RIP ALCATRAZ

ALCATRAZ, J.J. Abrams’ big contribution to the network TV lineup last fall, was officially executed by Fox this week, after just one brief season of 13 episodes — a decision that was criminal.

So, this is me, being angry that Fox has canceled ALCATRAZ. I thought the thriller was really hitting its stride toward the end of its run, but of course the network could not take the risk of bringing it back when the world is in such dire need of new generic cop shows, dumb comedies and more “reality” series. It would seem ALCATRAZ’s crime was not being more of the same.

When it first appeared, I thought ALCATRAZ would be a limited concept; a one-trick pony: catch the bad guy of the week, toss viewers a few bones about the time-travel element, and move on. However, the-powers-that-be came up with ways to open up the story, using the mysterious inmates from 1963 as a springboard.

By the season/series finale, ALCATRAZ had found its footing and the season finale set up an exciting second year. No longer would the threats be contained to familiar San Francisco settings; the 63 were suddenly appearing all over the country. Now, we will never know what happens — or why anything in the series was happening at all.

I thought a lot of the callbacks to LOST — like the sound of cell door slamming to signal flashbacks — were charming and gave a viewer a sense of connection that went beyond Abrams and series star Jorge Garcia (ex-Hurley), or even setting the action on an another strange island.

In retrospect, I have to deduce that ALCATRAZ was a victim of LOST’s success; viewers were wary of signing up for a long-term mystery with onion-layered plots and twisting backstories. Folks might have been understandably gun-shy that the network would prematurely pull the plug (which it did), or the story would prove ultimately unsatisfying (See LOST) to many.

I really don’t fault ALCATRAZ’s writing, because I cannot think of anything they did that was terribly wrong. As soon as the premise of prisoners from 1963 reappearing in 2012 was established, TPTB set about expanding that concept and putting different spins of it. That was a smart move, because it quickly demonstrated that the series was not going to be just another “catch the baddie of the week” procedural. But the public craves by-the-numbers procedurals, doesn’t it?

Lead actors Garcia (Doc) and Sarah Jones (Madsen) had a nice rapport that wasn’t based on him following her around, drooling. They were work colleagues who liked each other well enough. I wish Nikki (Jeananne Goosen), the hot coroner who wore Golden Age comics T-shirts, had been introduced earlier, as Doc Soto’s infatuation with her was sweet. And her flirting with him pulled Doc back from the brink of being a nerd/geek stereotype. Madsen was also humanized pretty quickly by using her quest for revenge for her partner to let viewers see more and more of what made Rebecca tick. Even craggy Sam Neil’s reticent Hauser was beginning to let his stony façade crack.

Most of all, I am sorry we viewers never got to learn how all this time-travel was accomplished or who was behind it or why. The clues were tantalizing, and I probably have enough information to make up my own explanations, but I wanted to see how it would play out onscreen.

I suppose all the loose ends made the series finale ultimately disappointing, but ALCATRAZ overall was fun while it lasted.

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Oh, yeah? Sez you!

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