J.J. Abrams is a man who I have grown to appreciate despite initial dislike. Yes, I’m one of those people for whom buzz is something to view with suspicion and my initial reaction to Alias—without ever having watched the show, mind you—was cynicism. To this day I have only seen one season of the show, and while I now understand why it captured the viewers it did, I still find it less than enthralling. My problem was with the lead, Jennifer Garner’s Sydney Bristow. I never connected with her, despite the character being well-written and performed. The bottom line was that I never cared about her personal struggles and felt the show was wasting time delving into her personal life. This was, however, the very thing which drew people to the show. It was unique and I could intellectually appreciate that.
Abrams finally won me over with Lost, which was—in its first season—an English major’s dream. It was a short-story cycle on television; it was a series of character pieces set in an over-arching narrative about survival and mystery. I was hooked faster than you could say “John Locke”. Despite my personal opinion about the show falling apart in the end, it was a brilliant piece of television and was compelling for six years. How many shows have done this?
Mr. Abrams and Fox have given us a mid-season replacement in the form of Alcatraz, and on the surface, this seems to be a slam dunk. Just like many Abrams-produced shows, there is a mystery at the core of this show. Here we have the revelation that all the prisoners of the infamous Alcatraz were not transferred when the prison was closed . . . they vanished. Now, in present day, they are returning. Young detective Rebecca Madsen (played by Sarah Jones) and Doctor Diego Soto (Jorge Garcia) must track down the returning inmates and hopefully get answers as to what happened to these men and why they are returning. Their supervisor is Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill), who seems to have more information than they do, but is just as eager for answers as his team. This show is a no-brainer. It must be amazing.
Yet, there is one major problem. I don’t connect with any of the lead characters. They seem to be nothing more than stock characters at the moment. They lack the depth that I grew accustomed to with Lost. The irony here is that the flashbacks of the inmates portray well-rounded, fully realized characters. The audience is exposed to them in all their unfortunate struggles and gruesome details, but our lead cast is bland and uninteresting. In the end, the villains are more sympathetic than the heroes, and this is a horrible mistake in a show such as this, for if we ever get to the inevitable prison-break (in present day), who will we root for?