TV Review: Alcatraz – “Pilot” and “Ernest Cobb”

Alcatraz, the new J.J. Abrams produced show, premiered on Monday night with a two-hour premiere. The first of the two episodes was the “Pilot” and then the second hour was an episode called “Ernest Cobb”.

Being a J.J. Abrams fanboy, I look forward to anything with his name attached. Some disappointments have come along (*cough* Undercovers *cough*) but for the most part I find myself satisfied with or just flat out loving anything he puts out there. The guy obviously has a knack for good ideas and brilliant marketing and his stuff usually delivers on both. So I sat down Monday with tempered expectations for the premiere of Alcatraz. The first hour had the objective any ilot episode does and that is to essentially establish the characters and premise of what is to come for the show. However as we’ve seen, several pilot episodes transcend this mold and deliver a damned good episode regardless with Abrams’ own show Lost being a primed example of this. So on that note, does Alcatraz do the same? Well…no.

The first hour of Alcatraz is very bland and very predictable until about the final 5 minutes. Each character is given a basic foundation, there are cliches galore, and the show has a very procedural feel to it. The main premise of Alcatraz is that when the prison closed in 1963, instead of being transferred to another prison every prisoner disappeared. Now, these dangerous prisoners are now beginning to reappear. Now, as far as being a procedural I see no real problem. Another Abrams’ show Fringe began as a procedural and then took a fantastic sharp turn about a season and a half in. Now to be clear Alcatraz seems to be heading towards having a flowing storyline throughout while also having a new case every week (which again is what Fringe did for awhile) but still I’d rather see it just become a show that has a singular focus. The characters in the show are okay at this point but again this is just the beginning of the show. Sarah Jones (best known for her role in Sons of Anarchy season 2) stars as Rebecca Madsen, a homicide detective who has personal connections to Alcatraz prison and is dragged into the main story via a murder she is called in on. After finding clues that lead her to the Alcatraz prison, she seeks the help of Alcatraz expert Dr. Diego Soto (played by Lost’s Jorge Garcia).  Together they begin investigating how this murder ties into Alcatraz and end up teaming with Emerson Hauser, a government agent played by Sam Neill. Each character is cliched in one way or another with Madsen being a troubled cop, Soto being a geeky doctor and Neill’s character of Emerson seemingly knows everything but instead of telling it he chooses to be mysterious.  However despite these somewhat cliched characters, each one is played solidly with confidence by each actor. Neill especially stands out as he still has a distinct charisma about him.  Beyond the main set-up of characters and information, the first hour features the first prisoner who has escaped and is leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. Again, the hunt for him is bland and predictable but at the very end of the episode the show finally gets interesting when it reveals alot more information on what is really going on. So overall the first hour episode “Pilot” is very much what you’ll expect and stays mediocre until around the last few minutes.

The second hour of the premiere gave us the episode “Ernest Cobb”. The episode is a notable improvement over the first hour but not remarkably so. The main reason this episode is an improvement is it features a more interesting case than the previous episode. As the title suggests, the episode is centered around prisoner Ernest Cobb, a serial killer sniper who while at Alcatraz received more solitary confinement time than any other prisoner. As the episode pushes on, the case takes several interesting turns and overall the show felt a lot more confident in what it was doing this hour than it did the first. Another pleasant thing to see was how the episode didn’t wipe the slate clean at any point of what has already taken place. Instead the show features several connections to the previous episode and left me feeling like it will keep doing so. In another way to compliment this episode, it just looked better than the first hour. Not only was it just more interesting story wise but the episode dropped the bland look of the premiere and just overall looked better. So overall the episode “Ernest Cobb” was much better than the first hour by featuring a more interesting story and better story-telling.

So what were my overall impressions of the 2-hour premiere? I honestly came away from it hopeful.  The first hour wasn’t terrible but instead it was just very much what I expected to see. The second hour, now free of the burden of establishing story and characters, had the chance to stretch it’s legs more character and story wise and it was a noticeable improvement. So the premiere of Alcatraz ended on a high note in my opinion and it will have me coming back for more next week so that I hopefully see it continue to get better.


Episode 1 “Pilot” – 5.5/10

Episode 2 “Ernest Cobb” – 7.5/10