Wednesday, January 18, 2012


As mentioned in the previous post, I wanted to post something on Alcatraz on Monday night, but I've been very sick this week. Sadly, I didn't even watch it on Monday night. You know things are bad when... but I finally got to watch both episodes last night, and I'm happy to say, I was absolutely hooked about 20 minutes in. Lost ended in May 2010, and since then we Losties -- who just won't let it go -- have been searching for the new Lost. Is it Person of Interest? It's got the numbers and the Abrams stamp and Michael Emerson... no, it's not Person of Interest. Is it Once Upon a Time? Created by Kitsis and Horowitz, it's full of little Lost references and numbers, and the fairytale stories serve as the flashbacks from Lost. Perhaps, but it's really its own show, quite removed from the more reality-based Lost.

And now we get Alcatraz. Produced by Abrams, directed and executive produced by Jack Bender, with several Lost writers on board, starring our beloved Jorge Garcia, this show's first episode (called "Pilot"... sound familiar?) features a supernatural event that happens on an island, where the survivors of a particular accident have time traveled to re-emerge in the real world and through flashbacks we find out who they are. They're being hunted and watched by people in a secret organization. All set against the instantly recognizable score by Michael Giacchino. And did I mention the lead survivor's name is Jack?

Oh, and it's brilliant. Compelling writing, a great ensemble cast, Giacchino's screechy violins that take us to every climactic break, twists we didn't see coming, backstories that fill in who these people are, and fast-paced direction. Oh my gosh, I think I've found my new Lost.

Now, being the spoilerphobe that I am, this is what I knew about Alcatraz: It was about Alcatraz. It starred Jorge Garcia as a comic-book store guy with some sort of expertise the cops could use. (I didn't even know exactly what that expertise was.) JJ Abrams produced it. Sam Neill was in it. And... that concludes what Nikki knew. So I was coming to this absolutely cold, knowing nothing, and they were going to have to pull me in. And they did so, IMMEDIATELY. I love the sci-fi element of it, the X-Files feel of the underground replica of Alcatraz where Hauser keeps his captures much like the Initiative kept hostiles in season 4 of Buffy. It's like his own personal adult dollhouse, where he pops the little soldier into their slots until he gets the full set. It's like one of the aspects of Lost has been flipped -- where on that show, the Dharma Initiative and the Others were aware of the survivors on the island, but the survivors knew little about them and neither did we, now we, the viewer, are watching from the perspective of the Others, tracking the survivors and watching the good guys bad guys Hauser's team pounce.

My husband and I are considering doing a podcast, just because we had very different views of the show. While he, like me, really liked it, he thought the Lost stuff was annoying, and that the music was overbearing and far too Lost-like, that the silly references to numbers are getting tired (I made the mistake of noticing the room key in the building next to Cobb's was Room 423, and when I said it, he groaned and said, "When will they MOVE ON?!" I will admit, the references nine episodes in on Once Upon a Time are getting a little overdone).

But I don't know, maybe it's the Lostie in me, but hearing that music, seeing the dark stormy set, moving back and forth through time, watching the questions build up with no answers, seeing Jorge Garcia play a character who is at once useful yet unsure of himself, it just had a warm familiarity to it. And it felt like home.

I promise that in the weeks to come I'll be switching this to a more Lost-like post format. Next week I'm actually away, so it'll have to start with the fourth episode, but I wanted to let you all know that I watched this, LOVED it, and if you watched Lost, you really must be watching this show, too. Don't miss it. If you did miss it, Fox will be airing the Pilot episode (this week they played the first two eps, "Pilot" and "Ernest Cobb") on Saturday night at 11pm again.


Christina B said...

HOORAY!!!! Iloved it too! I mean, freakin' LOVED IT!!

I'm so happy I'll have somewhere to discuss it every week! I was all lost (pun intended!) after it aired, googling 'Alcatraz reviews' and clicking random blogs...but none felt like 'home'.

Nik at Nite is home to me! :D

Rebecca T. said...

I watched this with my Mom, but have to admit I kept getting distracted with other stuff I was doing, so I really want to go back and rewatch it. I was pretty drawn in, but not as much as I'm thinking I would be if I was actually paying attention. I'm excited that you'll be posting about it!

David said...

I agree with you Nikki but I really want/need assurances that they actually KNOW the answers to the mysteries they are setting up. I don't want to spend 6 seasons waiting for answers and then getting none at the end. But all in all I think the show is great so far and I'm looking forward to episode 3 (and your post about it of course).

humanebean said...

As delighted as I am to see Nikki blogging on yet another show in the Abrams canon, and to see Jorge Garcia get another prime time role, I have to say that I was profoundly underwhelmed by quite a bit of these first two episodes! Giacchino's music was a highlight of the first hour, and I have to say that Jack Bender's direction of the second hour was a vast improvement over the first sixty minutes.

Overall though (and I hate to be a party pooper here), I thought the writing was kinda ... um, lame. The performances were let down a bit by it in both halves. I'll be back for more, as I love the actors involved and remain hopeful that there is fertile ground to be tilled in the premise ... but I didn't think that this was a very strong start.

High point for me was the creepy character of Ernest Cobb, played with Lee Harvey Oswald-meets-Giovanni Ribisi intensity by Joe Egender. The look of abject horror on his face when the warden had his new Chatty Cathy roommate brought in was priceless. I think I may be in the minority here but will stick around and see if they can change my mind!

Meanwhile, feel better, Nik!

Page48 said...

Speaking of numbers, the 47's were flying, particularly in the 2nd eppie.

I wanted to slap Emerson Hauser (is Emerson a "Lost" reference?) for being such a dick with his new recruits. Attitude, dude.

Hauser recruiting Madsen into his secret organization echo's Broyles recruiting Olivia in the "Fringe" pilot.

Madsen's rooftop chase was also a (pale) imitation of Olivia's Bourne-like rooftop chase of one of the Steig twins in the "Fringe" pilot.

Speaking of the Steig twins (Jason Butler Harner), one of them was a prison guard (Tiller) at Alcatraz back in the day. Who knew?

That's two Abrams pilots for Harner, leaving him well behind Greg Grunberg's four ("Felicity", "Alias", "Lost", "What About Brian?").

My understanding is that Giacchino is only on board for the pilot.

JJ is out blabbing the usual pablum about wanting "Alcatraz" to be accessible to the 'casual viwer'. It's a retread of his promo tour for "Fringe", recounting the story about lessons learned from "Alias" being too confusing for he and Grunberg to follow (insert eyeroll here)therefore serial elements must be kept to a minimum.

Frankly, I think that's bass ackwards thinking, as "Alias" suffered mightily for going all standalone in S4, and "Fringe" improved dramatically for taking the opposite approach halfway through S2.

Bottom line is that simply having Madsen and Hurley chasing down a bad boy each week is gonna get Walter-Bishop-fart-joke old pretty quickly, so the mystery angle is what will make or break "Alcatraz" for me in the weeks to come.

@humanebean, I immediately thought of Giovanni Ribisi when I got a look at Cobb.

mgkoeln said...

I totally agree with humanbean and Page48 in being a little underwhelmed by the seemingly procedural nature of the show. The bad boy of the week approach did already feel lame to me in the second hour. He didn't have an agenda other than carrying on his former crimes, or did he? They'll have to do a ulittle more top keep me hooked. At least, the second episodes cliffhanger was a good start in that regard. So, got all is lost by now ;-)

Get well soon, Nikki! I'm looking forward to be drawn into the show by your observations, as I really want to like it.

Nikki Stafford said...

Interesting comments! I think many of you would agree with my husband, so maybe we do need to have a podcast so you can hear him bitch about many of the same things here.

My argument is simply that for a pilot, which rarely pulls me in because there's far too much exposition, I found it really intrigued me. Yes, I too am wondering how they can maintain this and keep it from "Oh look another alcatraz inmate has been found here whatever will we do let us go catch him" baddie-of-the-week thing, but I've got my fingers crossed that it's so much more than that.

And unlike David, I thought the answers were there at the end of Lost, so if they follow the same trajectory I know *I* will be happy. But here's hoping they can make more people happy!

Page48: I entirely agree with you about the bad, bad choice to go spy of the week on Alias's S4. It actually led to me not watching S5 (which I still vow to do one day). And I wrote a book on it! That's saying a lot.

humanebean: Giovanni Ribisi, HA! I must have said 5 times to my husband, "GOD that guy looks like Giovanni Ribisi!" ;)

Suzanne said...

I am so bummed that I missed it! I meant to set the DVR and forgot. I set it this morning, and I am really hoping that it is repeated as it appears to be this Saturday.

Joan Crawford said...

I thought it was pretty good and I am going to give it an honest try... I agree with humanebean about the writing - I actually groaned when Jorge said "It's not a comic book world." and then I felt bad for him because he must have known how corny that was.

People at large seem to love the serial aspect of a new "bad guy" every week but I hope they keep the rest of us hooked with the mythology and/or mystery. I liked hearing the Lost Music again (and that's what it will always be to me) but it felt a little heavy handed... Lost only used the heavy stuff for Big Reveals, unlike Alcatraz where people walking around unawares and "investigating" is punctuated with Sweeping Serious Music. (Like I'm one to call people out on any sort of punctuation - that Joan, delusional at best!)

How did Sam Neill know that the bad guys were around before they actually started being bad (in this time-frame)? I mean, it takes a fair bit of time to build a creepy (yet tastefully modern) underground prison.

I mean, um, I've heard it takes a long time...

Joan Crawford said...

Also, "yes, please!" to you and your husband doing a podcast about Alcatraz! Expect lengthy rants frequently from "The Disgruntled Old Lady up North" in the comments section :)

As an aside, I am having difficulty posting here, it keeps telling me I don't know how to spell things like "kinges" and "monst" correctly...

Fred said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fred said...

I make this confession here, that from this year on I have given up looking for the next Lost, whether I think it may be found in Once Upon a Time or, hopefully, in Alcatraz. I’ve equally given up on looking for Lost clues, Easter eggs, and references in the recently televised series written by, produced by, or starring former Lost alums. One of the side effects of this new found television sobriety is I can relish in the world-making evident in programs like Alcatraz, and I can believe that what that new series is representing should be taken in terms of its own signifiers—in this respect Nikki, I must side more with your husband. When we say “we are drawn into a series,” what we mean is we experience the story, and in this matter this is what I felt has been missing from a lot of new series, like Person of Interest, but which we got from Lost, namely the experience of a world in flux, where the story was undecided, and our experience of such anticipation was always to the forefront.

The frame of the series is a dream for executives of the network. Built into the myth is the standard police-procedural, with each week focusing on finding a new escapee (or guard). The fact the escapees are hardened criminals with oodles of room for expressing acting skills makes the show a very desirable job for many actors. From our view as the audience, this fact offers the opportunity for watching a higher quality and better acted series than most police-procedurals with their focus on the forensics. The structure with flashbacks and present time, in tandem with deeper three dimensional characters, makes this a gem for the writers. This series does deserve Michael Giacchino’s touch as the usual pop music references used in most other series would detract from a series that is trying to establish itself with the noir genre—I pointed out to my wife at the beginning the blue tint in the opening scene, a counterpoint to the supernatural theme which starts Alcatraz.

@Humanbean: I was profoundly underwhelmed by quite a bit of these first two episodes. Humanbean this is interesting, and I am sure a lot of people feel quite the same. While I have been praising Alcatraz above, part of that praise is directed to the potential in the show in the weeks ahead. Obviously, some of the elements in the show did hit the right note, but unlike Lost which began as a rollercoaster ride and maintained that level throughout much of the pilot, barring moments for character development, Alcatraz is more limited in the action-drama bit. One of the elements is the quality of the writing, but even reading some of the lines from Lost on Lostpedia, anyone would feel the script was underwhelming. What mattered there was the delivery of the lines, in combination with the shooting of the actors. I feel, and hopefully someone here will be able to support this claim, but the scene shots in Lost were more various (more cinematic) than with most television shows. There seems to be a dull monotony with most television shots, mid-range shots, cutting between actors in conversation, and an awful lot of dialogue telling us what we already know or can infer from the context. Lost did away with a lot of these standard practices, and for us, as the audience, it made the show fascinating and frustrating—imagine if Locke had asked Ben, “Who is Jacob?” and Ben just stood there and for 15 minutes we got a monologue on Jacob. Ugh! And yet, that is standard in a lot of tv series.

Fred said...


Now having said all this, there is a lot of standard stuff in Alcatraz. The whole family linkage between one of the main characters (Sarah Jones) with one of the inmates, as well Sam Neill’s Hauser linkage with the prison warden (I am sure there’ll be one between Garcia’s character and some other ). Like a lot of newer programs, this one is ambiguous about good and evil, preferring to consider that good may appear more evil than we might imagine. Is this some sociological by product of our post 9/11 age? I wonder; perhaps if we see a character reading Nietzsche we’ll know for sure. Like @Joan Crawford, I do hope People at large seem to love the serial aspect of a new "bad guy" every week but I hope they keep the rest of us hooked with the mythology and/or mystery. Using Sam Neill, in some ways, seems to me a use of a recognizable and talented actor in an anchoring role to give the show some gravitas, much as Law and Order pulled in Sam Waterston as audiences would know him and respected his stature as an actor. The temptation seemed to be the same on Alcatraz in choosing Sam Neill (not to mention that audience he will pull in on his name alone).

All in all, I think Alcatraz bears more comparison with Terra Nova. Both of these are big, brassy shows that highlight the cinematic and storytelling strengths of their producers. The latter, Steven Spielberg tale has all the elements common to his cinematic history, from fantastic settings (dinosaur world), to stories involving children and teenagers engaged in trials of coming of age, to parent-child universalizing fables, to stories of government monitoring (ET or Minority Report) involved ordinary lives. Likewise, Alcatraz hits all the highpoints of Abrams’ storytelling style.
Lost certainly looms over most television series, and attempts to reproduce it have been made with Flashforward and The Event . Audiences may be a bit confused seeing their beloved Hugo as Dr. Soto, and I had to keep telling myself as I watched Jorge Garcia, this isn’t Hurley, though I kept waiting for those na├»ve, comic lines he delivers so well. Despite this, I am a little worried by the title of, namely “Alcatraz: The Next Flashforward , Not the Next Lost.” Tim Surette notes that while Abrams name is attached, how much involvement he has may be very limited. Similarly, Elizabeth Sarnoff left the project over creative differences with Fox. So right off the bat, this isn’t the show it had initially started out to be—indeed, production was halted, and scenes were re-shot according to Surette. So perhaps Humanbean is right, and Alcatraz may become the new Flashforward because it is underwhelming. I leave the final ominous warning to Surette: what Alcatraz needs is an injection of personality for its central characters. Without good characters, all we're left to look forward to is the next "twist." And how surprising can a surprise be if you're actively looking for it?.

Colleen/redeem147 said...

I`m not reading the comments because I`m still in the pilot, but a procedural with time travel is still a procedural and it`s always getting old, even with Castle, I mean Jorge as the writer working with the cop.

Nikki Stafford said...

I really wish I'd been feeling better and could have written an entire post on this, because I certainly saw a lot that worried me in the first two. But I decided to keep it positive at the get-go. I go back and watch the early episodes of a lot of shows I end up loving, and think, "Whoa. Badness." So I don't want to judge a show on, "Well, these were good, but you never know, it could totally suck next week!" Because that's not really being fair.

That said, I agree with humanebean on the writing, and I know my hubby would, too. There were some major groaners in there. There's a scene in the second one where the woman got shot and Doc's all upset, and Sarah (can't think of her name) says, "Well, we can help her by catching the man who did this to her," and both of us groaned at the same time. What cliched language. My husband said aloud, "They ONLY say that in movies and TV." It's true. There's nothing reality-based in that statement. How does that help her? Will finding the guy get her out of the coma? Give me a break.

I thought the concept was great, the acting was good, but the dialogue was weak. So that worries me, but Abrams is powerful and has a LOT of great writers he's connected to, so here's hoping he can kick some people into shape and pull out the great writing his shows are known for. I'm confident he will.

Like I said, in a couple of weeks I'll be able to focus on this better, and I'll list my highlights and lowlights of each episode. I liked what I saw, and was intrigued by the concept enough to go forward. I rarely judge a show entirely on its first couple of episodes (you'd better convince me by episode 4) but what I saw was enough to intrigue me to keep going.

Fred: I agree with you on the Lost references getting tired. I wrote this post and the Once Upon a Time post together, so I can't remember which one I wrote it in, but I did say I'm getting really sick of things. Let it go, guys. Nine episodes into OUAT and you're still putting McCutcheon whisky into things and pulling out Hurley numbers? Let it go...

And I also caught the 47 (which appeared more than just Cobb saying it), which was the primo number on Alias. I'll let JJ pay homage to his past in the first few eps, but I want it dropped soon.

Did the Giacchino score reek of Lost, or was it OK with you guys? My husband hated it and wanted a different composer. I said it's Giacchino's style, but I will admit, at times the screeching violins taking us to the break seemed a little TOO familiar. But his scores are so lovely I think I'll take them.

Colleen/redeem147 said...

Finished watching the pilot. I don`t think this is for me.

I`m not an Abrams fan. I don`t really like much of his stuff. Lost was all about the Darlton for me.

Ah, well. I`ve got enough to watch, and I`m taking a course Monday nights anyway.

Page48 said...

Hardcore procedurals have only one rightful place, IMO, and that is in a time capsule buried deep beneath the earth's crust.

Instead, not only are they alive and well today, but they're the long distance runners of TV-land. The CSI franchise alone sits somewhere around 700 episodes with an aggregate of some 27 seasons. WTF?? Even the 2nd bloody spinoff is in S7, having itself aired more episodes than BtVS.

I guess it's no wonder that those of us who prefer to consume our TV from a serial bowl are in an uphill battle. The formula that works best is the one that's working against us.

So, I understand why JJ has to peddle these shows as being mostly self-contained stories accessible to "casual viewers", but my hope is that he's just paying lip service to the network bed-wetters, and that, like "Fringe", the good stuff will come to those of us with the patience of Job.

RickR said...

I really enjoyed "Alcatraz", though I can definitely sympathize with everyone's reservations noted in the comments here. I just felt that "Alcatraz" had a certain something, some spark that put it above "Flashforward" or "The Event" (both of which stunk of failure from their respective pilots IMO), so I'll be watching to see where this goes.

We've all ben spoiled by LOST's pilot, which is so spectacularly great, but pilots are generally creaky affairs- setting up characters and situations in a hurry, trying to get forward momentum happening while delivering necessary exposition. (The pilot for "American Horror Story" was pretty dreadful, and while series never became great, it got a lot better.) Shows don't really find their feet until 4-6 eps in. So I'll give "Alcatraz" some time.

KathyT said...

I watched it not expecting much but boy, I was blown away! I only heard about it because I started refollowing Gorge Garcis's Blog and he posted on it Monday.
I sat glued to the screen silent during the whole 2 hrs.
We have a winner! now to keep it on the air!

Christina B said...

It appears that the reason I loved it was the main reason most disliked it!

The "inmate of the week" aspect. I really look forward to meeting a new inmate (or guard) each week, finding out why they were sent to Alcatraz, who they were, and what they've been sent back to do.

The only thing I can think to compare it to is Supernatural.
In this current season, they've gone back to their roots and have a 'monster of the week'. I much prefer that over last season.

With Alcatraz, we get the best of both worlds. A long, drawn-out story arc AND stand-alone episodes, each having a "_____ of the week" story.

Colleen/redeem147 said...

The only thing I can think to compare it to is Supernatural.

Don't like that one either. (Unless it has James Marsters.) I enjoyed the MOW episodes of The X-Files, but they weren't waiting for a different cell to be filled every week. That makes no sense to me. Everyone disappeared together but come back on a weekly basis?

Anonymous said...

Nikki - I wasn't feeling it. I do want to know how it turns out though so I'll read your blog!

Can't wait for The River!

-Tim Alan

Jonathan said...

I thought it was entertaining, but I already have some problems with the show. Nikki, don't roll your eyes just yet, but please hear me out. I think my problems with the first episode came more after I watched the second (which I enjoyed more).

In the second episode, the Alcatraz prisoner would pick people off with a sniper rifle. This is what got him in Alcatraz in the first place, so on his return to earth in 2012, he's committing the same crime and still seems to have the same motivations (I won't spoil the ending, but it seems to be the same issues he had back in the 50s).

But then we go back to the first episode, and the character there makes much less sense. In the first episode, the prisoner's crime was robbing a convenience store with a post office (thank you Murder In The First for thinking up this crime for the excellent 1995 movie), but when he returns to the world in 2012, suddenly he's wielding a gun and wants to kill?! It doesn't really work with the person that he was, and I think it's weak to suggest that he's turned into an angry killer because he was in solitary confinement for so many years. Anyway, I just thought the second episode was done really well and the prisoner worked based on his pre-prison crimes, but Sylvane in the first episode seemed out of character based on the little that we know about him.

Anyway, I'm interested to see where things go.

CBP68 said...

I have been looking for LOST as well. Started with Hawaii 5-0 but thought it was too CSI. I loved Alcatraz! Thought it was great with the music, the premise, and a JACK! The underground, immaculate prison is awesome. Reminds me a little of "Con Air". I don't' know why, but it does.

I will also still call Jorge "Hurley"! He's too Hurley for anything else. He must play a similar character. I hope this show stays on. I love it!

Linda said...

I just watched it now and I'm so glad I did...LOVED IT!
I went in not comparing it to Lost and lowered my expectations somewhat. Loved the cast, the overall story concept, the creepiness (agree it reminded by of the X-Files), loved pretty much everything. Yes the script writers need a bit of improving, but I really did enjoy this show!

The best part of tuning in late is that I only have one day to wait until the next episode...yeah!


Page48 said...

@Colleen/redeem147, at the rate of one inmate per week, it would only take about 12 seasons for the last cell to fill up.

Blam said...

I liked the first two episodes of Alcatraz quite a bit. Now that I've seen the third, I'm definitely planning to stick with it for the season unless there's some serious dive in quality. Three episodes in, Person of Interest was doing nothing for me — and Michael Emerson's character, through no fault of his own, recalled Ben Linus too much for me to want to endure frustrating memories of Lost's final season while sticking with a show that left me nonplussed.

Alcatraz is no Lost, true, certainly not in its better days and hopefully not in its worse; if the series is fortunate enough to stick around long enough to disappoint, we'll cross (or burn) that bridge when we come to it. Perhaps Once Upon a Time is trying too hard to be Lost, but I'm not looking at it that way — the flashbacks to the storybook realm from Storybrooke are a valid device on their own merits. There may not be any "next Lost" except in the sense that something may, hopefully will, come along that breaks new ground through a complex narrative that feels fresh yet honors the legacy of good television. Would you call Lost the next anything, other than the next great expectation-defying series that took full advantage of the medium in which it was rooted and newer media as a savvy adjunct in our increasingly multimedia society? The "next Lost" for me is Fringe, not because it was co-created by J.J. Abrams, which of course it was, and not because it's trying to do funky things with narrative like FlashForward, which it isn't, but simply because it's my latest favorite television show, one that rewards cogitating and conversing with friends and acquaintances in person and online.

Even before Lost broke my heart, Supernatural edged it out in terms of the show that I purely enjoyed the most, because it was meaty and dramatic and funny and innovative but didn't require the brainpower that Lost did, and Fringe was edging up on Supernatural then. Alcatraz is striking a balance between procedural and mythology that's fine for me right now, with the only thing that at least at present looks likely to bug me over the long haul being that convenient rollout of the inmates popping up more-or-less once per episode — well, okay, that plus the outdated comic books racked at the shop like new, and, yeah, sometimes the generally brilliant Michael Giacchino's overdone trembling violins. I have other television series to push other buttons for me, both within and outside the hourlong drama format.

VW: venetee — A venerable manatee.

LoyallyLOST said...

My husband & I are hooked! The pilot was phenominal. But, it has since pretty much disappointed us the last 2 episodes. Especially the one with the child killer. This past episode was better. Could NOT watch when the guy used the safety deposit box tool on people! UGH! We won't stop watching it, of course. Because we KNOW that our shows can drag at times! With me~it was the Tailies on LOST. I absolutely could NOT stand Ana Lucia. So, ANYway, we will continue to watch Alcatraz because it is a great show!
We watched the premiere of 'Touch'. OH MY GOSH!!! There go those numbers again!!! LOVE IT! Hubby likes it more than Alcatraz.
HOW on earth do these people keep coming up with these great shows! LOVE them!!!