Entertainment Magazine

Review #3230: Alcatraz 1.1: “Pilot”

Posted on the 19 January 2012 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: J.M.

I will openly admit to being extraordinarily suspicious of “Alcatraz” when I first read about the premise and that JJ Abrams had attached his name to it. The premise seems rather half-baked, a great idea that would make a far better miniseries than it would a full series. Given the uneven quality of many of the projects that Abrams has given his name to in recent years, it didn’t seem to me to bode terribly well for “Alcatraz”, and then when it was announced that Elizabeth Sarnoff, the show’s creator and a cowriter for this episode, was fired and that certain scenes were reshot certainly didn’t ease any of my concerns. The pilot episode, so creatively titled, certainly didn’t alleviate my concerns and appeared to suffer from the entire behind the scenes drama. But it definitely didn’t deepen them and shows some definite promise.

Review #3230: Alcatraz 1.1: “Pilot”

More than anything else, the pilot suffered from far too much telling and not nearly enough showing. We were told about nearly everything, from the bond between Sarah Jones’ detective Rebecca Madsen and her partner. We were told that she was curious, and that she was really very young to be a detective. Yet somehow she missed that her grandfather was an inmate at Alcatraz. We were told repeatedly that Jorge Garcia’s Dr. Diego Soto was smart, because he has a Ph. D and because he wrote four books on Alcatraz. Never mind the fact that he managed to miss the fact that all of the prisoners disappeared when the prison closed! Sam Neill’s character was a bit better, but that was mostly because of Neill’s acting rather than the writing. Lucy Bannerjee’s assistant character was so bland I was almost offended at her inclusion.

The most interesting character in the pilot was the criminal, Jack Sylvane. Watching him turn from petty thief to revenge driven murder was the most realistic and compelling character threads out of them all. A credit to Jeffrey Pierce for his ability to portray the purpose, rage and yet subtle sense that this guy was really in over his head with a script that didn’t do him any favors at all. But one of the biggest things about both Sylvane and the other characters (particularly Soto and Madsen) is just how normal they treat the fact that three hundred people disappeared from the most notorious prison in the US, that the government covered it up, and now these people are coming back. It’s not like the actors here don’t have that capability, Jorge Garcia did that very well as Hurley on “Lost”, serving as a character to keep the others grounded and to point out the sheer absurdity of the situations they found themselves in.

The plot still does not have me convinced. As of this moment, I just don’t understand what makes this a compelling mystery. The one element of the pilot that was a positive in this sense was that these characters in some way shape or form would be recurring, thanks to the modern reconstruction of Alcatraz in the middle of the nowhere. The closing scenes and final revelation of Hauser’s status as one of the Alcatraz guards gave us one potential driving force for the series, that Hauser is Ahab to the missing prisoners/guards’ white whale, which is certainly far more unique.

Otherwise, this was a disappointing pilot that certainly hints at the turmoil behind the screen without finding some way to develop a hook for the viewers.

Rating: 5/10

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