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Couldn't quite escape its own prison
on 26 February 2015
"On March 21, 1963, Alcatraz officially closed. All the prisoners were transferred off the island. Only, that's not what happened. Not at all."
The team behind LOST instead offers a time traveling twist on Alcatraz' final inmates, and how a government taskforce must find them all 302 of them. At least, for 13 episodes.
Honestly not awful nor technically incompetent, 'Alcatraz' is guilty more of complacency: despite the production team's background and being released during the run of 'Fringe', it doesn't embrace its high concept of Alcatraz as a hub for mad science, instead using it as background dressing for what is ostensibly yet another cop/agent procedural. The prisoners (dubbed 63s) come back the same age as in 1963, but nothing else. No extra powers, no mutations or even real side effects from whatever was going on. Basically, they're just your typical criminal of the week from any 'CSIs', 'Law and Orders'' or 'NCIS'', just with a slight time travel bend. And that rather rigid stockness also transcends to the main characters: the tough cop girl, the loveable nerd, the growly boss etc.
Plus, opting for the LOST method of storytelling with a really slow burn mystery and mere hint-crumbs dropped sparsely doesn't work as well on a procedural which is inherently about solving problems/crimes and means the two part finale has to fill in a lot of gaps, but as you'd expect, only opening up another set of questions. It just feels like the writers were of the mindset that the audience had gotten used to this, and therefore, would stick around for the three or four seasons needed to resolve the enigma of the 63s. Frankly, in a market as competitive as TV, a generous audience is hard to come by, even for big name properties and creators.
This is a shame because really, 'Alcatraz'is actually a perfectly watchable show. Good production values, especially the amazing recreation of the insides of Alcatraz, a thrilling soundtrack by Michael Giacchino with a kickass opening featuring narration from Sam Neil, and well, the cast are fairly solid. Garcia, Nagra and Neil do well as you'd expect, and though a lot of people complained about Jones in the title role, I don't think she did a bad job. More she was handicapped by the limits of the material, but I thought she injected some much needed spritely-ness into her character.
I even commend some attempts at factoring in elements of 60s culture, like an episode dealing with a black cook who may have been sent to the Rock purely on race grounds, or an autistic savant who manages to improve via occupational therapy. But its ultimately the lack of that extra spark that lets the show down. If there was ever a show that needed to go bigger, be more willing to be a little nutty, it's 'Alcatraz'. Had they just gone for it and not apologized, this could've made for a fun companion piece to 'Fringe', but as is, is little more than another procedural with a faint sci-flavouring.