“Is anyone else’s head exploding right now?” That’s the question posed by Jorge Garcia’s character midway through the premiere episode of Alcatraz, the latest TV series to spring from the mind of J.J. Abrams.
Just like in Lost, Garcia serves as a wise-cracking audience surrogate who says out loud what everybody watching at home is thinking. Here, Garcia’s Dr. Diego “Doc” Soto pipes up when he learns that a horde of inmates vanished in 1963 from the island prison in San Francisco Bay, only to start popping up, fresh as a homicidal daisies, five decades later.
As seen in Alcatraz‘s two-hour debut, which airs Monday at 8 p.m./7 p.m. Central on Fox, the new show’s revenge-of-the-time-traveling-convicts premise works yet another variation on the wormhole-riddled storylines that have made executive producer Abrams’ Lost and Fringe series so compelling.
Alcatraz revisits the sci-fi sweet spot as Abrams and his team, including Lost stalwarts Bryan Burk and Jack Bender, set up the mythology to come in future episodes through flashbacks tautly dramatized by the series’ key players.
(Spoiler alert: Minor plot points follow.)
Sarah Jones brings a headstrong tomboy energy to the role of San Francisco detective Rebecca Madsen: When she lifts a crime-scene fingerprint left by a killer who supposedly died in the 1970s, Madsen keeps digging into the case even after it’s taken over by gruff federal agent Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill).
With Garcia’s Alcatraz scholar tagging along as comic relief, the trio chases down bitter inmate Jack Sylvane (Jeffrey Pierce). Last seen in 1963, he somehow wakes up in the modern-day Alcatraz tourist attraction and briskly sets to work killing, beating, stealing and settling old scores.
Given its outrageous premise, Alcatraz has a lot of explaining to do. Topic one: How did bad guys get away and where have they been for the past half-century? As Agent Hauser says, “We have to find these ’63s.’ More than that, we have to find who took them.”
To get the ball rolling, co-creators Elizabeth Sarnoff (Lost), Steven Lilien and Bryan Wynbrandt (both from Kyle XY) unveil secret archives, forest bunkers and karmic connections between current characters and their forebears.
One key that promises to unlock further revelations is, in fact, an actual key, stored inside a “soft black bag.” Abrams has a fondness for this type of MacGuffin, defined by Alfred Hitchcock as a mysterious object that moves the plot along. In Fringe, it’s the magic typewriter that taps out messages without anyone hitting the keys; for Lost, the Hatch served as portal to the next cliffhanger.
Alcatraz will no doubt exploit the black-bag angle in future episodes while smartly repurposing the Fringe character dynamic by pairing an eccentric brainiac with a stern blonde cop who plays down her sex appeal.
Factor in a weekly influx of 80-year-old, rosy-cheeked psychopaths, and Alcatraz promises just enough weird tangents to merit a lengthy prime-time sentence.
WIRED Audacious concept, spunky lead cop and funny sidekick keep the pot boiling.
TIRED Sam Neill’s intimidating hard-ass character lacks the “what will he do next?” secret sauce.