TV Review: Alcatraz

bill bodkin welcomes you to the rock …

I am not a Lost guy.

Nothing against the critically acclaimed series, but I just never really watched it, outside of the time my best friend sat me down and showed me the first five episodes. It seems like a fantastic show, but I honestly don’t have the time to dive into a show that seems as complex and thick as Lost. Yes, I’m lazy.

The reason I bring this up is because the new FOX series, Alcatraz is not only produced by Lost guru J.J. Abrams, but it stars former Lost star Jorge Garcia and it has this whole time shift thing that seems very Lost-y. And I wanted, in full disclosure, to let you know that I had no unreal expectations or predisposition to like this show due to an unflagging admiration to the island drama.

Sarah Jones as Rebecca Madsen

Now with all that out of the way, I can easily and with full confidence say that Alcatraz might be one of the best hour-long shows on television right now.

What makes Alcatraz so enjoyable is a combination of smart yet straightforward writing, extremely likeable and fully developed characters and actors who execute their roles to perfection. Simply put, the show avoids all the classic television and science fiction mistakes.

The plot does a great job of presenting facts and plot lines in a “whodunit” style. We learn everything about the mystery and wonder of the show as our two main characters San Francisco Police detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) and comic book writer/Alcatraz expert Diego “Doc” Soto (Garcia) do. We’re never bombarded with complex and thick sci-fi jargon. It’s all told straightforwardly — and it makes sense, since our heroes are everyday people who are thrown in a supernatural and hushed-up situation.

The lack of explanation of just how inmates from Alcatraz are reappearing in the modern world is maddeningly awesome. You’re given little tastes and hints, but never the full explanation. It just makes the plot so much more intriguing.

The gatekeeper to these secrets is the mysterious Emerson Hauser, played by one of my favorite character actors, Sam Neill. His character is brilliantly written — he’s the mysterious man in black who brings Madsen and Soto on the team. While you begin to think he’s the classic government heavy, you’re shown, unbeknownst to our heroes, that he is an absolute monster to the prisoners when they’re captured. So it makes you wonder: Could he actually be the bad guy in the series? Yet, mere minutes after ordering the torture of a prisoner, he is seen in near tears, his soul ravaged as he looks at the comatose body of his right-hand woman Lucy (Parminder Nagra of ER and Bend It Like Beckham). So, we wonder … is he a good guy? Most TV villains don’t have these kind of sympathetic emotions (or do they?). Could he have another motive for his harsh actions towards the prisoners? His character is a big question mark, and to watch his character develop is going to be awesome.

Jorge Garcia as Diego "Doc" Soto

However, the heart of Alcatraz rests on the unlikely chemistry between Madsen and Soto. They could’ve easily gone down the classic “odd couple” road with the hard-nosed cop begrudgingly working with the smart, nerdy and un-street savvy expert. Yet, the show forgoes this convention, as these two partners seem to genuinely like each other. This is really cemented when Madsen takes time to comfort and console Soto when he sees his first dead body. It’s a step that makes her more than just a hard-nosed cop and it develops what could be interesting storyline of if Soto has the nerve to work tracking down killers and criminals. And in typical Garcia fashion, he adds just the right amount of humor to the show. He did this on the few episodes of Lost I saw and he also did this wonderfully when he guest starred on How I Met Your Mother and the now -canceled Matthew Perry sitcom Mr. Sunshine.

And finally, no J.J. Abrams production would complete without a few jaw-dropping plot twists. Not going to ruin anything here, but you can probably see one coming — though the final one is a complete left-fielder.

What Alcatraz has done in its first two hours on network TV is establish itself as an intelligent and entertaining sci-fi-tinged drama that leaves you filled with anticipation for the next episode. It’s filled with characters that intrigue you and that you care about. In essence, it’s what good television should be.

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site’s podcast, The BreakCast.┬áHe is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites