Editor's note: The following is an e-mail conversation between CNN Geek Out's Elizabeth Landau and Henry Hanks. If you didn't watch Monday night's season premiere of "Alcatraz," another supernatural mystery show by nerd icon J.J. Abrams ("Star Trek," "Lost," "Fringe") don't read any further. Due to the involvement of Abrams, the cast, and the concept – which deals in both science and historical fiction – this has been a much-anticipated show by fans of both genres. Landau began by responding to Hanks' recap on CNN's Marquee Blog, which you can read here.
Landau: I had high hopes for “Alcatraz,” expecting the genius of a J.J. Abrams production and Jorge Garcia’s acting to be injected into this show. And it does have a lot of potential. I like the idea that the prisoners have suddenly shown up in San Francisco and we don’t know why. I think the most interesting character so far is actually Emerson Hauser, played by Sam Neill of “Jurassic Park” and "Merlin" fame, and I agree that he doesn’t get enough screen time. I want to know more of his back story. He obviously has knowledge that he’s not sharing, and so holds the key to uncovering why these prisoners are suddenly turning up.
But when I realized that this is going to turn into an “inmate of the week” drama, I became less interested. On “Lost,” since it dealt with a bunch of travelers trapped on an island, it felt like there was a lot more at stake for everyone involved, and it was more interesting to delve into their pasts. We get a little of that here but not enough. Detective Madsen has a personal interest in this investigation because her grandfather was one of the prisoners, but I just don’t feel enough genuine passion from her to care that much. And Garcia’s character Dr. Soto – what’s really in it for him? I feel like he needs more of a reason to care, too. Since we know him from "Lost," we want him to be comic relief but it doesn’t seem like his lines were written in quite the right way to let him shine.
Honestly I was getting pretty bored with the second episode – it dragged along as the detectives chase Ernest Cobb and he goes around killing people. But at the end of the second episode we get that big reveal that Lucy was Cobb’s doctor decades earlier, which makes it more interesting that he shot her specifically. I thought to myself “oh, wait, so this episode was important in the grand scheme of the show.” But I felt like I had to go through nearly an hour of “meh” to get to the “oh, cool” moment.
I am curious to see where this show goes but it was definitely not as stellar as the first two episodes of “Lost.” And unlike the pilot of “Once Upon a Time,” which got me feeling like I just had to know what’s driving this alternative world in which fairy-tale characters are stuck, I’m not itching to know what’s going on with these time-inconsistent inmates. But perhaps, as with “Lost,” Abrams has some major tricks up his sleeve that will wow us later.
Hanks: I will agree that if it simply becomes an “inmate of the week” show, that won’t be the most exciting thing (and perhaps Fox wants it to be that way, to bring in new viewers easier).
Continuing my earlier comparison to “Fringe,” though, I will say it has evolved from being the “freaky incident of the week” to going deeper into the mythology. On the other hand, it is virtually impossible for new viewers to start watching, four seasons in.
I hope that “Alcatraz” can find a healthy medium between the two, and Abrams has enough goodwill so far, that I am willing to give the show a full season to see if they can pull it off.
(And as far as “Doc’s” reason for caring, Jorge Garcia hinted to us that we will find out more about this in next week’s episode.)
Landau: These days it seems like the shows that hook you in the most are the shows for which it is essential to watch them from the beginning, and that do not pander to the audience that is just tuning in mid-season. In “Lost,” for example, you really could not just jump in after the first few episodes; nothing would make sense. My current philosophy is that a show needs to be so compelling that you want to go back and watch all of the episodes that you’ve missed, so that it all does come together – that’s what make cult classics, the kind that make people sit for hours or days on end to find out what happens next (i.e. the "BSG" episode of "Portlandia").
So, my hope for "Alcatraz" is that it too develops a deep and complex mythology, one that will have people on the edges of their seats wondering what’s going on and aching for more.
Let’s see what the rest of the season brings!
Do you agree with Landau or Hanks? Post your comment below.