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TV Column
Posted at 12:44 AM ET, 01/09/2012

Winter TV Press Tour 2012: JJ Abrams says ‘Alcatraz’ is no ‘Lost’


J.J. Abrams’s new show “Alcatraz” centers on America’s most infamous prison. (James Dittiger - Fox)
J.J. Abrams, who brought you the maddeningly convoluted, addictive series “Alias,” “Lost,” “Fringe” — and “Felicity”? — promised that, this time, with his new Fox series “Alcatraz,” he will finally deliver a series in which storylines are resolved each week and questions are answered in a timely way – instead of a tangle of weeds.

“Alcatraz” is about a team of three investigating the shocking re-appearance of about 300 of Alcatraz’s most notorious prisoners and guards, 50 years after they vanished. The team includes “Lost’s” Jorge Garcia, as well as Sam Neill, and Sarah Jones.

“This show is designed very much as an episodic show with…large stories, mythological stories that we’d be able to get to over time,” JJ assured TV critics at Winter TV Press Tour 2012 in Pasadena.

The premise of the new series is that, every episode, “one of these worst of the worst comes back and one of our team has to…track this person down that sort of no one else knows about in the same way.”

In that way, he said, “it’s very different from the ‘Alias’ SD-6 conundrum of a good person working with people that she thought were good, many of whom are good and think they’re good, but are actually good, but the government lets them — I mean — literally, I can’t even describe it to you right now.”

Critics got the “That way lies madness,” look in their eyes they seem to get nowadays, whenever they’re presented with a new JJ Abrams series.

“But, J.J., I’m having a flashback myself to four years ago, when you guys were saying the exact same thing about ‘Fringe’,” said one frightened TV critic.

“Four years ago, when you said the same thing about ‘Fringe’: It’s going to be an accessible show; it’s going to be bad guy of the week but with a backstory. And by the end of that first season — ” the critic shuddered.

“You’re absolutely right,” Abrams interrupted. “ And by the way, A — I apologize; and B — honestly, I’m always learning and trying to figure things out, and you could not be more right. That show, very different from ‘Alcatraz,’ which, again, the premise was: there are these 300 people who disappeared and, every week, one person comes back

“The premise of ‘Fringe’ was, from the beginning, was always a much more personal the idea that Olivia had been treated with Cortexiphan… Her whole backstory was that she was someone who had been used in this way. And the idea was always of this sort of parallel universe. It was a much more emotional kind of character show from the beginning, whereas this show…was much more about a condition and a premise…But to be fair, I will say you always try to do the best you can in the moment, and you have the best ideas in the moment. And the best ideas you have later, you might not have been able to have because you hadn’t didn’t have all the episodes. So we have ideas of not only where the show is going and what’s going to happen, but I think that because the show is based much more on a premise than ‘Fringe’ — which was much more of a specific character issue — I think this show has a real opportunity to do both: an episodic kind of case of the week with obviously big questions looming.”

TV critics were still skeptical. Already they could see large, gaping holes in the story that would surely be explained by jumping down gimongous rabbit holes. For instance, one critic pointed out:

“How old is Mr. Neill’s character? Because math is not my strong suit, but it seems like he’s actually quite a bit older than Mr. Neill actually is. Will people on the show be saying, ‘[Emerson] Hauser, you look amazing!’?”

“Hauser’s been working out,” Neill said of the guy described by Garcia as “an old-school G man.”

“ And he’s traveled a lot in the East,” Neill said, keeping up the gag. “He knows a lot about facial dreams as well as martial arts. He’s a very dangerous man, as well as a smooth man.”

Here we go again!

By  |  12:44 AM ET, 01/09/2012

 
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