it was missing the sharp humour of Fringe and overall, i’m not overly keen to spend a whole season with these people. The blondie protagonist felt a bit bland, Jorge Garcia felt miscast, like he was just shoehorned in to attract the Lost crowd, and that British girl from Bend it like Beckham and ER, well… she hasn’t really had much to do yet, so we’ll leave her alone for now. Sam Neill was the big initial draw and he was undoubtedly the standout. That man has screen presence and the character was by far the most interesting of the bunch, with a surprise headbutt being his standout moment. But that’s not to say that the cast is bad, they were perfectly fine and they deserve the chance to grow into these characters.
I am a sucker for mysteries (I stuck with Lost to the bitter, bitter end) and I can’t deny that I was intrigued by the show’s premise. I like the criminal-from-the-past angle and I thought the debut episode’s baddie was great. I had him pegged as the good-guy hard-done by the law while trying to protect his family, but halfway through he surprisingly loses it and shows a darker side. This was a bold curveball to throw after the character had initially gained our sympathies and is a good omen that the writers can offer us well-rounded weekly villains with a bit more depth than your average CSI-baddy.
Alcatraz certainly has promise and has more than enough to keep me interested for now. Hopefully these characters can build up the kind of ensemble-rapport that works so well on Fringe and I hope they can keep the central mystery in check and not have it spiral out of control, a-la the other show about the island.