Alcatraz R.I.P.

It didn’t come as too big a surprise to learn the Fox/J. J. Abrams’ produced sci-fi/suspense series Alcatraz was not renewed after its maiden season.

I’ve been a fan of Mr. Abrams’ work since stumbling into the delightful Alias a while ago. Lost followed soon after and since then I’ve kept my eyes open for his TV and movie works.  However, with the passage of time and the volume of new releases, disappointments were bound to come.

Alias, for example, reached an incredible peak, story wise, with the second season episode Phase One.  Unfortunately, the episode proved to be a double edged sword.  As good as it was, the episode effectively completed almost every one of the myriad story lines developed in the show.  What followed, for three more seasons, was, to me, a series without a focus, trying desperately to find some new ground to break but, for the most part, not succeeding.  The same may well be said of Lost, but at least that show held my interest to the very end, even if it admittedly didn’t come close to answering all the many intriguing mysteries it presented.

Getting back to Alcatraz, the show in some ways reminded me of Fringe, yet another J. J. Abrams produced show.  With both series I had the impression early on the show was begun hastily, with an initial concept but no clear direction to pursue it.  But while Fringe had good characters and, let’s face it, the framework of The X-Files to fall back on and sustain itself during that early rough going, Alcatraz had little to fall back on other than a “capturing the suspect of the week” concept of found in too many police procedurals.

That would have been fine if Alcatraz were a police procedural, but the show’s initial premise was grounded in science fiction.  The initial premise was actually quite good:  Just before the island prison Alcatraz was officially closed down in the early 1960’s, the staff and prisoners mysteriously disappeared.  Now, in the present, staff and prisoners are reappearing.  The prisoners return to the present as young.  They continue their criminal ways, but there seems to be a method to their madness.  Thus, the viewer is presented with some intriguing questions.  What happened to the prisoners and staff of Alcatraz?  What happened to them when they disappeared?  And now, as they are reappearing, why do they show no signs of aging?  Finally, and most intriguing:  What were they up to?

As good as all those questions were, they weren’t good enough, and the show started presenting us one criminal after the other for our heroine, Detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) to hunt down.  Unfortunately, Sarah Jones’ role proved woefully underwritten and the actress, at least to me, had difficulty both projecting the charisma necessary to draw me in to her plight or the toughness to make me believe she was a tough cop worthy of taking on the hardened criminals of the past.

Even worse, unfortunately, was Jorge Garcia as Dr. Diego Soto, Alcatraz expert and her “unorthodox” partner.  As written, his character seemed nothing more than mild variant of his character Hurley from Lost.  But the biggest problem was that the only reason for his continued involvement in these stories was because he was an “expert” regarding all things Alcatraz.  In this day and age, however, with computers and instant access to just about every bit of information you could possibly need, keeping an overweight partner around on action forays was dubious, at best.

Luckily for the show’s protagonists, the missing Alcatraz crooks were polite enough to appear one at a time, allow their story to play out, and get themselves captured before the next missing crook made his appearance.  In between, we got hints of a bigger story, but it just wasn’t enough, at least for me.

After ignoring the series for a few weeks, I gave it one more try and caught the series’ final episode.  I was treated to an episode that showed little life, even in its almost scene for scene recreation of the famous Bullitt car chase.

So, goodbye Alcatraz.  You certainly had potential and could have been a good show.  I just wish that a little more thought, and time, we’re devoted to creating a more focused story line.