Why We Are Not Too Excited About Alcatraz
. . . and none of it is the show’s own fault, mind.
STARRING: Sarah Jones, Jorge Garcia, Sam Neill, Parminder Nagra, Robert Forster, Paul McGillion, Santiago Cabrera, Robert Lawrenson
2012, Directed by: Danny Cannon
Another year, another high-concept J.J. Abrams TV show.
The plot for Alcatraz (as you probably know by now) involves the mysterious disappearance one night of all the inmates and guards from the infamous island prison in San Francisco.
History books might teach us that the prison was shut down and all the prisoners transferred to other prisons across the country back in the early 1960s, but according to this new show they all simply vanished into thin air one night, and the truth has been withheld from the American public all these years.
How the U.S. government can keep the unexplained disappearance of about 300 people from a federal prison a secret without anyone smelling a (prison) rat is one of the show’s biggest plot holes. Didn’t any of the inmates’ relatives insist upon seeing their sons / husbands / bothers after their “transfer” to other prisons? What about the guard’s friends and relatives? (Another plot hole: wouldn’t a serial killer gunman like the one in the second episode either get the electric chair or be locked in an insane asylum instead of being sent to an “ordinary” prison?)
Misgivings aside, the first two episodes of Alcatraz ain’t too bad. Production values are of movie quality, acting is decent even though the characters are ciphers this early on, and the show is fast-paced. There are enough narrative plot twists and surprises to keep the viewer intrigued. Plus it is good to see Jorge Garcia – Hurley from Lost – on TV even though his character really seems to have an unlikely encyclopedic knowledge of all of Alcatraz’s prisoners and guards.
Despite all this, we are however not too excited about Alcatraz because:
a.) It could be the next Lost. Alcatraz is the sort of conspiracy / mystery-driven show which audiences expect answers from. How did the 300 people disappear from Alcatraz all at once? Time travel is obviously involved, but who is behind it – and why? But what if the answers the series come up with are bogus and unsatisfactory? They were all dead all the time and it was all because of a cave that glittered gold . . .
b.) It could be the next FlashForward. Remember this 2009 show about everyone on the planet having a “flash forward” glimpse of themselves a year into the future? Remember how it ended? Of course not, because the show was cancelled before it could tie up any of its storylines. It is always a danger with new TV shows to invest so much time into something that might get cancelled after only one season – and you never get to see how it all ended!
c.) It could be the next X-Files. The opposite happens: Alcatraz is a huge hit and the writers are told to stretch out things for as long as the ratings are good, even after some of the main actors have grown tired and packed up and left the show. Already Alcatraz has a thin premise, maybe the plot for an, ahem, X-Files or Fringe episode or perhaps a Syfy mini-series. But is it strong enough for a new TV show?
d.) It could be the next Brimstone. Remember this 1999 show about Gary from thirtysomething having to track down criminals that escaped from hell each episode? What if that is all Alcatraz winds up being? Catching this week’s criminal without any of its plot points ever being developed?