Release date: October 15th, 2012
Running time: tbc
Creators: Elizabeth Sarnoff, Steven Lilien, Bryan Wynbrandt
Cast: Sarah Jones, Jorge Garcia, Sam Neill, Robert Forster
Alcatraz, situated on Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay was a federal prison from 1933 until 1963 that housed some of America’s most hardened criminals. Among them were Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud (the Birdman of Alcatraz), George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Rafael Cancel Miranda and Alvin “Creepy” Karpis who, with twenty-six years, served more time at Alcatraz than any other inmate.
With its high security and staff who were more trained to keep prisoners in order than in rehabilitation, Alcatraz – in its 29 years in use – was the prison that no prisoner successfully escaped from. Though they tried; 36 prisoners made 14 escape attempts, two men trying twice; 23 were caught, six were shot and killed during their escape, two drowned, and five are officially listed as “missing and presumed drowned”.
Bearing such a history then it’s a wonder that a television series about Alcatraz was never produced until now. Created by Elizabeth Sarnoff, Steven Lilien and Bryan Wynbrandt, and produced by J. J. Abrams and Bad Robot Productions, Alcatraz begins with an alternate history. It tells us at the very beginning that the prison was shut down, not because of unsafe conditions for its prisoners and guards, but because they all mysterious vanished one night in 1963.
The story then shifts to modern day San Francisco where we meet Detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones), who’s lost her partner while working on a case and Dr. Diego Soto (Jorge Garcia), a highly educated comic book shop owner. As unlikely as it sounds, these two become a team when Rebecca’s latest case involves former Alcatraz inmate Jack Sylvane (Jeffrey Pierce) who turns up without having aged in the past 50 years and is wanted for murder. Diego, an expert on everything to do with Alcatraz’s history, is Rebecca’s first port of call and when they realise other former inmates are starting to resurface un-aged Rebecca asks FBI Agent Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill) to pair them up indefinitely so they can work out what’s going on and track down “the ’63s”.
We also learn that Hauser has his own secrets. Not only was he a young police officer tasked with transferring inmates to Alcatraz back in 1963, but he’s now part of a secret government unit dedicated to finding the returning prisoners – and he’s not being entirely upfront with Rebecca and Diego about why the men are resurfacing now.
With each episode centred on tracking down a different inmate, we don’t really get a lot of time to learn about them or our regular and recurring characters or at least anything that really pulls us in as viewers. Alcatraz is designed to slowly reveal a deep mystery, or tease at one being there, in a similar way to Lost, while incorporating elements we’ve seen before in shows such as 4400, Threshold and even Prison Break, but the chemistry between the main actors just wasn’t there and the overall storylines lacked drive.
02 Ernest Cobb
03 Kit Nelson
04 Cal Sweeney
05 Guy Hastings
06 Paxton Petty
07 Johnny McKee
08 The Ames Brothers
09 Sonny Burnett
10 Clarence Montgomery
11 Webb Porter
12 Garrett Stillman
13 Tommy Madsen
While Sam Neil, as Hauser, was interesting to watch, the other roles felt hugely miscast. This included Sarah Jones and Jorge Garcia as the two main leads and Parminder Nagra as Lucy Banerjee, a doctor who’s Hauser’s colleague, friend and potential love interest. On the other hand we have Jason Butler Harner as E.B, the cruel and vicious deputy warden of Alcatraz back in 1963 who appears in flashbacks but was killed by Jack in the pilot episode. I would’ve love to have seen him as an older character serving as a strong antagonist to Rebecca and Diego’s efforts, but sadly it just wasn’t written that way.
One actor I especially didn’t enjoy was Jonny Coyne as Edwin James, the warden of Alcatraz. Each scene he’s in is accompanied by an overly long sermon on morality and ethics while he also tortures and manipulates the inmates back in 1963. The character might’ve been interesting but I just felt the actor – who reminded me more of Bob Hoskins in Who Framed Roger Rabbit – wasn’t right at all for it.
As for the guest actors and episodes I did enjoy, I thought Eric Johnson was great in Cal Sweeney, the blond haired, blue eyed bank robber/killer who resurfaces and goes on a killing spree but who also has a childhood trauma and an empty tin box he wants back from the warden. Ernest Cobb, the second episode was also interesting and involved a sniper on the loose, but other than that, the episodes are not particularly memorable and it’s hard to differentiate between them as they all follow the same pattern from start to finish.
While it’s taken this long to see a television show based on Alcatraz be put together, the premise and execution left a lot to be desired. From its casting, writing and editing, there was not a lot that kept me interested or from wanting to make my own escape.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .