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Sarah Jones Alcatraz

January 17, 2012 by staff 

Sarah Jones AlcatrazSarah Jones Alcatraz, Alcatraz premiered with back-to-back episodes on Monday night, as Fox did its best to lure a large audience trained to tune into House to check out its newest production from producer J.J. Abrams and co-starring a very prominent Lost alumnus, Jorge Garcia. Combining cop drama with supernatural elements, it has, at its best, the elements of an old Steve Ditko-drawn Strange Suspense Story tale. At its weakest, Alcatraz is a mash-up: CSI: Fringe Prison Break.

The show proceeds from the premise that when Alcatraz was closed in 1963, its prisoners and personnel weren’t transferred — they disappeared, and some of them are popping up in the present. This provides work for a spunky cop, Rebecca (Sarah Jones), who, along with an Alcatraz historian (Garcia), become part of a “task force” overseen by a mysterious man presenting himself as a federal agent, Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill).

The character arrangement is a bit early-era Fringe: Female law enforcement agent (like Anna Torv, Sarah Jones is starting out the series seeming rather restrained), teaming with an eccentric (take your pick of the Bishop father and/or son) to solve a stand-alone case while delving into deeper, more mysterious mysteries. But like being in prison, Alacatraz feels somewhat hemmed-in — its pool of villains is drawn from the 1960s prison population, who have been plopped into our time period with barely a twitch of where-the-hell-am-I?, hitting the ground and running to do law-breaking work. In tracking down these felons, Neill’s harsh-tempered Hauser is the most intriguing: Why is he so perrennially peeved, and what is he up to, with his underground-lair headquarters, and his gleaming-white new prison for the 1960s refugees that are re-captured at the end of each hour?

The series lost its co-creator/showrunner Elizabeth Sarnoff and among her producer replacements is Jennifer Johnson, who worked on Lost but whose name I recognized as the creator of the underrated Chase, last season’s Kelli Giddish cop show. Johnson has a way with tough female characters, a gift I hope she uses to nurture Jones’ Rebecca into a more vivid character.

Because this is a new serialized show from Abrams, as as someone who tries as much as my feeble intelligence will allow to follow all the clues dropped by Fringe, I began to feel, as I watched Alcatraz, that there might be some significance to the frequent invocation of numbers. I began jotting down”cell 212? and “infraction number 28? and “Pier 31? — who knows when they may pay off or not? Is this a new way to watch TV, trying to play geek catch-up?

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