Alcatraz – FOX — 8PM
Another show from mastermind J.J. Abrams is about to premiere on network TV and that show is Alcatraz. Though chunks of the story take place on an island and one of the show’s leads is Jorge Garcia, Alcatraz and the intrigue that oozes from the promotional lead up to tomorrow night’s premiere is far different than what fans know from Lost. First, a quick mention of the plot: The show tells a story where Alcatraz inmates disappear from their cells in 1963 and mysteriously reappear in modern day society. A secret task force led by Sam Neill (of Twin Peaks fame) and Parminder Nagra (ER) manage to round up Sarah Jones who plays a homicide detective and Garcia who’s an Alcatraz expert and together they investigate the reappearances and ultimately try to unravel the mystery behind it all. In a tw0-part interview conducted by FOX, Abrams admits that when Lost was on, people were either invested in the show and watched every week or they likely didn’t watch at all. With Alcatraz he thinks that it plays more like a procedural (think inmate reappearance of the week) and because of this people will have an easier time jumping into the show even if they had missed previous installments. And for avid viewers who get hooked with the pilot, there will certainly be nuggets planted that tie episodes together for a more serialized feel. Having watched the pilot twice at Comic Con, I can say that the two-hour pilot will definitely hook Lost fans and at the same time it should help distance it from Abrams’ ABC hit. In this way Alcatraz will make room for newcomers to the procedural/serial hybrid and to the genre fare outputted under Abrams’ Bad Robot banner.
If you’re looking for a new show with mystery and intrigue and smarts, tune into the Alcatraz premiere Monday night at 8PM on FOX. Next week it falls into its regular 9PM timeslot airing after House. Check out stylized cast photos below and hop after the break to watch the two-part Abrams interview.
At Comic Con I was afforded the opportunity to watch the Alcatraz pilot not once but twice. Warner Bros. held a screening on preview night, and then during Comic Con proper I sat through the screening plus panel featuring the show’s stars Sarah Jones and Jorge Garcia, showrunner/writer Liz Sarnoff, and director Jack Bender. Here are my initial thoughts:
Alcatraz is from J.J. Abrams; the ending credits begin with the Bad Robot squeal. It takes place on an Island. It’s overtly mysterious. It makes use of flashbacks and a loud sound like closing prison doors clanks before and after each time jump. It stars Jorge Garcia, known to most heavy TV viewers as Hurley Reyes. It is extremely hard not to compare this show with Lost. The plot elements and even the behind-the-scenes pedigree (Sarnoff and Bender wrote and directed pivotal Lost episodes, respectively) radiate elements from the arguably the greatest mystery piece of our generation. At the panel, Sarnoff admitted that they’re “embracing Lost similarities” but at the same time “we’re our own show, we want to do our own thing.”
So how did their “own thing” work in the pilot? Pretty well, actually. By no means is this pilot grander than what Abrams directed for Lost back in 2004. That said, it still managed to pique my interest enough to have me recommend others to tune in when it premieres midseason (Sarnoff confirmed it’ll begin its run in January). I am not going to recap the entire episode; I think it’s best for you to watch the mystery unfold when the episode airs. However, I will reveal that the pilot generates a ton of mythology from the get-go and hopes that bits of it (if not all of it) sticks and pulls you in so that you’ll tune in again the following week. The pilot introduces a story where Alcatraz inmates disappear from their cells in 1963 and mysteriously reappear in modern day society. Sam Neill (Twin Peaks) plays Emerson Hauser, a man who heads a secret task force with Parminder Nagra (ER) aiming to figure out exactly why the inmates are coming back and who’s pulling the strings to make it happen. Strong female lead (J.J. knows how to find them) Sarah Jones is Rebecca Madsen; she teams with Jorge Garcia’s Dr. Diego Soto (an Alcatraz expert) to investigate the disappearances and reappearances. Eventually they get caught up in the middle of Neill’s long on-going investigation and they agree to help Neill and Nagra forge onward. That’s essentially what’s set up in the pilot. Sarnoff explained that the show will act like a procedural (there’ll be an “inmate of the week” that wrecks havoc in present day) with serialized elements (flashbacks will explore Alcatraz history and slowly reveal the mystery behind the reappearance of the inmates). My hope is that the inmates, especially the one featured in the pilot (Jack Sylvane played by the suave and sophisticated Jeffrey Pierce), are factored into the story more than I think they will be. Without spoiling the pilot’s conclusion, I will say that it seems like we won’t be seeing Sylvane in the present all that often (and no, he doesn’t get killed).
I can’t reiterate this enough: comparisons to Lost will be made when Alcatraz premieres early next year. Thing is, the core audience that’ll give Alcatraz a try are coming from Lost and they want a show that can compete with that great achievement in TV history. Like almost all genre shows, if Alcatraz wants to succeed and step out of the shadow of Lost it’ll have to balance plot mythology with deep character exploration. Sarnoff need only look at another Abrams show Fringe for an idea on how to do that. If the promising and intriguing Alcatraz manages not to get lost in confusing mythos (no pun intended) and puts character development and relationships first, I have high hopes that it’ll shine as the next great genre story that network TV has been desperately trying to tell once more.
Stills from the panel hang below.
So much for my Evangeline Lilly prediction. After scooping up Lost‘s Jorge Garcia for his upcoming FOX pilot based on the infamous prison, J.J. Abrams has cast the lead female role for the show. Sarah Jones has been featured in a number of TV series including House, Justified, and Sons of Anarchy. This (hopefully) will be her breakout role and cement her as Abrams’ latest leading female powerhouse (she follows Felicity‘s Keri Russell, Alias‘ Jennifer Garner, Lost‘s Evangeline Lilly, Fringe‘s Anna Torv, and we must include Undercovers‘ Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Jones will play Rebecca Madsen, “a smart, thoughtful and a little obsessive police officer.” She’s gorgeous–but then again, Abrams’ knows how to pick his leading ladies.
Also joining the show are Jonny Coyne (Undercovers) and Jason Butler Harner (Fringe). Coyne will play Alcatraz Warden Edwin James and Harner is Associate Warden E.B. Tiller “who enjoys and abuses his power.”
Alcatraz “centers on a group of missing Alcatraz prisoners and guards who reappear in the present day. It chronicles the efforts of a team of FBI agents to track them down and unravel the mystery behind their disappearance thirty years prior.” Abrams, Bryan Burk, and Elizabeth Sarnoff are attatched to the Warner Bros. TV/Bad Robot project. Production begins next month.
Update: More cast additions have been made. According to Deadline, Sam Neill (Happy Town) will play Emerson Hauser, “the head of a government agency who radiates authority and piercing intelligence”; Parminder Nagra (ER) is Hauser’s lab technician, Lucy; Robert Forster (Heroes) is Ray Archer, “a retired detective who is now owner/bartender of a cop hangout bar.” Alcatraz characters are getting cast in rapid succession, so exciting!
Jorge Garcia is island hopping from one J.J. Abrams show to another. Lost’s Hurley will be joining Abrams’ show about the famous prison Alcatraz. And Deadline’s got some insight into the mysterious plot. It “centers on a group of missing Alcatraz prisoners and guards who reappear in the present day. It chronicles the efforts of a team of FBI agents to track them down and unravel the mystery behind their disappearance thirty years prior.” And who will Garcia play, you ask? A “hippy geek” Dr. Diego Soto, “the world’s foremost expert on Alcatraz.” If you’re a Lost fan you must be feeling ecstatic! Michael Emerson (Ben Linus) and Terry O’Quinn (John Locke) are returning to television in Abrams’ Odd Jobs (working title) and Garcia is set to return in another Abrams series. Life is good, huh?
The Alcatraz spec script was written by Elizabeth Sarnoff (Lost, Deadwood), and she will serve as executive producer along with Abrams and Bryan Burk (Alias, Lost) on the Warner Bros. TV/Bad Robot project. FOX picked up a pilot commitment for the show back in September, and production will begin in January.
J.J. Abrams, creator of Felicity, Alias, Lost, Fringe, and the upcoming NBC spy show Undercovers, is readying two new dramas for network TV. Variety reports that FOX has picked up Alcatraz, a series based on the famous island prison that was shut down in 1963. The spec script was written by Elizabeth Sarnoff (Lost, Deadwood). Sarnoff will serve as executive producer along with Abrams and Bryan Burk (Alias, Lost) on the Warner Bros. TV/Bad Robot project.
Next up is Person of Interest, another Abrams-backed project that was just picked up by CBS, according to NYMag. The source describes it as an hour-long crime thriller. Jonah Nolan, brother of film director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight), is penning the pilot script and serves as co-creator with Abrams. Can someone say dream team?! This marks the first time Nolan contributing to a TV series. He is best known for his collaboration work with his brother on The Dark Knight & The Prestige; he also wrote the short story that inspired Memento. The fact that CBS of all networks reportedly picked up this particular series is somewhat startling. CBS is known for playing it safe by strictly airing procedural shows that people can tune into at any time without worrying about missing key plot developments (think the CSI franchise, The Mentalist, etc.). The Abrams/Nolan series might just break the CBS mold by premiering a more serialized show that demands weekly viewing. And that makes me very, very giddy.
As you might guess, very little to no information regarding plot and casting has leaked about these new Abrams projects. But you can be sure I’ll report back when things start to ramp up. If all goes according to plan, I’m hoping the new dramas will be ready to premiere next fall.