Monday, 16 January 2012


What is it? Give me the set up. 50 years ago the prisoners of infamous and impregnable fortress Alcatraz, just off the coast of San Francisco, seemingly vanished. Nobody knows how or what happened to these dangerous men, thought to have been transferred to other institutions and now long dead. Now in the present day, a detective, expert researcher and government agent are teamed together to help try and solve the case and discover the truth - as the prisoners are suddenly turning up again, and they haven't aged a day.

Who's behind it? Done anything good? Only JJ Abrams, power man behind Lost, Alias, Fringe and the shit one about undercover superheroes. Actually that's a bit of a misconception, as whilst Abrams is executive producer on the project and has been doing a lot of promo for the show which starts this week, the actual format comes from Steven Lilien and Bryan Wynbrandt (who also write) who worked together on the tweenie ET drama Kyle XY. But it's encouraging to have the weight of Abrams behind the show. This is not a first try effort - Alcatraz has some big names involved which suits its big cast, big budget and big ideas. All are well versed in the tricksy sci-fi supernatural world, so have high expectations because they've earned them.

L-R: Jason Butler Harner (Deputy Warden E.B. Tiller), Jonny Coyne (Warden Edwin James), Jorge Garcia (Dr Diego Soto), Sarah Jones (Det. Rebecca Madsen), Sam Neill (Emerson Hauser), Santiago Cabrera (Jimmy Dickens), Parminder Nagra (Lucy Banerjee), Robert Forster (Ray Archer)

Who's in it? Should I care? There's lots of familiar faces you'll recognise! Jorge Garcia you'll of course know as "THE NUMBERS" Hurley from Lost, teaming up with a few producing alumni to a not so dissimilar show (must love his aching mysteries). Then there's Sam Neill, who needs no introduction - he's battled dinosaurs and the Bermuda Triangle so this should be a piece a' sponge cake. But the leading female of the show may be new to you - she's Sarah Jones: 'big break' might be a little unfair on her - she's had stints on Big Love and Sons of Anarchy but this is by far the most high profile gig she's taken on - and her first as a major character. You'll probably know Santiago Cabrera too - he's had a recent stint on Merlin but to me he'll always be the prophet painter from Heroes - and Robert Forster is also daddy Petrelli!

Pilot me. Detective Madsen (Jones) investigates a horrible murder in San Francisco and is alarmed to discover the offending fingerprints match up to one of the 'missing' prisoners from 1960s Alcatraz, Jack Sylvane. Curious - and she has also has a personal connection with the prison - she becomes more and more drawn into the case, especially when government agent Hauser (Neill) tries to ward her off, and she finds out that Sylvane - who if not dead should be an elderly man by now - looks exactly the same as he did half a century ago. It's as if time has thrown him back into the present day from barely a moment since he left the prison... and he's not the only one.

And is it any good? There's been  lot of positive reviews but, I suppose understandably being a pilot, a few moans and groans, too - the characters are a little bland/miscast (it's difficult not to look at Garcia and expect him to be Hurley) and the show opens up a prison load of questions almost immediately, with some characters not appearing to be who they seem, and more than a few with hidden agendas. But I like that - surely that's what every sci-fi show needs to entice, some big cryptic questions? If you're a fan of this type of thing you're going to love it. If you're into your quirky procedural dramas, you're going to love it. If you're so into this kind of thing that you're wanting to be impressed and surprised just that little bit extra - you may find your attention wavering and your critical typing fingers itching to come out. But give it time - each episode promises to focus on a different prisoner from Alcatraz, so if they can get the characters right then this could be worth a gander. Problem is it's on Fox, and it may not have the time it needs to grow (though they have been kind to Fringe of late).

Anything else to intrigue me? There's a deep mythology going on here, which may or may not spring up some historical (creative) fact. There's going to plenty of Lost-esque flashbacks from the prison in the 1960s, so as well as meeting the baddies in the present day running loose around San Fran, we'll also get to see how they ended up behind bars in the first place, and what they experienced when things went a bit loopy. And they're complex characters too, with more than a few shades of grey, which will mean finding a side to root for may not be so clear cut. But perhaps the most intriguing thing of all? No matter the comparisons with Lost, Alcatraz has another card up its sleeve: the supernatural. Things may get time-bendy at times, but this is going to be as spooky as it is confounding. And with a place like Alcatraz, what better haunted setting can you get?'s not Terra Nova is it? Dear God, I hope not. It better not be a Grimm either. Perhaps Alcatraz will finally be the one to bring it home.

OK you've sold me - when's this thing on then? Alcatraz starts tonight with a two hour premiere from 8pm on Fox in America, and well, everyone else knows the drill. Add it to the Monday schedule.

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