TV review: Alcatraz

By Columbus Alive
From the January 12, 2012 edition

Fox’s newest sci-fi series uses time travel as its premise: In 1963, 302 prisoners from America’s most famous prison disappear and pop up randomly in the present day, causing all sorts of mayhem.

The two-hour premiere deals with two prisoners — Jack Sylvane and Ernest Cobb — being chased by Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill) with the help of Detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) and Alcatraz expert Dr. Diego Soto (Jorge Garcia).

After the usual get-to-know-your-heroes-and-villains stuff, “Alcatraz” settles into a typical catch-the-bad-guy procedural with some mythology and mystery thrown in.

Created by “Lost” writer Elizabeth Sarnoff and executive produced by J.J. Abrams, “Alcatraz” is looking to grab “Lost” fans with similar beats — and Hurley! There’s the time-travel aspect, and Neill’s Hauser is a poor man’s Ben Linus. Is he bad, or is he good but sometimes must do bad things?

It’s hard for any show to live up to “Lost,” and “Alcatraz” surely doesn’t. But it does a few things right. The second hour of the premiere — which was directed by Jack Bender, the guy behind most of the best episodes of “Lost” — is pretty strong, and I enjoy the characters. The exception is Neill’s Hauser. He’s just too over the top, becoming unintentionally campy.

Despite a sub-par premiere, there’s enough to keep me around to see if things get really good, like “Fringe” did. Then again, I thought the same thing about another Fox time travel-based series, “Terra Nova,” and boy did I get burned there.