Alcatraz: The Complete Series, 2012.
Created by Elizabeth Sarnoff, Steven Lilien and Bryan Wynbrandt.
Starring Sarah Jones, Jorge Garcia, Jonny Coyne, Jason Butler Harner, Parminder Nagra, Sam Neill and Robert Forster.
In 1963, all the prisoners and guards mysteriously disappear from
Alcatraz only to resurface in the present day, where a secret agency is
tasked with re-capturing them.
Sometimes a TV show or movie can have an idea that is quite good, but it just doesn’t live up to it. Often, as with films such as Looper, they manage not to be overcome by the idea and pull out a decent piece of entertainment. Alcatraz on the other hand, does not.
Flipping between the 1960s and present day, Alcatraz tells an alternate timeline history of America’s famous prison island where the inmates weren’t shipped off to other prisoners but instead disappeared into the ether only to return one by one 50 years later. Now it’s down to a specialised task force made up of a former Alcatraz prison guard, a street detective looking for vengeance, a psychiatrist with a mysterious past and a comic book shop owner to track them down and bring them back to justice.
And this is where we hit our first problem. It’s not that the characters are clichéd, stereotypes or poorly written - they’re just horrible people. Rebecca (Sarah Jones), the detective, does not nothing but whine and moan about her job role while going against everything that snarky Hauser (the former prison guard played by a bored looking Sam Neill) tells her to do. Psychiatrist Lucy (Parminda Nagra) is probably the most interesting of the four but has so little do she really serves no purpose, and comic book owner and Alcatraz expert Soto (Lost’s Jorge “Hurley” Garcia) is just a bland and only there to be the comic relief ‘everyman’. Of all the characters, he was the one I liked the least due to his pointlessness, but its Detective Rebecca who achieves the ‘least likeable character’ award overall, due to her terrible dialogue, horrendous acting and dreadful character traits.
So with a TV show with no likeable characters, you’d hope it has something exciting and engaging to keep you watching right? Well sadly Alcatraz doesn’t have that either. Each episode deals with our ‘heroes’ trying to track down one of the missing “63”, which leads the show to being nothing but a poorly-written X-Files without the likeable characters. Every show has the same pattern – we’re introduced to the episode's antagonist, Soto and Hauser tell us who they are, we get flash backs of their time in the 60s (which looks just like the present day but with a blue tint) and then Rebecca chases them. It gets incredibly repetitive quickly and you get the sense that the shows overarching plot line - where did they disappear to? - isn’t going to be answered anytime soon.
Which brings us to the shows biggest problem... it’s not that it’s full of horrible characters, boring stories or teeth-grinding dialogue - it’s that the show was cancelled after one season. Sounds about right due to it being a terrible show, but in typical J.J. Abrams fashion, the season finale doesn’t conclude any of the questions asked in episode one. What this means is that anyone who hasn’t seen Alcatraz before and is buying it on a whim is going to spend 13 hours watching a show which has no conclusion and instead asks more questions that - I imagine - would have been answered in a second season which doesn’t exist. So not only is it a slog to get through the series, it’s also a frustrating experience too.
This should be standard practice for any TV show developer. Unless you have a guaranteed second season of your show, don’t have a cliffhanger ending because you may not get the chance to close your show and satisfy your audience. Shows like Dexter are successful because each season has a conclusion with an overarching storyline that carries over the show as a whole. Even shows like Californiacation that got progressively worse as each season went on still had a conclusion to each of its main story narratives. If Californication hadn’t been commissioned for a second season, I wouldn’t have been annoyed with wasting my time watching it. With Alcatraz, I was. Very, very annoyed.
Alcatraz is a frustrating, disappointing and above all boring TV show. The characters are rubbish, the stories are rubbish and the conclusion is non-existent rubbish. If you like this kind of thing, you’re better off with the The X-Files. At least that had likeable leads.
Luke Owen is a freelance copywriter working for Europe’s biggest golf holiday provider as their web content executive.