Alcatraz, the new break-out hit (pun intended) on Fox's Monday night schedule, shares more with Lost (ABC, 2004-2010) than just its creator--J.J. Abrams. Both programs also include Jorge Garcia (the rotund Hurley, perhaps Lost's most-beloved character). Most importantly, the two series share a rare bloodline in episodic network television--originality. Alcatraz holds us captive (pun No. 2) due primarily to its highly creative conceit.
Here's the drill: It turns out that when Alcatraz shut down as a federal prison in 1963 (very true), all of the prisoners went missing (very false). The series has us believe (and quite convincingly) that the U.S. government has covered up the mysterious disappearance of 256 inmates and 46 guards from the infamous San Francisco Bay rock. Alcatraz picks up in 2012 as Bay area detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) is investigating a brutal killing spree, but the suspect is a man who reportedly had died more than 30 years prior. It turns out that, one by one, the once-missing Alcatraz inmates begin appearing in 2012 without aging a day and again begin committing heinous crimes.
The execution (pun No. 3) of the theme is what compels us to watch. Madsen teams with Dr. Diego "Doc" Soto (Garcia), an Alcatraz expert, FBI Agent Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill) and Parminder Nagra as Lucy Banerjee (who harbors even more secrets).
Alcatraz mixes first-rate procedural crime drama with very user-friendly science fiction. The series premiered to big ratings and held its own, attracting 10 million viewers in its second week, indicating that Alcatraz might keep us prisoner for a while (somebody please stop me--that's four).