Abrams Puts a Sci-Fi Twist in ‘Alcatraz’

Nearly 1,500,000 people visit Alcatraz Island on a yearly basis, and they are all taught the same thing: Alcatraz was used as a lighthouse, a military fortification, a military prison and finally a federal prison, before closing in 1963 due to high costs and weather damage. The new show “Alcatraz” takes an entirely different spin on the infamous prison.

The show is set around the premise that instead of closing Alcatraz in March of 1963 and transferring all the prisoners off the island (like history tells us) the prisoners mysteriously disappeared. Alcatraz was left empty, and now the prisoners are reappearing in San Francisco nearly 50 years later. FBI Agent Emerson Houser (Sam Neill) and SFPD Detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) team up with Alcatraz expert Dr. Diego Soto (Jorge Garcia) to try and find these criminals and get them back into custody.

“Alcatraz” incorporates many of the common elements of modern crime procedurals, such as the badass cutthroat detective, the witty and slightly incompetent sidekick and the menacing boss, but “Alcatraz” uses them well. Madsen leaves behind many of the unfortunate female stereotypes that are still exhibited by other similar characters (such as Kate Beckett from “Castle”) like wearing heels all the time—even while chasing criminals. Madsen is a great example of a female character who is even more powerful than some of her male counterparts.

However, while at first glance “Alcatraz” seems very similar to other TV procedurals, it takes some interesting spins on the widely used genre. In most crime shows the only view of the “bad guy” is when they are arrested. In some cases viewers see the “good guys” chasing them once they’ve solved the mystery, but the majority of these shows are told from a third-person limited point of view. “Alcatraz” is unique in that it tells the story from the criminal’s perspective as well.

In addition to showing the story through multiple perspectives, it also tells it from multiple points in time. The show switches back and forth between present-day Alcatraz and the island in the ‘50s. In both periods of time, viewers see the chase to recapture prisoners from the views of the criminals and from Madsen and her team. Because of this, “Alcatraz” becomes more than just a standard crime show. It’s also a historical drama about the prisoners’ lives at Alcatraz.

“Alcatraz” is the newest show from executive producer J.J. Abrams (best known for co-creating “Lost” and “Fringe” as well as directing “Star Trek” and “Super 8”), and it employs many elements that are similar to those of his other works. Like his other TV shows, “Alcatraz” employs a system of individual plots for each episode while also incorporating an overarching mystery and ongoing storyline. By doing this, the show effectively creates investment in the storyline and a desire to see where the plot goes.

Overall, “Alcatraz” doesn’t disappoint. It combines the beloved elements of any TV procedural (a great team plus comic relief) with the classic sci-fi twists that Abrams has come to be known for. The show is enthralling and fun all at the same time, with likeable characters and what will hopefully continue to be an interesting plot.