Friday, February 10, 2012

Escape From Alcatraz

The worst phrase for my television viewing sanity is "from J.J. Abrams, creator of LOST."  I was consumed by LOST for years, exhaustively watching and re-watching episodes, hoping to find some easter egg clue in the DVD releases and then got a whopping nothing burger of a final season that sucked so bad, anytime the show's name comes up, I react like a Muggle hearing the name of "he who must not be named."  Of course, like a bad relationship that ends, but does not really end, the next time a J.J. Abrams-blessed show starts, I get sucked right back in.

Wisely, I watched the premiere of Person of Interest and bailed immediately.  A crime procedural wrapped around Ben Linus and the guy who played Jesus in The Passion of Christ was a total no-go for me.  When the promos for Alcatraz started running, I was mildly intrigued, but wary of getting involved in another bad romance with J.J. and the crew from Bad Robot.  The premise was LOST-ish  in that it has a LOST star (Jorge Garcia a/k/a "Hurley"), a sassy, yet street-wise female heroine, a mystery (inmates disappeared from Alcatraz in 1963 and are re-appearing in 2012) and an ambiguously good/bad male lead (Sam Neill).  

Unfortunately, the producers at Bad Robot took all the wrong lessons away from the fan backlash at the shitty ending to LOST.  The conventional wisdom said that "mythology" shows like LOST could not succeed because the mystery itself was what made the show interesting (not the answer) and therefore, continuing to build mystery upon mystery only made the show more byzantine and unbelievable, until it collapsed under its own weight.  To me, the take away was much simpler - don't produce shitty endings that piss off your fan base.  But hey, that's me.  

So what did the Bad Robot crew do?  They followed the conventional wisdom and dialed down the "mythology" aspect of Alcatraz to an afterthought and gave us what is basically a cops and robbers show with little in the way of compelling story telling, substituted the iconic LOST flashback "WHOOSH" with the more predictable (and overt) "rattling of jail cell" sound (and visual) just in case you didn't realize WE ARE FLASHING BACK IN TIME.  It's not even LOST 101, it's more like a remedial course in how to both submarine a good genre (mythology) and attach it, like a barnacle, to the lowest common denominator TV drama (the crime procedural).  

The mythology portion of the show - what happened to the inmates and guards that were on Alcatraz in 1963 - is touched on so elliptically (and briefly) this viewer sometimes forgets why it is we even care that random people with Brylcreemed hair are aimlessly roaming the streets of San Francisco.  Garcia's role as a "brilliant" (is there another kind in TV these days?) Ph.D and author is basically a warmed over version of his LOST character and Neill's FBI Agent Hauser is shifty and secretive but because so little time is invested in sprinkling clues about the mythology of why this is all occurring, he just comes off as dickish.  Yes, there is a hidden prison and some supporting tech geeks that can seemingly track down information and locations at the push of a button, but unlike LOST, which so deftly wove in the Island as a part of the story, especially in the first season, Alcatraz cannot seem to decide what kind of show it wants to be - a drama that is accessible to regular viewers or a new age LOST that will but attract the "fan boy" crowd.  Unfortunately, in trying to split the difference, the show is aimless and not particularly interesting.  

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