Monday, January 23, 2012

Sketched TV: Alcatraz

In this installment of Sketched TV, I'll be reviewing the new thriller on Fox, Alcatraz!
I think this poster came out pretty well in illustrator.
Alcatraz comes to us from J.J. Abrams and Bad Robot, the creators of Lost and Fringe (the latter being back and another show you NEED to be watching), which is not surprising since the show feels like a combination of Lost, Fringe, and Prison Break. In this case, that's not a bad thing.

Detective Rebecca Madsen, played by Sarah Jones (which is a way cooler detective name), is still reeling from the loss of her partner when she stumbles onto a mystery, having to do with a prisoner from Alcatraz who should be dead. She consults Alcatraz expert Diego Soto (George Garcia), and together, they stumble deeper into the mystery. Not only is the inmate not dead, but he hasn't aged a day! They stumble enough to get Emerson Hauser (Sam Niell)'s attention, at which point, he brings them in on the mystery: all of the prisoners and guards just disappeared one day, and now they're showing up again, supposedly, one per week.

I really enjoyed this show. It had enough intrigue, mystery, twists and turns to keep me entertained through the two-hour premiere. Well, they were able to boil down the actual premiere to a one-hour-long episode and then threw in another episode, just for kicks. I guess there's a rule at Fox that every new show has to have exactly a two-hour premiere? In any case, it just meant more Alcatraz goodness, which was fine by me.

The first episode revolved around the team coming together and revealing the mystery, which we already knew from the previews. The first 15 minutes felt like the Fringe opening, as Detective Madsen is investigating a mystery after her partner was murdered by an unknown assailant (**SPOILER ALERT:  It's one of the reappearing criminals!**), and then has to see an expert to figure out what's going on. Isn't that Fringe? I'm pretty sure that was Fringe.

But then we get more Hurley from Lost! And really, all shows need more Hurley. He wasn't as Hurley as I would have liked in these episodes, but I'm hopeful for future Hurliness. And we also get to meet Sam Niell's Hauser, who you're never really sure is good or bad. He seems like he has a good cause, but he'll go to any lengths for it. He gets some especially good parts in the second episode when he has to talk down one of the prisoners.

Update: I wrote this review last week, but since then I saw this week's episode and it was ALL ABOUT HURLEY.  I was glad to see that it was Hurley-centric as he's the most interesting character in the show so far. Also we got Hauser continuing to be a mysterious badass, a particularly sadistic inmate, and a badass kid! Suffice it to say it continues to keep up the awesome momentum.

Really, the weakest part of the premiere and the show so far is Detective Madsen. She's really bland and emotionless. Her only drive is finding her partner's murderer, which isn't new at all. I'm glad they have a female lead. I just wish they knew how to write her better. I'm hoping that, as the show progresses, she'll get more complexity.

If this were a "Monster of the Week", X-FIles type show, the criminals would be the monsters. The first two were pretty interesting. First is a man who seems like he was mistreated in prison, wanting to get revenge on his captors, and the second is a psychotic sniper who just wants some peace and quiet. What's really interesting is that, instead of killing them, letting them escape or shipping them off to some undisclosed location at the end of each episode, they bring them all to a new, underground prison, where they further interrogate them. You see the criminal from the first episode being questioned in the second, and both that criminal and the one from the second episode seem to have some sort of a connection.

I love this. It's a great way to have an episodic format while still having an overarching plot. As the prison gets bigger, more and more characters will, seemingly, be added to the plot. They can have their cake and eat it, too! This is a great device that I hope to see in other shows. Wouldn't it be great if, in a monster/sci-fi show like Fringe, they kept all the monsters in a facility so that at the end of the season, you'd have a whole jail full of Draculas, Frankesteins, zombies and mutants? Yes, yes it would.

They also use flashbacks for the prisoners a la Lost, to show their stories and how they connect to the bigger picture. It makes for some great storytelling. I should also mention that the commercial break intros and outros remind me of those from Prison Break. Yes, it feels like a hodgepodge of those shows, but it brings enough new and intriguing stuff that I don't care. It just works!

The soundtrack is done by one of my favorite composers, Michael Giacchino. Not only did he do the music from Lost, he also composed the scores from some of my favorite movies, including Up, The Incredibles, Speed RacerMission Impossible 3, and even the recent Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. So, it's amazing. I will probably be forced to buy the soundtrack when it inevitably comes out. 

THE GOOD: Interesting idea, great characters, cool prisoner dynamic, lots of twists and turns, great soundtrack.
THE BAD: The main character is Agent Dully Blanderson.
OVERALL: Sure, it's a hodgepodge, but it's suspenseful and very enjoyable. You should all watch it now before Fox moves it to Fridays and then cancels it!
SHOWS LIKE IT: Lost, Prison Break, Fringe, X-Files, Alias
ONE SCENE METAPHOR: The second episode revolves around an inmate trying to get some peace and quiet. But then he gets a talkative neighbor and has these silent outbursts. He then schemes to get himself locked up in solitary confinement, but the warden won't let him because he knows that's exactly what he wants! It's a fun little story made better as it reflects how psychotic he is when he escapes in the present. 

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