Get a little “Lost” in “Alcatraz”

Stop me if you’ve heard of this show before: A mysterious island holds the key for a mystery that involves some sort of time travel. There are flashbacks to the past, where the reality of a character’s past is revealed to the audience. The show is produced by J.J. Abrams and Jorge Garcia plays one of the main characters.

Alcatraz, which premiered last week, easily draws many similarities to Lost, but falls short of the creative heights that show reached for so many years. Lost was popular right from the beginning due to it being like nothing else ever seen on television: it was weird, and embraced being weird in a way that nearly all the show’s wannabes have shied away from. Alcatraz is no different, but does seem to be laying the groundwork for some future mystery that will hopefully be worth the wait.

The mystery is based around the island prison in the San Francisco Bay. Officially, the prison was closed in 1963 because it was outdated and would be too expensive to renovate. The prisoners were transferred, and it eventually became a museum. But on this show, those prisoners, along with many guards and other prison staff, disappeared the day before they were to leave Alcatraz. Now, they are suddenly appearing in San Francisco. Some are returning to their old ways, while others seem to have a purpose, though they can’t explain it.

Detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) and Dr. Diego Sota (Garcia) are tasked with finding these criminals before they commit any more crimes.

Their boss is FBI agent Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill), another mysterious man who seemingly has all the answers but refuses to give them up.

It is unfortunate that for a show with an interesting mystery, the audience surrogate, Madsen, is such a cliché character. She’s a hard-headed cop who wants to play by her own rules, mostly because her partner was killed in the line of duty and she failed to save him. Searching for the criminals becomes routine after a few episodes, feeling more like an episode of Law and Order instead of Lost.

The mysteries of Alcatraz are interesting, but after three episodes they’ve barely been touched on, while instead the focus shifts to police investigations that have been done better on different shows.

On the positive side, the flashbacks are wonderfully shot with a grey filter to everything, giving them an old-style film look. Neill and Garcia give interesting performances, with Neill especially having some fun as the expert on the subject having to work with these new, curious people. Jones is the cast’s weak link, but the material given to her is probably the biggest drawback to her work.

Alcatraz has definite potential to go somewhere compelling and exciting, as long as it gets away from its current detective show feel to something much more interesting. Let’s hope the writers know what that is, and aren’t just throwing together a storyline week by week.

Alcatraz airs Monday nights at 8 p.m. on Fox.