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With the recent screening of the pilot episode of Alcatraz at Comic-Con 2011, many are wondering that very thing. Only a few months past the one year anniversary of Lost ending, it seems like fans have already been clamoring for ages for a show to take its place. Will Alcatraz be the series to do it? Lets find out, and take a closer look at this new series that is already generating buzz, just by its connections to one of the most discussed television series in recent history.
Before we get into what Alcatraz might be, let's take a look at what it is. The plot centers around a group of over three hundred inmates and guards disappearing from the infamous prison in 1963. As they begin to reappear decades later in the present, none of them have aged a day. A team is quickly formed to find all of those missing, while also investigating what caused the phenomenon. The series will be set up in a “Prisoner of the Week” style, with each episode dedicated to tracking down one of the time jumping prisoners. The mystery behind how and why these men traveled nearly fifty years into the future will also provide an arcing plot running throughout.
The main characters will be those responsible for tracking down the often dangerous criminals; primarily a cop, a historian, and a shadowy government agent. The cast playing them is as an eclectic mix as the characters themselves. Relatively unknown actress Sarah Jones (Sons of Anarchy), will be starring as Rebecca Madsen, a San Francisco police officer. Partnered up with her for the investigation is Dr. Diego Soto, the foremost expert on the island prison, and a bit of a geek. (Are there any history buffs that aren't?) Playing the good doctor will be Lost alum, Jorge Garcia, who was the first member of the cast signed on to the project. Rounding off the three leads is Sam Neill (Jurassic Park), filling the role of a federal agent who clearly knows more about what's going on than he is willing to share.
There are a few cosmetic similarities -namely a mysterious island and the guy that never dropped any weight despite being stuck on that beach for six years- but the comparisons to Lost truly become clear when you look at who will be working behind the camera. TV veteran and Lost co-creator, J.J. Abrams, along with his production company, Bad Robot, will be bringing the scripts to screen. While former Lost writer, Elizabeth Sarnoff, will serve as show runner, in addition to her shared creator credit with Steven Lilien and Bryan Wynbrandt. Sarnoff wrote the pilot with Lilien and Wynbrandt, and was on hand at the Comic-Con panel. She certainly didn't discourage comparisons of Alcatraz and Lost, and when asked about them replied, “We totally embrace it. Certainly, there’s no better show[Lost].” Though Sarnoff also expressed that the series won't be a clone, “...we’re our own show, we want to do our own thing.”
The response after the pilot's screening was mixed. Some complained it was a frustrating hour of overly convenient plot devices, and worried that the series would not possess the same engrossing mysteries as Lost. Others praised the chemistry between the actors and said the core story would provide enough material to keep viewers interested in its secrets. For better or worse, there are some clear differences in the two series.
Despite there being several co-stars in addition to the three leads, Alcatraz certainly doesn't seem to be setting up the massive ensemble cast that Lost was known for. A cast that provided a tapestry of different backgrounds, and the stories that come with them. Which leads into what is likely the biggest difference between the two series: how they are formatted. Lost did have many episodic elements, but they were fueled by the array of characters, and always supplemented with long running mysteries. When characters will be returning, focusing individual episodes on them becomes development. If the plot doesn't advance the overall story, it does at least advance the character. With standalone plots involving prisoners who we likely won't see again after they've been captured or killed, Alcatraz will have to squeeze both character and plot progression into a story that won't matter much come next week's episode.
Alcatraz also doesn't seem to have much to offer beyond the straight forward mysteries of; “How this happened?” and “Who was involved?” Granted, with Lost, you didn't even know the right questions to ask when it started, beyond; “How are they going to get off this island?” Whether polar bears and smoke monsters are more interesting than time traveling prisoners isn't really a matter for debate. (Time traveling polar bears could be a hit though.) But with Lost, almost every question led to another, and from the early looks of it, the same may not be true of Alcatraz.
This is all speculative of course, we won't know for sure until January whether Alcatraz can create the “fandemonium” of Lost. Perhaps it will stir up even more speculation, garner more references in other media, have even more people tearing their hair out in want for answers. Or perhaps it won't. We will all just have to wait and see come Winter.