SERIES PREMIERE REVIEW: Alcatraz “Pilot/Ernest Cobb” S1 E1

17 Jan

HALLELUJAH!!!  HALLELUJAH!!!!  Sing it with me people.  You know you want to.  Come on, your co-workers won’t mind.  They may look at you a little strangely but what do you care.  Finally, a premiere worth singing about!!!  Even if it is singing badly.   Last night, one of the more anticipated premieres aired and it didn’t disappoint.  There were two pilots I was most impressed with in the summer…one was Smash, the other was Alcatraz.   I was following the viewers comments on Twitter last night and most people loved the show.  There were some that thought it was boring and slow.  To that I say….are you crazy?  But the most common tweet was how this show could fill a nice void that a little teeny tiny show left when it aired its series finale over a year ago….Lost.  I mean come on…it has an island, it has a character named Jack who woke up lost and confused as to where he was, it has the eerie music, it has the “what the hell is going on here” vibe, IT HAS HURLEY!!!  I can see where it’s very easy to draw the comparisons.  But in all seriousness, that is where the comparisons end.

Alcatraz opens with a very simple premise…”on March 21st 1963 Alcatraz officially closed.  All the prisoners were transferred off the island.  Only, that’s not what happened.  Not at all.”  I appreciate when a new show lays it out for you right off the bat.  This simple statement clearly defines what this series will be about.  From here, the mysteries and curiosities unravel.

In the first hour, we focus on the story of Jack Sylvane (played by Jeffrey Pierce), an Alcatraz inmate from 1954-1963.  Originally, Sylvane was in prison for stealing groceries from a corner store.  Why was he on the Rock then if it was petty theft?   The corner store also sold stamps, therefore making it a post office and therefore a federal crime.  But when we see Sylvane in present day, he is on a killing rampage.  How does a man who was in prison for stealing groceries to feed his family suddenly become a cold-blooded killer?   More importantly, why in present day, does this man still look 45 years old?  He should be 85 and he looks 45!   He hasn’t aged since 1963.  After Sylvane’s killing spree, he is eventually captured and brought to a remote Dharma station in the woods where Emerson Hauser (played by Sam Neill) is putting them back in prison so he can question them about what they know.

The second hour focuses on Ernest Cobb, a sniper who transferred to Alcatraz because he wanted a private room.  In present day, he is picking off people (mainly young girls) one by one while repeating over and over again “47 slats in a picket fence…1 2 3 4 5….”  Ok.  Again we have another prisoner out and looking just as young as he did in 1963.  He is back to committing his original crimes (which stem from some mommy issues he had thinking his 16-year-old sister was getting more attention than him.)  He is also captured and taken to the Dharma Station.

Ultimately, it seems there is someone or a group of people who are managing the former inmates and guards.  When Madsen goes to arrest Sylvane and she asks why he’s doing this, he tells her he killed Tiller for personal reasons but he killed Flynn because “it’s what they told him to do.”  They?  Whose they?  The inmates are being controlled or directed to target specific people.  Flynn was a target.  I think after seeing the final scene in “Ernest Cobb” we can assume that Lucy was a target as well.   So who are these people?   Why did they take these 302 people in 1963 and what is their purpose?  What’s their goal?

The main protagonist is Detective Rebecca Madsen (played by Sarah Jones) of the SFPD who is ultimately transferred to the FBI at Hauser’s request to assist with the Alcatraz case.  Of all the characters in the show, Madsen is the weakest of the bunch, which is very worrisome in a show like this.  You need a strong character who dominates the screen and who we believe in 100%.  She needs to be tough, intelligent, fierce, feisty, and compassionate.  Jones exudes some elements of these traits, but not all of them and not very convincingly.  She comes across as a person trying to be tough and edgy but isn’t either of those things at all.  This is the part of the show that most concerns me.  She is supposed to be the driving force behind finding out what is going on.  But in scenes with Neill, she has issues matching his presence on-screen and he is so dominant that it’s hard to believe she has the power to stand toe to toe with him.  Now, maybe over the course of the series it will get better and she will become more of a force.  The question is, can people move past her weaknesses as a leading lady and still continue with the show?

Madsen’s partner is none other than one of our favorite Lostie, Hurley!  Dr Diego Soto (played by Jorge Garcia) is a renowned Alcatraz expert and resident genius.  He has written four books on Alcatraz and Madsen seeks his assistance on the history of the Rock as well as his expertise on the prisoners and guards.  While he seems to struggle with the death and danger of the job, he really wants to help and is intrigued by the mystery. As he states so eloquently “is anyone else’s head ready to explode right about now?”  Priceless.  But here is my biggest problem with Soto if I am supposed to buy into his character.  If he is really the foremost expert on Alcatraz, how in the world did he not know ANYTHING about this?  In all his years of research, he never came across what happened the day before Alcatraz closed?   That the prisoners and guards simply vanished?  It seems a tad unbelievable to me.  Unless….he is involved somehow.

Rounding out our main characters we have Hauser and Lucy (played by Parminder Nagra.) Hauser is an enigma, much like our storyline.  Sam Neill is perfect to play this role.  No one does creepy, matter-of-factness better than Neill.  At this point, we have no idea if Hauser is a good guy or a bad guy.  It appears as if he is someone with his own agenda.  We learned he was one of the cops who came to Alcatraz the day before it closed to assist with the transfer.  And he was just as stunned as his counterpart when the place was a ghost town.  So he has obviously been involved in this from the beginning.  But other than curiosity as to what happened that day, why else go to the lengths he has gone through to get these prisoners back?  Why build that security center (that looks like a Dharma Station) to house all these criminals?  Why keep what he knows from Madsen and Soto?  What is his connection with Lucy?   Why has he aged but everyone else from back then who was connected with this, hasn’t?  What is his end game?   How much does he know?   He seems to want these criminals captured but alive to question them.  He doesn’t appear to be the one behind what happened to the prisoners and guards but I’m not sure, yet, if his motives are pure.

I’m not sure what to think of Lucy, especially after she was shot in the chest!   But the really big twist at the end of the episode was that Lucy was also at Alcatraz in the 60s as a psychologist name Dr. Sengupta.  So that leads to a few questions.  Did Hauser know that or does he have no idea?  If he did know, then he knows about how people who were at Alcatraz at that time aren’t aging.  How did he get hooked up with Lucy?  Did he approach her or did she come after him?  My initial guess is that she went to him.  Is Lucy working for the person or group that is behind what happened to the people on the Rock or is she just simply working with Hauser?  I wonder if Lucy is going to be hanging around in present day (whether it be alive or in a coma) or if she will kick the bucket.  I have to say, it was quite shocking because I didn’t see that coming at all!

One of the other mind-blowing events that happened in the episode revolved around Madsen’s family and work life.  Madsen had a partner at the SFPD who was killed by a criminal they were chasing.  As a result, she never partnered with anyone after that and right when she was supposed to choose, she got the transfer.  As the case moved forward, we meet her uncle Ray (played by Robert Forster.)  Arthur Petrelli is in the house!!!  Madsen introduces Ray to Hurley and explains to him that her grandfather was a guard at Alcatraz.  Ray and Soto exchange a strange glance that she notices but brushes off.  Later, when Hauser is walking Madsen and Soto through the mug shots of who disappeared that day, she sees the picture of her grandfather, Tommy Madsen.  Madsen learns her grandfather wasn’t a guard at Alcatraz, he was a prisoner.  But that wasn’t the worst part.  What to know what was?   When she sees his picture, she realizes that he was the man she and her partner were chasing and his was the one who killed her partner.  Dun dun dun dun!!!!!!   Talk about head exploding!  I don’t know how hers didn’t….for SO many reasons.  But mainly that one.  This was a great addition to the original pilot.  The first pilot I saw, Madsen learns her grandfather was a prisoner instead of a guard, but there was nothing about her partner dying and her grandfather being the killer.  That scene wasn’t in the original but I’m glad they added it.

I really enjoyed the show last night.  I know a lot of people want to compare it to Lost and as we discussed, there are some funny similarities.  But there is one MAJOR difference….Lost was a show about characters, first.  The mythology came second, even though we may not have known it right away.  Alcatraz, at least right now, is all mythology driven with some character focus in the background.  And that’s ok.  I think the story is fascinating enough to keep it moving along and people interested.   The question will be for how long?

The smartest thing Lost did was say it had a finite shelf life.  6 seasons, that’s it.  I don’t know if Alcatraz has that, I’m not sure if it needs it.  But with shows like this, it seems important that the writers know the end game going into the series.  If they don’t, I think shows like these have a tendency to go off the rails and start to become something that it isn’t or worse, something that it doesn’t know what it is anymore.  When that happens, you destroy what was once good and you lose your audience.

In the first two hours, we have one hour about one inmate and the second hour about another.  There are over 300 people involved in this disappearance.  Surely we aren’t going to have 300 more episodes about each individual inmate or guard right?  I wouldn’t think so.  Therefore, the show will really need to draw on the mythology to keep it going or we are going to have to have more character study.  I’m not sure which direction is going in right now.   What I do know, is that I am along for the ride.

Alcatraz was a breath of fresh air in a pretty smoke-filled mid-season so far.  Actually, the new TV season as a whole, going all the way back to the fall, has been pretty stale.  Talking strictly new shows here, other than Revenge and Homeland, Alcatraz is the only other must see TV for me…at least so far.   I think if the writers can keep the storyline moving and hopefully Jones starts to come into her own, this show will be one of the best of the 2012 season.  Does the show have some issues…of course.  Does it need to improve in some areas…absolutely.  But is it better than a lot of other shows out there…your damn right it is.

What did you think of Alcatraz and will you keep watching?

DVRs: 4


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4 responses to “SERIES PREMIERE REVIEW: Alcatraz “Pilot/Ernest Cobb” S1 E1

  1. smallscreensadie

    January 17, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    I enjoyed the show, as well. I have to say though, I liked Madsen. I thought it was refreshing to see a character who isn’t exactly what we have come to expect. Curious to see how she develops, but I’m hoping they don’t go the stereotypical tough-gal route.

  2. sportsattitudes

    January 17, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    I want to watch the two hours over again as soon as possible. This is appointment tv for me…which means it is the only appointment that will be made the night it is on. Awesome. Just awesome. Spread the word! Great review!

  3. Girish

    January 18, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    The two-hour premiere was alright, not exceptionally good, nor bad. I’ll be watching it again just to see if I missed anything and I did like the music.

    I felt Sarah Jones tried too hard and wasn’t up to the role. She may improve like Anna Torv did in Fringe. Sam Neil is an interesting character. He isn’t completely cold as we first thought he was. How did that nervous, scared young guy turn into this cold, kinda evil (I hope he is twisted) head of a special task force! Which brings us to the question, where is the damn task force!! These 4 highly inadequate (barring Neil) people can’t be the only ones in the force. That’s just lazy and stupid writing!

    Like you, I didn’t see that twist at the end with Nagra, nor did I even think that the first escaped convict had such a personal connection to Jones. It was just awesome! As for Garcia, well I can still see Hurley in him and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Oh btw, he was also a comic book store owner.

    These characters need to be more compelling which is what makes sci-fi shows like Lost and Fringe so amazing. I hope Alcatraz finds its footing with respect to the main characters soon. The villains are far more interesting than the protagonists right now and I like it, but other viewers may not. I hope it makes it to season 2 as it has a lot of potential.


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