Rebecca (Sarah Jones) and Doc (Jorge Garcia) investigate a murder on Fox’s new “Alcatraz.”
premiere, 8 to 10 p.m. Monday on WFLD-Channel 32
Updated: February 15, 2012 8:04AM
Alcatraz, the country’s most notorious federal penitentiary, shut down on March 21, 1963. Its inmates were transferred to other prisons to serve out their sentences.
At least that’s the official story. The version being spun in Fox’s new drama is a lot more interesting. Executive produced by J.J. Abrams (“Lost”), “Alcatraz” purports that The Rock’s last batch of 256 inmates disappeared, despite transfer orders and death certificates to the contrary.
Half a century later, they have begun resurfacing in modern-day San Francisco, and they’re not there to ride the cable cars and eat Ghirardelli chocolates.
Though decades have passed, the convicts haven’t aged. Judging by their itchy trigger fingers in the first two episodes (airing back-to-back Monday), they haven’t been rehabilitated, either.
“The worst criminals this country has ever known are coming back and no one’s going to be able to find them because they don’t exist,” says government agent Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill, “Jurassic Park”).
Hauser is the tight-lipped, enigmatic head of a task force charged with rounding up the Alcatraz alumni, who seem equally perplexed as to how — and why — they’ve resurfaced. He enlists the help of feisty San Francisco Police Detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones, “Sons of Anarchy”), who has some personal ties to the shuttered San Fran slammer, as well as Alcatraz expert Diego “Doc” Soto.
When Doc isn’t writing tomes on the infamous prison and its inhabitants, he runs a comic-book shop. He also provides some needed comic relief to Hauser’s occasional hamminess.
“Is anyone else’s head exploding right now?” Doc asks in the pilot, after Hauser starts clueing in his team on the show’s mind-bending premise.
Doc is played by Jorge Garcia, best known for his role on “Lost,” another mythology-rich series with fantasy elements — set on an island, no less.
The “Lost” team’s fingerprints are all over “Alcatraz,” including those of Abrams (“Person of Interest,” “Fringe”) and director Jack Bender.
While both series share a similar feel, “Alcatraz” is easier to follow. It’s essentially a cop show cloaked in a broader mystery that involves time travel and plenty of tantalizing questions: Where have these inmates been since the Kennedy Administration? How did they get here? Who sent them here and why?
As we await these big-picture answers, we get to enjoy a cat-and-mouse chase involving whichever criminal-of-the-week has come back to settle an old score, play sniper on San Francisco’s rooftops or get up to other kinds of no good.
Adding to the show’s intrigue: Inmates’ current-day crime sprees are interspersed with flashbacks to their time in the hoosegow. Hitting the rewind button not only helps us better understand the prisoners’ back stories, it gives us a look at life behind bars in Alcatraz.
As you might imagine, it wasn’t fun. But “Alcatraz” sure is.