Hoo boy. I almost couldn’t get through this one. Don’t get me wrong, Alcatraz has a couple of really strong things in its favor (namely, Jorge Garcia and the premise itself), but I’d say at this point that the things I don’t like far outweigh the things I actually like.
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There’s one point the two-part series premiere of Alcatraz (only on Fox!) that was so mind-boggling (and not in a pleasant way) that I just could not get past it. It’s all I could dwell on from the second I saw it through the rest of the episode through me writing this review. So rather than dwell on this too much, I’m just gonna put it out there and let the internet judge for itself. Is this a major flaw? Is it a minor one? Does anyone care at all?
Let’s find out.
So as the first half of this two-parter comes to a close, and spunky detective Rebecca Madsen starts to get acclimated to a life of hunting down Alcatraz prisoners who have mysteriously traveled from 1960 to the present day, we get a hum-dinger of a twist: Rebecca’s grandfather, who she knew as an Alcatraz guard, was actually not a guard but a prisoner, and had himself been magically warped into the present day. Plus it turns out her time-travelling grampa’s the guy who killed her partner in the beginning of the episode.
That’s a big deal, right? Granted, I get that it was explained that Rebecca’s parents died when she was very young (and that she was raised by the always-a-pleasure-to-see-on-screen Robert Forster), and I’m assuming her grandparents were similarly unknown to a young Rebecca. That’s fine. But the show devotes zero time to actually seeing her come to terms with this information. She doesn’t really dwell on it at all. She doesn’t really think about it. She just found out her grandfather was a killer and an inmate in Alcatraz, and she doesn’t seem affected in the slightest by any of this.
Now at this point I’m still enjoying the show, plot annoyances and all. But that’ll all change in just a few moments. Rebecca and her sidekick, published Alcatraz expert Dr. Diego Soto (Jorge Garcia, who’s got a very at-ease, affable presence that’s a joy to watch) discuss Rebecca’s jailbird grandfather. Note that this is the first and only time you’ll ever hear the “my grandpa was a time-traveling murderer” storyline spoken of after its initial introduction. Here’s the dialogue in question:
Rebecca, while reading from Soto’s Alcatraz book, says, “Tommy Madsen. My Grandfather. Inmate 2002. Life without parole for murdering his wife.”
Did anyone else pick up on that? Anyone? “Murdering his wife?” Did Grandpa Madsen kill Grandma Madsen? Does Rebecca care about this at all? Why is the show just glossing over this?
And at this point there were so many angry, frustrated questions sprouting in my brain that it became a chore to finish the two-hour pilot. Which is a shame. Really. Alcatraz puts a solid, unique spin on your basic police procedural and Jorge Garcia is an absolute treat to watch onscreen, but this show is so focused on throwing a new plot twist in the works for every commercial break that there’s no real meat to any of the drama.
Here’s my other example: Lucy. Lucy is a character who’s present for most of the pilot. For about the first hour, she stands near Sam Neill whenever he’s present and has little to no dialogue. We have no idea who she is or what her character is like in any way. Later, she heads out on a mission and it’s revealed she’s in a relationship with Sam Neill. Throughout all of this, she says next to nothing and has barely any interaction whatsoever with Rebecca, Soto, or anyone at all. Then she gets shot.
And we get this long, drawn-out scene of Soto and Rebecca in anguish, both clearly upset over the fallen Lucy. And, as cruel as this sounds… should they really care? Neither Rebecca nor Soto had any real interaction with Lucy. The audience doesn’t get any real interaction with Lucy. She mostly just stands next to Sam Neill, saying and doing nothing. I had no idea she had a name until Sam Neill says it towards the end. She was just in the show we could have a major character get shot early on, but no one thought to give her any real depth in any way so the whole thing comes off as cheap and forced. And later we get the BIG REVEAL that Lucy can also time-travel, but again… no huge impact.
So yeah, I’m ranting and raving about minor inconsistencies with the characters, but I’m getting to a larger point here, and that’s this: Alcatraz is a show that will jettison things like coherency and character development for the sake of having a big new twist at the end of every episode. It could have delved into the repercussions of Rebecca’s grandfather being a killer. It could have actually had a Lucy with some kind of personality. But, if Alcatraz did all those things, it wouldn’t have time to set up every big plot twist we get in this pilot.
So was this basically a one-note review? Yes. Yes it was. But that note is clear. And it has a message.
Stay away from Alcatraz….
(the show, that is)
Stay faaaaaar awaaaaayyy…..