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With ‘Alcatraz,’ Has ‘Lost’ Been Found?

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: a TV show from J. J. Abrams about an island where mysterious things happen; among the ensemble cast is Jorge Garcia, and it’s produced and written by Elizabeth Sarnoff. It sounds like Lost, right?

Wrong. I mean, yeah, it sounds like Lost, but it’s not Lost. Riddle me this — what sounds like Lost but isn’t Lost? Alcatraz, duh.

Premiering January 16 on Fox at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. central), Alcatraz offers an alternative history of the infamous island prison known as The Rock, which over the years played host to such notorious criminals as Al Capone, “Machine Gun” Kelly and “Whitey” Bulger.

History tells us that Alcatraz was closed in 1963 due to enormous operating costs, but what fun would that be? In Abrams and Sarnoff’s version, Alcatraz shut down because all the inmates just disappeared. But now, nearly 50 years later, it seems they are reappearing and that can’t be good news for the scenic city of San Francisco. Don’t think of it as Lost redux; think of it as Escape From Alcatraz, but in reverse!

Of course, there’s the standard shadowy conspiracy subplot that Abrams always enjoys. In fact, the trailer for Alcatraz plays a lot like a mashup of Abrams’ Lost and Fringe, which, now that I think about it, might be pretty good.

This being a J. J. Abrams production, and therefore prestige television, Alcatraz has a better-than-average cast. Besides Jorge Garcia who, as a comic book geek and Alcatraz expert, seems to be channeling Hurley, we also have Sam Neill as the Man Who Knows More Than He Says (every shadow conspiracy has one), Parminder Nagra as his assistant, Sarah Jones as the intrepid detective determined to figure it all out, Robert Forster as her surrogate uncle who used to be a guard on The Rock and probably offers enigmatic clues to point her in the right direction, and Jeffrey Pierce as the worst of the returning inmates and whose grisly murder spree attracts the attention of Jones’ intrepid detective in the first place.

Whew, that’s quite a Möbius strip of storyline. But what else would you expect from a J. J. Abrams show? Anything less would be disappointing…easier to follow, maybe. But disappointing nonetheless.

~Theron Neel

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