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Alcatraz (FOX) - Series Premiere: Synopsis and Review

Updated on April 21, 2013

FOX’s new Sci-Fi drama ‘Alcatraz’ premiered this Monday with a double episode. This is the second J.J. Abrams (‘Alias’, ‘Lost’) show to premiere this season, after CBS’s ‘Person Of Interest’. However, it is unclear what exact role Abrams played himself, he didn’t create, write or direct. Showrunner was Elizabeth Sarnoff (a writer from ‘Lost’), but she left the show due to ‘creative differences’. Still highly anticipated, ‘Alcatraz’ was one of the eight ‘Most Exciting New Series’ at the 1st Critics’ Choice Television Awards.

In contrast to what we all believe, on March 21, 1963, the Alcatraz inmates weren’t transferred elsewhere when the prison was shut down. On the contrary; all 256 inmates and 46 guards had disappeared from the prison during that night, and for the last 40 years, nobody has ever heard from them again. Until now.

SFPD Detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) finds a fingerprint of disappeared Alcatraz inmate Jack Sylvane (Jeffrey Pierce) at the murder scene of the former deputy warden of Alcatraz. Right away, her case gets taken over by mysterious FBI agent Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill, ‘Jurassic Park’), but the case has already drawn her attention. She contacts Alcatraz expert Dr. Diegeo ‘Doc’ Soto (Jorge Garcia, ‘Lost’) and together, they start investigating on the island of Alcatraz. Soon, they get captured by Hauser and his assistant (Parminder Nagra, ‘ER’), who seem to know a lot more than they’re willing to tell. Hauser shows them video footage of Sylvane attacking the former deputy warden, and although Sylvane is officially dead, and was born 85 years ago, he looks just like he did when he disappeared in 1963.

On flashbacks from 1960, we find out that the inmates of Alcatraz know that something bad is about to happen. They don’t seem to know what exactly, though. Furthermore, we see Jack Sylvane running around the city, seemingly fully prepared to settle some things from the past, leaving a trail of dead bodies behind. Then, it turns out that Jack Sylvane is not alone, and that there is a lot more about to happen.

‘Alcatraz’ definitely lives up to the expectations we have for a J.J. Abrams drama. It is a good combination of mystery, action, suspense and unexpected twists. It seems more like a mash-up of Abrams’ previous hits, such as ‘Lost’, ‘Fringe’ and ‘Person Of Interest’, than anything else. While that is not necessarily a bad thing, ‘Alcatraz’ could eventually become boring.

A real flaw to this show, however, is the development of the characters. The only character that’s got a good back story is ‘prisoner of the week’ Sylvane, and he is already back behind bars. Of course, the story of Rebecca’s grandfather is still out there, and that could enrich her character a lot. However, the question is whether the makers of ‘Alcatraz’ are trying to set this right in the coming episodes, or it’ll become just a procedural that surprises to keep attention, and not to elaborate on the story. All in all, ‘Alcatraz’ is a very promising show with a few quirks that is potentially going to keep a lot of people glued to their televisions.

What do you think of 'Alcatraz'?

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    • Robin Oatley profile imageAUTHOR

      Robin Oatley 

      7 years ago

      Yes, I can see where you're coming from. It seems like the writers think they are giving us great clues that hold us on the edges of our seats. But the clues make so little sense and aren't (yet) adding up to some shocking revelation, making the show just not that interesting at all. We're halfway the season now, with last Monday's episode being #7 of a total of 13, and nothing has really happened at all since we first discovered that the prisoners were returning in the premiere episode. The show is also suffering in the ratings and though I'm still hoping the story will pick up, I'm afraid 'Alcatraz' has already lost too much viewers to survive.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Is anyone else feeling that the show is starting to really drag? It's feeling like lots of smoke and mirrors just for the sake of smoke and mirrors. It's not dramatic treaction or character development as much as it feels like subterfuge designed to enhance the author's own ego and opinion of his use of writing as a craft. Reminds me of "Had we world enough, and time, this coyness, lady, were no crime...."

    • Robin Oatley profile imageAUTHOR

      Robin Oatley 

      7 years ago

      Judi, thanks for reading, commenting and voting! I appreciate it :) Let me know what you think about Alcatraz when you've seen it!

    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judi Brown 

      7 years ago from UK

      Hi Robin - this show is about to hit the screens in the UK, I've seen a couple of trailers for it and was intrigued. I think I will be watching it - thanks for the addition info.

      Voted up etc.

    • Robin Oatley profile imageAUTHOR

      Robin Oatley 

      7 years ago

      Hi Marty, I liked the first two episodes as well. Though I don't really agree with you on the introduction of the characters. For me, there could have been more back story for the main characters, rather than Jack Sylvane only. The third episode provided a little more on Doc, Rebecca and Hauser, though, so it's headed in the right direction.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Hey Robin good write up, I hve put off reading this for a few days until I had seen Alcatraz for myself, I have to say I was pretty impressed. It was a good pilot we are introduced to everyone well, plenty action and mystery. We are getting a Person of Interest type show taking on a new case every week by the looks of things whilst the main plot of where have these people been? Simmers away in the background.

      I have reviewed the show myself on my blog where I have given a couple of theorys on where we might be headed story wise, pretty much like Lost I sat and watched the pilot second guessing myself, come take a look see what you think.

    • Robin Oatley profile imageAUTHOR

      Robin Oatley 

      7 years ago

      Hi Alecia, that will probably the case if you're a character type. Though there have been reshoots of the pilot to add more to the character of Rebecca. I guess we're not the only ones noticing that character development is necessity and they seem to be working on it. So don't give up too soon!

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 

      7 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      I'm on the fence with this. JJ Abrams did an awesome job with the first two seasons of Lost (actually make that 1.5) but anyway after that it got too dense and I lost interest. From what you said, that seems to be the same problem I may have with this. While I understand the need for elaborate plots, I'm more of a character type. If I connect to the characters, then the show is all the more alluring to me. But I'm going to check it out myself to see what I really feel about it. Thanks for sharing.


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