[In case you’ve Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots.]
Show: “Alcatraz” (FOX)
The Pitch: I guess it’s just “Escape from Alcatraz” meets “Lost” with a little “Reaper,” but not the funny parts or the Devil parts of “Reaper.”
Quick Response: This is another of those midseason dramas — like “The River” — that I’m writing about ahead of a slew of fall pilots simply because it’s going to be screened at Comic-Con in a few days, so I might as well get my reaction up. If I complained that “Person of Interest” might not be J.J. Abrams-y enough, nobody is going to have that concern with the Liz Sarnoff-scripted “Alcatraz.” I thought the pilot was clunky — lots and lots of dialogue that either repeats things we were already told or articulates things totally self-evident from the visuals — but I respect its forward-looking clarity. After seeing the pilot, I know exactly what “Alcatraz” is on a week-to-week procedural basis: Which hardened criminal who disappeared in 1963 (complete with flashbacks) will magically appear in 2011, what will his agenda be and how will our team of heroes stop him? [They’re kinda collecting lost souls, “Reaper”-style. But only kinda.] And I also know exactly what the ongoing questions of “Alcatraz” are: Where did these criminals go? Who’s bringing them back? And why are they being brought back? And which of our characters have altruistic agendas and who’s harboring darkness? I can’t guarantee that any of the answers to those questions will be worth the effort, but at least this isn’t one of those pilots that has me writing, “I liked the first hour, but I don’t see what the series is.” Here, I was tepid on the pilot, but I have no doubt of how the series should be structured going forward. That’s a good thing and a bad thing. The “Alcatraz” pilot feels spectacularly pilot-y, in that it cares more about setting a foundation and getting it set in 43 minutes than it cares about smoothing out the seams, covering up the cracks and finessing characters. I know what “Alcatraz” is going to be as a series because the pilot focuses on *that* over telling a good story in its opening hour. Director Danny Cannon strives to cover a lot of those gaps with flash and nicely rendered production design, especially when depicting both the operational Alcatraz of 1960 and the current tourist attraction. It looks like an expensive pilot. There are people in “Alcatraz” who I really like. As a genius professor with a specific interest in The Rock, Jorge Garcia gets to be funny and amiable without even a trace of Hurley popping up. It’s a great role for him. There’s an intriguing role for Sam Neill and I’m always happy to have Parminder Nagra on my TV (except when it required me to watch “E.R.” in the later years). In the pilot, Robert Forster is utterly wasted, but hopefully somebody will realize that their show somehow landed one of the best character actors in the business and that failure to use him would be a crime. Leading lady Sarah Jones has been really good in disparate roles in the past (compare “Big Love” to “Sons of Anarchy” to “The Riches”), but she’s saddled with the worst of the “Well, duh” dialogue in the pilot. She’ll be fine if the material is fine. All of the actors will. Having thrown all of these nuts and bolts on the table in Episode 1, “Alcatraz” will have to start building.
Desire To Watch Again: I covered the disadvantages of this kind of premise-driven pilot, but the advantage is that since I know what the series is, I have no nervousness about sustainability in Episode 2. So sure… count me in for another week or two.
Take Me To The Pilots ’11: CBS’ ‘Person of Interest’
Take Me To The Pilots ’11: ABC’s ‘ ‘The River’
Take Me To The Pilots ’11: ABC’s ‘Last Man Standing’
Take Me To The Pilots ’11: CBS’ ‘Two Broke Girls’
Take Me To The Pilots ’11: NBC’s ‘Up All Night’
Take Me To The Pilots ’11: ABC’s ‘Revenge’
Take Me To The Pilots ’11: ABC’s ‘Once Upon a Time’
Take Me To The Pilots ’11: NBC’s ‘Awake’
Take Me To The Pilots ’11: FOX’s ‘I Hate My Teenage Daughter’
Take Me To The Pilots ’11: The CW’s ‘The Secret Circle’
Take Me To The Pilots ’11: CBS’ ‘Unforgettable’
Take Me To The Pilots ’11: NBC’s ‘The Playboy Club’
Take Me To The Pilots ’11: ABC’s ‘Charlie’s Angels’
Take Me To The Pilots ’11: NBC’s ‘Grimm’
Take Me To The Pilots ’11: FOX’s ‘New Girl’
Take Me To The Pilots ’11: The CW’s ‘Hart of Dixie’
Take Me To The Pilots ‘ 11: ABC’s ‘Apartment 23’
Take Me To The Pilots ’11: CBS’ ‘A Gifted Man’
All of last year’s Take Me To The Pilots installments.