Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Alcatraz is turning into escapism at its best

(Note: There’s going to be some spoiler discussion here. You’ve been warned)

When the premise of ‘Alcatraz’ was first announced, I wasn’t sure what to think.

Like anybody else, I’ve seen many a movie on “The Rock” (including ‘The Rock’) but it was never really an obsession of mine.

Then I started seeing the promos.

First thing I noticed was Jorge Garcia, the heart and soul of ABC’s ‘Lost’ for six seasons. I couldn’t help but be a little intrigued.

Then I noticed Sam Neill of ‘Jurassic Park’ fame and I got a little excited. He’s a character actor that actually has some heft to his performances.

Then that excitement was tempered by the fact that it was a mid-season show. I figured – like most do – if it was any good they would have unveiled it in the fall.

Then I saw they cast Sarah Jones as the lead. Now the only two roles I knew Jones from were as Ben’s slutty girlfriend on ‘Big Love’ and as the chaste doctor on two of those Hallmark ‘Love’ movies. She didn’t impress in either, truthfully.

So my anticipation fell a little more.

Then I saw that ‘Bend it Like Beckham’ actress Parminder Nagra was a member of the cast and I couldn’t help but get a little excited again.

It was like a see-saw really. I was up. Then I was down. Then I was up again. I didn’t know what to think.
I decided to wait for the premiere and see how I felt after the two-hour debut. So, how did I feel? Honestly, I felt a little confused.

The show is produced by the always reliable J.J. Abrams. I mean, the guy is responsible for ‘Lost,’ ‘Alias’ and the ‘Star Trek’ reboot – all things that are essentially beyond reproach. So I went into it with high expectations.

Those expectations may have been a little too high. Because, while I enjoyed the premiere (which was actually two weekly episodes strung together) I wasn’t blown away with it like I have been with other Abrams projects.

I think the two biggest problems are that Jones seems a little wooden and unlikeable and that there’s a procedural element to the show. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there is an overall mythology that progresses with each episode, but there’s also a “case of the week” to solve. So it’s not entirely one genre.

I watched the first week (which got solid ratings) with a decent amount of interest but not infatuation. I mean, FOX isn’t exactly known for being true to their science fiction television projects – just ask fans of ‘Dollhouse’. And, quite frankly, the much more ballyhooed ‘Terra Nova’ had failed on the network just this fall, so I figured if ‘Alcatraz’ didn’t cull viewers right off the bat it would be cancelled pretty quickly and I didn’t want to get too attached. FOX has burned me – a couple of times.

Something happened at the end of the second episode, though. The show wisely had a hook that revolved around Nagra’s Lucy Banerjee that suddenly exploded the mystery slightly. I won’t reveal it here for those who haven’t seen the show yet, but let’s just say it was enough to pique my interest.

So on Monday, when the third episode aired I was understandably excited for more revelations about Banerjee. Did I get any? No.

What I did get, though, was an episode that highlighted Garcia. He’s clearly going to be the heart of this show, too, by the way. There was some much needed expansion on his character and even Jones seemed to loosen up a little bit. She’s still the weak link in the cast, though. She needs a lot more work before she’s going to be able to carry this show as the central heroine. Luckily, she’s got Garcia to do the heavy lifting while she learns.

Monday’s episode of ‘Alcatraz’ garnered nine million viewers and a 3.0 rating in adults age 18-49. That was a nine percent drop from its debut. That’s actually a really good showing for a freshman series in its second week.

When you combine with that the fact that ‘Alcatraz’ actually improved on lead-in numbers from the long-running ‘House,’ you realize FOX might actually have a bonafide hit on its hands.

Of course, the show is going to have to address two issues. First off, the writing for Jones is going to have to get a little bit softer if fans are going to warm up to her.

And second? The procedural aspects of the show are going to have to be lessened, too. Sci-fi fans don’t generally like monster-of-the-week shows – ‘The X-Files’ notwithstanding. So, the key is to blend the two aspects together. If producers do, I think ‘Alcatraz’ could have a good long run.

‘Alcatraz’ airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on FOX.

What do you think? Can ‘Alcatraz’ be a hit?


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