This past TV season has been surprisingly good considering the shows that got tanked or simply ended last spring. With the fate of the fun Terra Nova still hanging in the balance, and no Doctor Who for quite some time, we are itching for something new and unique to catch our fancy. Well, look no further! Three shows have popped up as mid-season replacements that are both unique and engaging:
ALCATRAZ (Fox, Mondays)
Sam Neil stars as Emerson Hauser, a mysterious government agent sort, who has been quitely monitoring the goings on at former prison-now-turned tourist attraction, Alcatraz. Apparently, when the prison closed down in 1963, the prisoners weren’t actually transferred away. Turns out everyone, including the guards and staff, just suddenly disappeared. Two guards going to the island in 1963 discover this. One of them is a younger Hauser, who was a rookie at the time. Cut to the present, and one by one, the inmates are returning to wreak havoc or simply pick up where they left off. Hauser, aided by Detective Rebecca Madsen (played well by the beautiful Sarah Jones who has been around the dial since 2004), and author/Alcatraz expert, Dr. Diego Soto (portrayed by the ever groovy Jorge Garcia), must unlock the mystery of why they disappeared, and why they are suddenly returning! Although it does seem that Hauser may actually know the how’s and why’s, but he’s not telling any time soon.
To me, it seems that J.J. Abrahms has grown as a storyteller. There’s the complicated, mysterious plot style of Lost, and the creepy intrigue of Fringe mixed together here, but it works on many levels. Madsen is very much the Olivia Dunham (Fringe) of this show, but she’s more confident and has a LOT less baggage. Soto is played perfectly vulnerable by Garcia who is squeamish, and doesn’t feel he fits in. Madsen is just so nice to him and up front about how she needs his expertise, that he can’t help being sucked into these dangerous situations even though they terrify the ever loving crap out of him!
All in all, Alcatraz has a great cast with great chemistry, an intriguing mystery that could sustain us for at least three seasons, and the excitement and fear of Fringe/Lost that we’ve been missing since Lost ended.
Kiefer Sutherland is back!!! Those who missed him as Jack Bauer are going to be a tad let down at first, because even though he’s got the same emotional and actiony level as Bauer, his new character, Martin Bohm, is no Jack Bauer. Bohm is a widower trying to raise his 11 year-old autistic son. It’s very difficult because the son, David, does not want to be touched and will flip out if this happens, and doesn’t speak. David has a penchant for running off and writing numbers in notebooks. Jack is bitterly frustrated, and being a former reporter who now can barely keep a job down, this doesn’t make his life any easier. Social services, in the form of the hot Clea Hopkins (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, formerly of the short-lived Undercovers), warns Martin that after an evaluation, David may be taken away from him since Martin can’t control the child. After meeting a man named Arthur Teller (Danny Glover who holds important plot information without which the show wouldn’t be able to move forward), Martin realizes that David may be able to tell the future through numbers, and quite possibly can literally “see” the fundamental interconnectedness of everybody.
While Touch somehow manages to make numbers an exciting roller coaster ride a la 24, the fact that Bohm is not the vicious fighter that Jack Bauer was is somehow depressing. However, Bohm will stop at nothing to protect his son, and so hopefully soon we’ll get to see Kiefer beat the living crap out of someone. The show is very, well, “touching” (no pun intended), and at the end of the pilot you’re wiping the tears from your eyes. All the characters have room to grow, and the mystery of David’s abilities give it a unique flavor from other shows on the air. Definitely NOT 24, but definitely good and worth watching nonetheless!!
THE RIVER (ABC, Tuesdays)
If Steven Moffat’s brain were a blender, and you tossed into it Lost, Blair Witch, Diary of the Dead, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Marlin Perkins’ Wild Kingdom, and then generously added heaping helpings of the dark place that Moffat goes to write his scariest Doctor Who stories, the result would be The River. Sadly, Moffat is NOT a producer on this show, but the second episode will have you praying for the Doctor to come and save the characters.
It’s a “found footage” story that probably cannot sustain several seasons, but if done right will be just as memorable as Lost. In fact, there will be many comparisons to Lost even though they end pretty much after the first few minutes of the pilot (you can’t argue that flashbacks make it a Lost rip-off because Forever Knight started the flashback trend a half-season before Buffy and Highlander!). Bruce Greenwood, looking not at all like he did on Nowhere Man (is he ill, or did he just not age well?), plays Emmett Cole, a Marlin Perkins type who’s had a nature show on the air for 22 years. Over these years, the audience (in the reality of ‘The River’) has also come to know his wife and son. In the present, Cole has disappeared in the Amazon, and is declared dead. His son, Lincoln, starts off as a mamby pamby liberal-type who accepts that Emmett is dead. Emmet’s wife Tess, (who played Teri Bauer on 24) does not accept this and has even found that Emmett’s emergency signal has been activated somewhere in the Amazon. She convinces Lincoln to go with her to find him, as part of a rescue mission/new TV documentary. Along for the ride is Emmett’s producer, Clark Quietly, private security dude Captain Kurt Brynildson, Emmett’s chief cameraman’s daughter Lena, his former ship mechanic Emilio (and his daughter Jahel), and a couple of cameramen (think Red Shirts from Star Trek).
Clark is Emmett’s friend and wants to find him as well as make a hit TV series from the search. The character of Emilio is VERY reminiscent of Nestor Paiva’s character from Creature from the Black Lagoon. He’s sort of the Scotty of the show because once they find Emmet’s boat, the Magus, he says he can repair the ship in a day or so and is told they have less that 2 hours before high tide washes them away. Lincoln grew up with his father traipsing around the world, not always being there for Linc’s important life events as he grew up, but through the first episode he starts to grow as a character and seems to even grow a set of kahonays. Tess and Emmett have some deep-seated marital problems lurching in the background. And Kurt seems to have something mysterious up his sleeve.
The show is both engaging and terrifying at the same time. Emmett seems to have found a source of some sort of “magic”, as evidenced on his videotapes that the rescue party finds. This “magic” is portrayed very believably here. The “found footage” style, as I mentioned before, has an air of Blair Witch, but with the hand-held skill of Romero’s Diary of the Dead. What that means is that the director knows when to put the camera down so we don’t get nauseous while watching the show. The back and forth from the past to the present works well to fill in the story details, and the mystery is intriguing enough to have us salivating for more. I highly recommend The River as there are only a handful of episodes for this season.
So there you have it. THREE shows off to great starts this mid-season. Which ones did you like or dislike?