FOX's Alcatraz kicked off with a two-hour premiere last night that was actually the pilot and the second episode back to back, and while I was slightly annoyed at the way this messed with my DVR's usual Monday night schedule, I think this was a very good decision on their part. The pilot was slow and clunky and had a huge amount of exposition to get through. In brief: prisoners who disappeared from Alcatraz in the 1960s are suddenly reappearing, at the same age they were then, and a team is gathered to catch them, and maybe to figure out what's going on, but it's also possible that half the team knows exactly what's going on and is just using the other half. Our entry point into this is Rebecca Madsen, a cop who was raised by a former Alcatraz guard. The team is led by a morally ambiguous federal agent of some sort (he claims) played delightfully by Sam Neill, and the most engaging character so far is Jorge Garcia's PhD-turned-comic-store-owner who gets pulled onto the team by Rebecca. Alcatraz itself is basically another character, in both scenes set at the active prison in the 1960s and in the present day tourist attraction and prison basement-turned-batcave that the team uses as their base.
So. The first hour sets all that up, but it's kind of a chore to get through. In the second hour, we get a better flavor of what future episodes will probably be like. We see some scenes of a certain prisoner's life in the 1960s, and then that prisoner appears in the present day, and the team must research his life as they try to catch him, while Rebecca tries to figure out what's going on overall. There's a definite Fringe-like tone, in everything from the mysteries to the weird team headquarters to the team themselves: a band of very different people with different strengths that make them clash with each other but also need each other, and who, despite needing each other, don't quite trust each other yet. I'm not completely sold on Alcatraz yet, but the team dynamics definitely pulled me in (even more than the central mystery), and I'll be giving it at least a few more weeks to find its footing.