First Impressions: Alcatraz

“On March 21st 1963 Alcatraz officially closed due to rising cost and decrepid facilities.  All the prisoners were transferred off the island;  only that’s not what happened, not at all.”  Emerson Hauser (played by Sam Neil)

It’s that time of year again.  The winter television schedule has been set forth and we get to see which of our favorite shows couldn’t hold out the entire year, and welcome in some mid-season offerings the networks decided to hold back.

It’s been quite a while since there has been a full review of a television show on this website.  With a new onslaught of programming that is mostly new to everyone there really isn’t a better time to get back on the clock with the television reviews.

The first will have to be a show that I personally have been excited about since I heard about it months ago.  A brand new show that debuted on FOX on January 16.  This may be a personal bias but the concept of a show with JJ Abrams in the Executive Producer chair, Sam Neil as one of its principal stars, and featuring a plot that is essentially “The 4400” if the missing people were convicts and prisoners from Alcatraz, is enough for me to give it a rave review.

Of course that would be foolish and unprofessional of me, so after sitting down and watching the first two episodes I’ve comprised this review style piece that I’d like to call a “First Impression” of the show.  This is a format I intend to incorporate for many of the new shows in the near future.  It cannot be a full review because most of them do not have a full season that has aired yet, so I will give the impression I get from the first number of episodes.

So, that being said.  Here is the ShallopNewf First Impression for

Logo owned by FOX

Alcatraz itself should not require a lengthy introduction.  It is the one of the most notorious prisons to ever operate on US soil.  Even if you are not a history buff, you may remember the 1994 film, “The Rock” that took place on the island-prison.

As the intro explained, Alcatraz was not actually shut down due to high maintenance costs as history would suggest.  Instead one night in 1963 every man on the island simply vanished.  Two guards including a young Emerson Hauser played by veteran Sam Neil(Jurassic Park, Merlin, The Tudors) were the first to respond and witness the event.

Fast forward more than 50 years into the future and we meet the protagonist of our series, Detective Rebecca Madsen played by Sarah  Jones (Sons of Anarchy, Big Love).  In her opening sequence we see the death of her partner setting up her story arc.

Upon being removed from a case involving a dead FBI agent, Madsen finds evidence that leads to a former Alcatraz inmate which results in her meeting her soon-to-be partner and Alcatraz expert Dr. Diego Soto played by a surprisingly talented Jorge Garcia (Lost)

Through a series of events the duo end up being recruited on board with  Hauser’s search for this Alcatraz inmate.  Essentially this sets up the day-to-day activity that we can expect from the series.  Madsen and Toto do most of the work with the leadership and surprisingly vast resources of Hauser supporting them.

Oh, did I forget to mention that these convicts are reappearing in present day San Francisco looking no older than they did in 1963?  Yeah this brings about the Science Fiction aspect of this whole thing.

The Cast of Alcatraz - Owned by FOX

Storylines

Without going into to many spoilers I have to point out how impressed I am with this show, and how much potential I can see in the narrative.  There is so much going on that if the writing remains top-notch we could very well be looking at an incredible show with lots of expected AND unexpected turns.

The first and most prominent is the main story arc.  The primary goal of our heroes is to discover who took the men back in 1963, how they did it, and what agenda they have.  In the first episode the convict Jack Sylvane shows up in 2011 and carries out his own vendetta, but mysteriously he receives instructions to murder another person and secure an item.  So there is a shadowy power pulling strings in the background.

Toto is starting to show signs that he feels inferior on the team and doesn’t truly believe he is of any use in the pursuit of these dangerous criminals.

Madsen is on the hunt for the man responsible for killing her partner.  I like how she still manages to put the current objective first in both of the episodes while still showing her partners death is relevant.

Hauser is the most cryptic of them all.  There are flashes of ruthlessness in him that lead me to believe that it would not be a far-fetched twist if he ended up being an antagonist at some point in the series.  The nature of his position in the government and his intentions for what he intends to do with the cons when they are all captured is unclear.  He also keeps the others in the dark as often as he can, so there’s still lots he already knows that he refuses to share.

The storytelling flip-flops from 1960 to present day and both stories seem to be progressing with a steady, flowing pace, and they integrate very well with each other..  It’s superb story telling.

The show’s story is compelling and after watching the first two episodes I am eagerly anticipating the next episode.  I really hope it doesn’t go the way of previous FOX shows that came out with such promise only to be rewarded with a premature cancellation.

The acting can be a bit spotty at times but overall it’s mostly great performances.  I especially like Sam Neil when he acts intimidating without needing to exert too much energy, and since I didn’t see a lot of “Lost” I’m surprised by how well Jorge Garcia performs.

All in all this is about first impressions, and when it comes to Alcatraz I sincerely cannot wait until more of this story gets uncovered.  If you haven’t checked out Alcatraz, I recommend it.  At the very least the first two episodes, it is worth your time.

Alcatraz First Impression   –  7  out of 10
Full review of the first season to come when it’s completed.

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