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While this is a review for the first and, sadly, the only season of J.J. Abrams' ALCATRAZ, this will also be, in part, a rant against Fox Broadcasting and how quickly they forgot their roots.

Let's begin with the review though. First, a quick rundown of the plot: Back in March of 1963, Alcatraz officially closed. All the prisoners were transferred to other prisons. This is the official story, but it's not the way it happened. In actuality, 256 inmates of Alcatraz as well as 46 guards mysteriously vanished and no one knows where... until now, that is. Mysterious and shadowy Federal Agent Emerson Hauser (the terrifically underrated Sam Neill) appears in San Francisco just around the time that our main protagonist SFPD Detective Rebecca Madsen (the talented and lovely Sarah Jones, who doesn't have a lot of credits to her name) loses her partner to a fleeing suspect. Madsen comes into direct contact and conflict with what Agent Hauser is trying to do when two men are murdered in the same day by a man who was one of the vanishing convicts and also looks exactly the same as he did in 1963. Enlisted in the search for this killer is the cuddly, lovable and very intelligent comic geek man-child Dr. Diego Soto (Jorge Garcia aka Hurley from LOST) who is considered to have written the definitive works on Alcatraz and its inmates. Along with Hauser's assistant, Dr. Lucy Banerjee (the talented and lovely Parminder Nagra, who first made a splash as the co-star of BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM and then onto ER), they form something of a secret task force to find the rest of the missing "63's".

However, as with LOST, we have flashbacks as well to when the prison was still active, and secrets aplenty during that timeframe, kept primarily by Warden Edwin James (a terrific Jonny Coyne), who is a man of seemingly infinite patience and a sadistic streak a mile wide. Also joining the cast from time to time is Ray Archer (the great Robert Forster), who is Rebecca's uncle and a former guard at Alcatraz who ALSO has some secrets in his past. The cast is terrific, and the characters as we come to know them are extremely engaging. The scene-stealer though is always Coyne as Warden James, who has a kindly and almost beatific smile while he's twisting the knife even further into his inmates. His presence alone is tremendously unnerving.

The big questions, as with LOST (which is really the best analogue for this show), are who, what, where and why: What is responsible for the disappearences; Who are some of these escapees working for; Where did they go; and of course, Why is all of this happening? Sadly, unlike LOST, this was a program that had a pretty big start but viewership cooled enough that by the end of the first season, despite a really terrific thirteen episodes and one heck of a season finale, Fox decided to drop it, leaving far too many questions unanswered, namely all of the ones I just listed.

Now, I can understand that there are a few problems with this show that need to be addressed, and probably would have been improved upon in the second season. First and most importantly is that this show, while being a lot like LOST, wasn't quite enough like LOST. Over the past several years, there have been a glut of procedural crime thrillers/dramas that have come down the TV pipelines and one that has a sci-fi "what if" type of concept wasn't quite enough to differentiate itself from the dozens of others that are still on, for good (BURN NOTICE, PERSON OF INTEREST) or ill (any incarnation of LAW AND ORDER, CSI, or NCIS). Secondly, the show, being only 13 episodes, making way for a mid-season replacement if it wasn't up to snuff for the network that has the biggest show on right now and the lowest production costs (AMERICAN IDOL... argh) needed one of those answers answered. LOST was such a brilliant show all the way up through the end (despite the legions of nay-sayers) because it owned its strangeness and it gave us a large number of characters that we cared about. ALCATRAZ, because it took a procedual drama tack in the midst of all the bizarre goings-on, lost part of that edge and started to lose viewership because the characters were sparse and we just weren't terribly invested in Rebecca Madsen's life because the show wasn't invested either. One thing the show absolutetly did right though was understanding that this was a show that lived and died by its main characters, and while the life of Det. Madsen wasn't very interesting, the lives of Hauser and Doc were interesting enough to keep a forward momentum going. You didn't simply love Doc because he was Hurley from LOST; this was a new character with a new backstory and Garcia really makes the most of it. Sam Neill plays the hell out of Hauser as well. Being a cryptic and mysterious Fed seems to be a staple of J.J. Abrams TV, and he really works this character hard to the point where you care about him despite the fact that he's not very likable.

So while I believe that this show didn't fail from a story, script or acting standpoint, the major letdown was that it didn't let its freak flag fly, like FRINGE or LOST did. ALCATRAZ was pretty darn good television, but it also just wasn't ambitious enough.

Fox obviously has a history of doing this to better shows than this, such as EVERY program that had the name Tim Minear as a producer/creator (FIREFLY being the most glaring example, but also his other shows he was involved in like THE INSIDE, DRIVE, and THE CHICAGO CODE), and a great many other shows in favor of its more insipid programs like AMERICAN IDOL, SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE?, and any number of the other "reality" flavored brands it has out there. FRINGE was it for a really long time and that's getting axed too, but that could simply be because it ran its course. But what Fox doesn't remember is its roots. The show that really seemed to put Fox on the map and make it Stay-at-home viewing was THE X-FILES. It was the ultimate slow-burn show, ratings-wise, and it gave this network a name and a brand. Sadly, the show did decline severely in its last two years, but there's no reason that a show like SVU can stay on for 15 seasons and shows like ALCATRAZ only get one, and not even a complete one at that. This show might have found a better home elsewhere, but I guess we'll never know.

All in all, for people who actually watched this show when it was on, I'm sure you'll enjoy watching the episodes again, but for people just experiencing this for the first time on home video, ALCATRAZ might be an exercise in fuming frustration and leave you screaming for answers after you watch the last episode.

That's not to say that it's not worth the scream.
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The Fox midseason replacement TV series "Alcatraz" is built around the fascinating premise that the 1963 closure of the notorious federal prison was a cover story for the sudden and unexplained disappearance of the inmates and their guards. San Francisco police detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) becomes involved in the mystery when her partner is killed by a man who is supposed to be dead, one of the missing "63's". Rebecca is recruited into a secretive federal task force run by FBI agent Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill), formerly an Alcatraz guard and now in search of the former inmates as they resurface in modern-day San Francisco to resume their criminal careers, mysteriously unaged and still fully lethal.

The story is told on parallel tracks, as Hauser, Rebecca, and Rebecca's unlikely partner Dr. Diego "Doc" Soto (Jorge Garcia) pursue the criminals in the present, while their backstories are told in flashback. The hulking Doc, a comic book store owner and expert on Alcatraz, forms a surprisingly effective team with the diminutive but spunky Rebecca, tracking the "63's" while trying to figure out what secrets Hauser might be hiding in his underground command center on Alcatraz. Each show dropped fresh clues on how and why the inmates might have disappeared, and suggest a conspiracy at work. Each show also expands on the separate and somewhat conflicting agendas of Hauser and Rebecca. The series makes full use of its excellent San Francisco and Alcatraz filming venues, including a spectacular "Bullit" car chase scene in the season finale.

"Alcatraz" is something different, part dark police procedural, part science fiction mystery, and all fun. The season finale was a fast-paced and terrifying cliff-hanger; here's hoping the series gets a second season. Highly recommended.
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on July 20, 2012
"Alcatraz" COULD have worked and worked well...I think its only major flaw was that some of the episodes, particularly midseason, felt more like a crime procedural ("hey, another inmate appeared, let's go get 'im") than a surreal mystery. If only EACH ep had given us a bit of the plot points! It seemed like several went by with little more than a tease into the three keys, the '63s, and the sleazy Warden's master plan...and then in the season finale we had major points all dumped at once!

Still and all...this could have been MAGNIFICENT in a second season. I detest Fox for pulling it.

My question is, WHY can this story not continue in graphic novel form?? Hey you producers and writers, if you're reading this, FINISH THE STORY! I want more Senator BadA-- (aka Hauser -- as Sarah Jones so perfectly called him), more Doc, more Becca, more Warden! I wanna know how it ENDS! Bring in Joss Whedon, bring in any of the supremely talented writers and artists working in comics today, and let this continue the same way "Firefly/Serenity" has! At least let us find out what the heck happened!

Kudos to all who worked on this show. It did not deserve the treatment Fox gave it.
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on February 18, 2012
JJ Abrahms, the creator of the long-running suspense serial Lost starts a new series with elements of mystery, magic and police procedural, however, those looking for realistic procedural should look elsewhere but those looking for serial mysterious suspense should be right at home.

Alcatraz, arguably America's most famous prison was closed in 1963 with all inmates transferred, but that isn't what happened the opening voiceover informs us. Instead, the prisoners and guards disappeared into the ether and were never seen again. Until 50 years later when the criminals start reappearing, unaged and unchanged and committing the horrendous crimes they were incarcerated for.

A young detective with a family connection to Alcatraz catches the first homicide connected with the mysteriously reappearing prisoners. Of course no one else knows this and she figures it out fairly quickly with the help of an Alcatraz historian, Dr. Soto. The detective and Dr. Soto stumble on a mysterious organization tasked with catching the prisoners as the reappear and finding out what happened in the first place. The viewer is given hints that this organization is not all that it seems and that the prisoners may have been the subject of medical experiments that may or may not be related to the current predicament.

Perfect combination of weekly arcs for new viewers and longer arcs for those who like to follow a mystery. Mr. Abrahms excells at grab you by the throat openings but sometimes has trouble with middle and last acts. Viewers will have to see if Alcatraz follows this pattern or breaks it. Intriguing and worth a look.
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on June 18, 2012
Here we go again! Another good show gets buried alive. Im sure some brain-dead "reality" show will get its slot.

I enjoyed the premise and the mystery of the mass escape of the former Alcatraz prisoners. They suddenly start showing up in 2011-2012 at the same age they "disappeared" nearly 50 years later. Few if any know how or why this is happening and I was ready to wait for the story to unfold but appearently im the only one. The show was over before it got started.

Dear: America
When most tv shows go on air it is a story designed to be told over a 5 year period. It's called "the bible"! Every show has one and that's the norm. Each season has an arc and a goal and in the end all of the arcs add up to the main story. Why aren't we willing to wait for the story? I dont get it.

With all being said I have learned, a long time ago, not to judge a show to harshly on it's 1st season alone. Some shows have scetchy 1st seasons and later turn into fantastic shows some of which I own today.

Im not part of this age of instant gratification "stream everything" generation. In fact I hate the word "streaming"! It's all low quality substandard crap anyway and I prefer to keep what I buy - like Blu-Ray discs for example. I want the best of the best. I looked foward to this show and once again I was robbed by people who dont know good tv when they see it.

FRAK ALL YOU HATERS!!!
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VINE VOICEon February 29, 2012
"Alcatraz" was a pleasant surprise. The show, which takes place in both the present and the past, stars Sam Neill, Jorge Garcia (Hugo from the "Lost" series) and Robert Forster, along with Sarah Jones, Parminder Nagra (from "ER") and Leon Rippy ("Leverage," "Saving Grace" and "Deadwood"). Neill plays Emerson Hauser who, it turns out, used to work in conjuction with Alcatraz and, now, much older heads a small team of people who are awaiting the return of Alcatraz inmates and staff who, it turns out, all mysteriously disappeared when the prison was closed back in the early 60s. Hauser, however, is rather secretive and hides much from his team, making you wonder whether he's good, bad or both.

In present day, the inmates and staff begin reappearing (unaged) in the San Francisco area, picking up where they left off (i.e. doing signature crimes, etc.) but also, apparently, executing additional, unaffiliated agendas (acquiring certain items, killing certain people) that they were programmed or brainwashed into doing between the time they disappeared and the time they reappeared.

A well-done science-fiction mystery show that keeps you guessing and coming back for more. Recommended.

March 28, 2012 update: And get this, the Season 1 finale has a car chase in it with a modern Mustang chasing a modern Dodge Charger. The writers were obviously paying homage to Steve McQueen's "Bullitt."
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on January 19, 2012
So far so good. My husband and I were entertained. I used to watch LOST up until I got tired of it a few seasons in... he watched it till the end and loved it. He also loves Fringe so I though this would be a good fit. We will continue to watch. Missed the pilot on TV so decided to download thru Amazon instant video- very happy w/the HD quality and speed of download. When we first hit play, the audio didn't match the actors mouths, so we hit pause and play and it was all good. Using a Roku for viewing.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon August 15, 2012
A midseason replacement on the FOX Network, the crime drama Alcatraz (2012), was cancelled after 12 episodes were produced. Although the series has an outlandish premise, and some of the stories follow a particular pattern, the program features fast paced action, a time bending story structure, interesting characters, ruthless villains, and a level of violence is often strikingly graphic for network television.

Alcatraz prison was closed down by the Federal government in 1963. The premise of the series, executive produced by J.J. Abrams (Alias, Lost, Star Trek), is that rather than closing, 256 prisoners and 46 guards at Alcatraz, mysteriously vanished without a trace. Emerson Hauser, a young police officer, was one of the first to discover the disappearance in 1963.

The FBI has anticipated that the 302 persons who vanished, referred to as "the 63", might someday return. In 2012, Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill), now an FBI agent, is heading an operation tasked with handling the unique situation. The pilot episode shows how SFPD detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones), and Dr. Diego "Doc" Soto (Jorge Garcia), owner of a comic book store, and an expert on Alcatraz, become part of Hauser's operation, which is based at a secret facility on "the Rock".

When one of "the 63" return to the present, they are the same age as when they vanished, and the ex-cons soon return to their criminal ways. Each episode usually involves the team's pursuit of one or more criminals, in the Bay Area. Intertwined with the investigation, are flashbacks of past crimes and events at Alcatraz. Over time, the connection between the past and the present becomes clearer, as characters such as Edwin James (Jonny Coyne), the enigmatic warden of Alcatraz in the early 60's, become integrated into the program's mythos.

Jorge Garcia, who worked previously with Abrams in Lost (2004-10), is great as the eclectic and highly intelligent "Doc". The tough, smart female officer with a dark past has become almost a cliché, but Sarah Jones does it well, and without forced bravado. The dynamic of the Madsen/Solo team is a cornerstone of the series, and the untraditional partnership is an interesting one.

Sam Neill (Event Horizon,Jurassic Park) brings huge gravitas to Hauser, who while calling the shots, is trying to manage the situation to suit his agenda. Alcatraz features some wild storylines, and Hauser's powerful personality helps to pull things together, and smooth over some of the rough spots. The supporting cast is very solid, particularly on the medical front, with Parminder Nagra (Bend It Like Beckham), Leon Rippy, and Jeananne Goossen, all playing medical personnel.

Disappointingly, the series ends on a huge cliffhanger, and leaves most of the key questions unanswered. While the premise of a mass disappearance is farfetched, the series does make the fantasy interesting and exciting, as the action scenes are crisp, and the violence often quite brutal for television. As the season progress, the stories display more diversity and creativity than the more straightforward "catch the fugitive of the week" episodes featured at the start. Although the writing may have gained momentum, by then ratings had fallen, and unfortunately Alcatraz's fate was sealed, leaving a key character in limbo, and several potentially provocative story arcs unexplored. Another example of a worthy program, that just didn't find an audience soon enough.

Alcatraz is well worth viewing. The stories are interesting, production values are high, and the acting is excellent, but be prepared for a story that has little romance, and is ultimately unfinished, with a conclusion that will probably not be very pleasing. Although with good DVD sales and huge fan support, who knows, a "Serenity" type windup might be a possibility.
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VINE VOICEon February 29, 2012
"Alcatraz" was a pleasant surprise. The show, which takes place in both the present and the past, stars Sam Neill, Jorge Garcia (Hugo from the "Lost" series) and Robert Forster, along with Sarah Jones, Parminder Nagra (from "ER") and Leon Rippy ("Leverage," "Saving Grace" and "Deadwood"). Neill plays Emerson Hauser who, it turns out, used to work in conjuction with Alcatraz and, now, much older heads a small team of people who are awaiting the return of Alcatraz inmates and staff who, it turns out, all mysteriously disappeared when the prison was closed back in the early 60s. Hauser, however, is rather secretive and hides much from his team, making you wonder whether he's good, bad or both.

In present day, the inmates and staff begin reappearing (unaged) in the San Francisco area, picking up where they left off (i.e. doing signature crimes, etc.) but also, apparently, executing additional, unaffiliated agendas (acquiring certain items, killing certain people) that they were programmed or brainwashed into doing between the time they disappeared and the time they reappeared.

A well-done science-fiction mystery show that keeps you guessing and coming back for more. Recommended.

March 28, 2012 update: And get this, the Season 1 finale has a car chase in it with a modern Mustang chasing a modern Dodge Charger. The writers were obviously paying homage to Steve McQueen's "Bullitt."
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on August 26, 2015
I consider this to have been the best TV show I've ever seen. We watched it every week. Fox was foolish not to let it play out for a second season. Jorge Garcia is always a treat. Took a while to warm up to Sarah, which was part of the problem. Looking back I do think the casting was right. Still get the DVDs out and watch them.
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