Oh the Things We Have Seen: First Impressions of J.J. Abrams' Alcatraz


Just after fall schedules are determined at networks' upfront presentations in late May, major networks send the pilots of their new programs to the media. These previews are not for in-depth review, because many pilots are retooled, recast, and reshot before they officially debut, and the final product might be much different. But that doesn't mean we can't share some basic ideas of what to expect!


The Show: Alcatraz on Fox; will air Mondays early next year (exact date TBD)

The Cast: Sarah Jones, Jorge Garcia (Hurley from Lost), Sam Neill (Jurassic Park), Parminder Nagra, Robert Forster

Fox's lengthy logline, paraphrased: "When San Francisco Police Department Det. Rebecca Madsen (Jones) is assigned to a grisly homicide case, a fingerprint leads her to a shocking suspect: Jack Sylvane, a former Alcatraz inmate who died decades ago. Given her family history—both her grandfather and surrogate uncle, Ray Archer (Forster), were guards at the prison—Madsen’s interest is immediately piqued, and once the enigmatic, knows-everything-but-tells-nothing government agent Emerson Hauser (Neill) tries to impede her investigation, she’s doggedly committed. Madsen turns to Alcatraz expert and comic book enthusiast Dr. Diego Soto (Garcia) to piece together the inexplicable sequence of events. The twosome discovers that Sylvane is not only alive, but he’s loose on the streets of San Francisco, leaving bodies in his wake. And strangely, he hasn’t aged a day since he was a prisoner at Alcatraz. Madsen and Soto reluctantly team with Agent Hauser to stop Sylvane’s vengeful killing spree. The team will ultimately discover that Sylvane is only a small part of a much larger, more sinister present-day threat. For while he may be the first, it quickly becomes clear that Sylvane won’t be the last prisoner to reappear from Alcatraz."

Early Intel: Alcatraz is J.J. Abrams series, and the pilot I watched has his fingerprints all over it. Fox was originally reluctant to pick up the series because it didn't really know what the show was about (as is the case with most of Abrams' shows), but showrunner Elizabeth Sarnoff (a producer on Lost) gave the network a general overview of the big picture, and Fox bought it.

First Thoughts: My interest in the show wavered a bit after watching, as what unfurled on the screen was just a straight procedural peppered with a bigger mystery. But there's still plenty of hope for the series, as that's pretty much how Fringe started, and now it's one of the best shows on TV. It looks like Alcatraz may take the same route of disguising itself as a procedural because that's what networks like, and eventually evolve into a serialized drama brimming with intrigue and sci-fi elements. But will it be too little, too late? And will Fox try to keep a tight leash on it?

What it has going for it: It's J.J. Abrams, so of course there are tons of great questions in the pilot that you'll want to see answered. How did people disappear from Alcatraz decades ago and why are they reappearing now? Who the heck is Hauser? Etc., etc. There are also some cool flashbacks to the '60s, and who doesn't love Sam Neill? Plus, there's a huge opportunity for some amazing guest-casting with the criminal-of-the-week format.

Room for Improvement: There oughta be a TV genre called "J.J. Abram-edies," because there's a familiar formula at play here. One mysterious event is just the surface of a larger, more important enigma—with a secret organization behind it all. And no one answers the "Tell me what happened!" or "What's going on?" request, ever. Will Alcatraz be the same thing we've seen before dressed in a prison jumpsuit?

The Coolest Part of the Early Version: Nothing super noteworthy, but the pilot was shot largely on-location in gorgeous San Francisco.

Last Word: This isn't Abrams' best TV work (Lost), nor is it his worst (Undercovers); so far it's somewhere in between.


Here's ABC's official trailer for the series:


Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

Comments (34)
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Hmmm looks interesting....but I'm afraid that this may end up like "flashforward"....Fox is really good at canceling series....:(
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No thanks
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I have to say Alcatraz looks pretty amazing so fingers crossed that it beats out Lost as J.J. Abrams new masterpiece :)
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Procedural shows should be the downfall of modern television, yet people continue to watch them and it baffles my mind. I've enjoyed Fringe because of J.J. and I've enjoyed Castle because of Fillion, but every other procedural show is completely unnecessary. I believe we have somewhere around a half dozen or more crime shows starting this fall and it just sickens me that networks think people will watch this, and even more so because I know people WILL watch them. Dexter and Fringe are two of the best examples of procedural shows done right and I wish more networks would try to do something more unique like them.
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i really like fringe and lost was great drama and suspence,but we know that mr abrams can fail like the rest of us. last yrs spy "horror" showed us that. m night shyamalan is showing us the same thing these days. but he has had enough great success to give his work more than just a passing glance. so i will certainly give it the 1st several weeks and hope it is so good i don't have to think about it. i have to say however that the premise seems flat,but i thought the premise of alphas was overdone and it has been a great ride.
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i love the idea for the show, but I'm worried how its going to play out.
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I generally like JJ's shows, but they tend to fizzle at the end. I'll probably watch this, at least for a few episodes.
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I bet it's gonna be a good show and then Fox is going to cancel it as they do to every good new show.
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I'll definitely check it out. i just wish it was on ABC vs. Fox, as I hate investing time in Fox serials knowing they'll have a short leash.
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Sam Neill is always worth a glance. And J. J. Abrams has "Lost" and "Fringe" on his resume. I like the concept, will give it a shot, and will expect good things from it.
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Loved the trailer, and JJ Abrams did good work with Fringe and Alias. So, I'll definitely be watching.
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JJ has lost the plot as in there's rarely a plot in his series any longer...This appears to be no different
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This is probably the new show I am looking forward to the most. Too bad it doesn't premiere until next year.
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Wait & see
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I'll be checking this one!!!!
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Okay I'm sold I'll give it a shot.
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Loved the trailer. Sam Neill is always amazing, and the potential for the flashbacks could be very cool. Hated the lead woman, Jones, seen her character before, and nothing of her in that trailer made me want to watch. Compare that to Olivia, Sidney or Kate!
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Nice Trailer!!! i am deff cheking it out.
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I will gladly watch anything JJ Abrams... Fringe, Alias... good stuff... Never jumped on the Lost train though...
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its a good idea for a show, i hope they pull it off
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Wow. So many JJ Abrams panty sniffers.
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i want compare it to fringe b/c fringe is great(season 4 might be fringe last season)........the name jj makes me want to watch i mean i love alias,undercovers,and fringe so jj does know how to tell a story.......the problem comes in with fox,i wont even watch terra nova b/c i know its gone get cancel even tho it seems good.im not fina put myself through that.fringe is the only show i watch on fox(dark angel,dollhouse, and termiantor the sarah connor chronicles are 3 shows that got cancel.not 1 but 3 thats too many which makes fox unreiable.),....i cant believe the cw is better than fox(i never thought i would say that).the cw gives their shows chances unlike fox who cancel it when it hit the 4 million mark when on the cw 4 million would be the biggest numbers for them...i want to watch this show so bad but i cant watch anymore new shows especially on fox b/c im scarde of shows getting canceled.at least on the cw i know i show has a good chance of staying alive.
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I like that Elizabeth Sarnoff has at least some sort of a big picture plan in my mind for the show. I hate when writers don't and then end up winging it and give us episodes like the mid-season of The Event. What ever happened to that aging serum and the little girls? If you are going to start a sci-fi mystery you'd better have some sort of game plan in mind. Fringe started out as a procedural, and kept dropping in hints at a bigger picture which they eventually started showing the audience. I hope Alcatraz is able to pull that off as well. Then again, it's airing on Fox... the king of cancelling excellent programming.
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@tryptz What the hell are you talking about? He's had one failed show (Undercovers) and the others are all GREAT. Are you saying Fringe is crappy, because it's amazing. Anyways, I'm sure this show will be good. Fringe started out the same way, and became really special. At least people actually watch procedurals...let's just hope Fox doesn't screw with it like they did with Fringe.
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Seriously the name JJ Abrams is been going to the dogs one crappy show after another But this looks interesting. Will keep an open mind....again.
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I agree. I approach his stuff in the same way.
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Does Sam Niell do anything that isn't genre fiction?
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Because of my love of Alias, I'll definitely give it a go since its another JJ Abrams. Hopefully it doesn't go the route of Lost and become utterly ridiculous.
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I still plan on tuning in when it premieres.
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excited
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I may only watch this for Sam Neil, oping it turn out more like Fringe than Lost.
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I'll definitely tune in
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I heart Sam Neill, but sad there are no dinosaurs on this Island :c But it will be nice to see Garcia on my telly again.
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Hmm. JJ, I am disappoint.
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