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Pilot Watch: Alcatraz / Smash / Lost Girl

Another J.J. Abrams island, fabulous singing and dancing, and a girl finding answers among beasties.

Welcome to the new TV season, where new shows battle it out with returning shows for a warm little place in our hearts and minds. A pilot might not fully reflect what a whole series will be like, but it is what makes people latch on to a new show or dispose of it like trash. Here are a few quick thoughts about the new shows fighting for our attention.

 

Alcatraz (FOX)

Those who claimed this show was “Lost meets The 4400” were kind of right.  Aside from that, the first two episodes of Alcatraz seem to combine many elements of J.J. Abrams’ other shows, starting with the protagonist.  Rebecca Madsen (played by Sarah Jones) is the latest in a long line of Abrams female leads that are highly intelligent, tough and independent, with paternal figure issues, whose initial main motivation is a man.  Here’s a quick rundown —

Felicity (Felicity):  Overbearing father, goes to NYU for Ben.

Sidney Bristow (Alias):  Emotionally distant father, guns for SD-6 after they have her fiancé killed.

Kate (Lost):  Abusive stepfather, kills stepfather.

Olivia Dunham (Fringe):  Abusive stepfather, shot stepfather, her very first Fringe case takes the life of her boyfriend.

Rebecca Madsen (Alcatraz): Her partner is killed by her very young grandfather.

In case you haven’t watched it, prisoners and guards of Alcatraz mysteriously disappear in 1963 and reappear decades later causing all sorts of problems.  A task force is created to track down and apprehend these deviants, and learn what their endgame is.  Those who disappeared are referred to as The 63s.  The show seems to be mainly episodic, but a mythology is beginning to form by episode two.

During the pilot and episode two, other elements of the Abrams universe come into play.  The new prison were The 63s will be stashed, a sort of replica of Alcatraz, is located deep in the woods, with an entrance reminiscent of the access door of a Dharma Station from Lost, and the interior of this new prison is reminiscent of the APO headquarters from the fourth season of Alias.  Also, on episode two of Alcatraz, the number 47 plays a big role in the villain’s story, a number that was very important to the mythology of Alias.

The pilot did a good job establishing the dynamics between the members of the team and tied the lead character to the mythology well, and yet it was a bit slow.  Alcatraz could quickly become another Lost, where too many questions are asked and not enough are answered, consequently pissing off a lot of people.  But I found it intriguing.  It might require some patience.  I’m giving it till episode 5 to decide if I’ll stick with it.

 

Smash (NBC, premiers on February 6)

If the idea of a show about the creation of a Broadway musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe made you think “Ugh, here comes another Glee,” let me tell you I was right there with you.  Glee is a show I should love for many reasons but I just don’t.  A grownup version of Glee wasn’t going to do it for me, but it has a great cast and I do love musicals, so I had to give it a chance.  And I’m glad I did because it’s nothing like Glee.

Since this pilot is available on iTunes and the NBC website for free, I’ll stay away from specifics.  We get to see the conception of the Marilyn musical idea, how all the players begin to come together, and the way their personal lives are affected by and affect their work.  Fantasy musical numbers do happen, as they should on a show about a musical, but they are truly wonderful and never take over the conflict between the characters.

As good as it is to see Debra Messing back on TV, and as wonderful as Angelica Huston is at everything, I’m extremely happy to see Jack Davenport on this show, playing a talented musical director who’s also a bit of a womanizing dick.  Davenport is a very talented british actor who’s been in two very popular shows (This Life and Coupling), he was on what I consider the best modern take on vampires on TV (Ultraviolet), but has been very unlucky with his work on American TV, until now.

The pilot for Smash was surprisingly good.  It set up the story well and established the characters and their inner conflict.  It’s also very entertaining.  It’s worth a shot.

 

Lost Girl (SyFy)

This canadian show is currently on its second season in Canada but only began to air in the States last week.  I’ve already watched the first season of this show, so my memories of the pilot are kind of vague.  To be honest, I didn’t like the pilot.  There was something about the effects and the transitions between scenes that turned me off a bit.  It took me an accidental viewing of an episode further into the season to give it another chance.

The show is about Bo, a hot bartender with the ability to suck the life force out of people, running away from her troubled passed, looking for answers about her origins.  In the course of the pilot she learns she’s part of the Fae, creatures with supernatural powers who feed off humans.  There are many type of Fae, and Bo is a Succubus, a being who feeds from sexual energy.  There are two Fae clans, the light and the dark, and all Fae must pick a side.  Bo picks neither, finds a friend in Kenzi, a homeless thief with great fashion sense, and decides to stop running and fight for the answers she seeks.

Lost Girl is equal parts serious and funny, sometimes even a little campy.  There’s plenty of sex, as per succubus requirements (Bo is a fighter and sex literally heals her wounds).  The effects are sometimes Mutant X bad, but that’s not too hard to overlook.  The interactions between Bo and Kenzi are the soul of this show, and you’ll find that it gets really good when it delves into darker themes and the grotesque.

This is a pretty good show with huge mythology that would probably be truly great if it were tonally more similar to Supernatural.  It’s fun and entertaining.  Give it a chance.