Alcatraz: Pilot/Ernest Cobb

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.

Don’t believe me? Well, click “Continue Reading” and unlock the mystery for yourself.

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…..



19 responses to “Alcatraz: Pilot/Ernest Cobb

  1. Hi, been reading your reviews for a few weeks now and think you’re doing a great job. I share a lot of your opinions, and actually check what you write about new shows before I decide to watch them or not. Good looking site, and good, enjoyable, slightly sarcastic, funny writing. I’ll be checking out “Justified” and I’ll be staying away from “Alcatraz”… there you go, you saved me a couple of hours of trying to like (yet another) badly written show. Thanks and keep it up!

  2. I love your review! The best part really is Jorge Garcia is in it. I loved him in Lost and it is only fitting that he do something else really weird with J.J. Abrams. But the character development is lacking. I do find that the indifference of Rebecca is much like Olivia from Fringe (also Fox) and that eventually her emotions start to come through, but her first impression is harsh indifference because of the job. That’s the only slack I’m giving them on the characters because what they did with that Lucy chick just makes me mad. Why weren’t we told that she was a time-traveler? Wouldn’t that be good information for us AND Rebecca and Soto? And why the hell do I feel like Sam Neill is just going to pull a raptor egg from a drawer and laugh maniacally? Haha, anyway, love your review look forward to reading more!

    • Thanks for your comment! And it would not be a stretch at all to see raptor eggs start popping up in Alcatraz- personally, I think any and every show would improve if you started throwing in some dinosaur action.

      • Have you watched Terra Nova yet? It’s not the pawn off of Jurassic Park like everyone thinks. I find it very interesting! If you haven’t checked it out you definitely should. There are some flaws as well, but I love the characters and the technology in it.

      • I haven’t checked out Terra Nova, but I’ve been thinking about it for a while now. It does seem like it’d be a show to watch more for fun than for serious viewing, but I’m a huge (HUGE) sucker for dinosaurs and Terra Nova seems to have dinosaurs aplenty.

      • The dinos are different than Jurassic Park. They made them specifically to separate not only from the period it’s shot, but also to show they can do other things. Plus the period the show is set there are only 10% dinos discovered in real life so they have some creative liberty with them. They have the same expert as they did for Jurassic and he’s authenticating the new dinos as close to what they would be. It is really interesting and the story is definitely different. It’s not what you would expect of futuristic humans finding a time rift and jumping through 85 million years ago. Check out the first episode and see what you think. I think it’s enjoyable and thought provoking.

  3. Like your blog… Will try to keep up with your writing.
    Did watch the first two of Alcatraz & so far so good… Can’t say if its gonna make it big at all, but looks like a good sincere effort at something different.


    • Thanks for your comment! Even though I wasn’t a huge fan of Alcatraz, I have to commend it for having a premise that’s appealing and VERY unique.

      Cheers to you too!

  4. I’ve watched the first three episodes and can’t help wondering if this will be on the air long enough to explain it all. I think I’m still a little bitter over “Life On Mars”. I hate it when a show gets cancelled before the mysteries of the plot have been revealed.

  5. Your criticisms of Alcatraz are spot on. At my house we gave it one more shot after the 2hr pilot and then pronounced not worth watching, Like you said the premise seems like great idea, but episodes are formulaic and the characters are a bore. I had the same reaction to my first and last three episodes of Person of Interest. One more thought, I think they should have made that blonde lady on Alcatraz into a lesbian, IMHO.

    • Is she even definitively straight? I can’t remember if they gave her a love interest at all. Either way, I don’t actually care that much. Hooray for poorly written characters!

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