Whenever J.J. Abrams puts his name to a new TV show, comparisons to Lost, his (thus far) magnum opus are inevitable. These associations are perhaps unsurprising, given that the critically acclaimed and multi-award winning show still continues to rank consistently in the top ten series of all time by US critics. Sometimes it’s just hard to shake the memory of a good thing.
By the time Alcatraz, a new mythology-driven show from Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions – involving time travel and an island, and starring Lost’s Jorge Garcia (aka Hurley) as an affable comic-book loving nerd – hit TV screens on January 16th the comparisons to Lost were coming thick and fast.
However critics and viewers alike might do better to compare Alcatraz to the underrated and brilliant Fringe, another Abrams project that’s been quietly defying the odds in the Friday night death slot on Fox this year. Now in its fourth (and perhaps final?) season, Fringe is a story with complex characters and a deep and unapologetic mythology involving parallel universes, folded timelines, shape shifters and bald observers named after months of the year. And that’s just for starters.
So what makes Alcatraz like Fringe? And why it is time to let go of the Lost comparisons? Check out our top five reasons why Alcatraz really is the new Fringe, then sound off in our comments section below. We’d love to hear from you.
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1. An older Man with a Difficult Personality Holds (nearly) All the Answers.
Both Emerson Hauser (Alcatraz) and Walter Bishop (Fringe) share a dubious past, head up a secret government organization and control a small core team of individuals who find their large and often unknowable personalities a struggle.
In Alcatraz, former prison guard Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill) runs the Alcatraz task force, a secret government agency charged with the task of returning all escaped Alcatraz prisoners to captivity. Hauser is a gruff, uncommunicative and secretive individual who shares little of his personal history or motivations with Rebecca Madsen and her partner Doc Soto. His actions occasionally paint him in a morally questionable light.
If Hauser has some pieces of the puzzle in his pocket, he is not about to readily share them with his team, doling out information only when absolutely necessary. Trust between Hauser and Madsen will not come easily. Not readily given to displays of emotion, the shooting of Lucy Banerjee (Parminder Nagra) in ‘Ernest Cobb’ elicited a rare outburst from the usually cool Hauser.
It’s easy to compare and contrast Hauser to Doctor Walter Bishop, head of the secret Fringe department (Or Fringe division in the alternate timeline). Walter Bishop, a brilliant scientist, has done some morally questionable things in his past. Socially awkward, Walter can be just as gruff, uncommunicative and secretive as Hauser.
However unlike Hauser, Walter is driven by a keen desire to make amends for his past mistakes. When Walter holds out on the information, it’s not out of a sense of distrust, but more from his inability to verbalize the scrambled ideas in his brilliant mind. Unlike Hauser, Walter is also often openly vulnerable and emotional. However both men share more traits than differences.
2. The off-the-grid Lab is Run by a Highly Intelligent But Long Suffering Assistant.
Lucy Banerjee meet Astrid Farnsworth. They both know where everything is, how everything works and how best to deal with a difficult personality. Nuff said.
3. A Tough and Uncompromising Lead with a Tendency to Become Obsessed by the Mission.
We could talk forever about how Rebecca Madsen (Alcatraz’s Sarah Jones) is just like Olivia Dunham (Fringe’s Anna Torv). In fact, they are so alike they should probably go for a drink together to compare notes. You know … if they both weren’t too busy sitting at home polishing their gun metal and obsessing over the next case.
One of the hallmarks of Abrams-stamped TV shows is his choice in really great female leads. Alias had Jennifer Garner. Fringe has Anna Torv and now Alcatraz has the fabulous Sarah Jones. When the next series proclaiming a ‘tough, kickass female lead’ hits our screens, I hope its one that takes a leaf from Abrams’ book and allows for humanity, humor and intelligence along with all the kickassery, because honestly? we need to see more of this on our TV screens!
4. A male counterpart Brings Balance with Warmth and Humor
At first glance Alcatraz‘s Diego Soto (Jorge Garcia) and Fringe’s Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) may not seem to share that much in common, but look a little deeper and you will see the yang to the lead character’s yin. Where both Olivia and Rebecca are cool, methodical and by the book, Doc Sotto and Peter Bishop offer a different angle, providing warmth and humor and at ripe moments a much-needed dose of humanity.
5. Family Connections
Family connections are central to both Alcatraz and Fringe. Initially believing her grandfather was an Alcatraz prison officer, Rebecca Madsen becomes involved in Hauser’s Alcatraz Task Force when she discovers the real truth. The man responsible for the death of her partner is in fact her grandfather, Thomas Madsen, an escaped time-traveling fugitive and not a prison guard. Her faith in her family history is shaken, making her decision to become involved with the escaped 63’s all the more easy.
Conversely, Peter Bishop spent much of his life erroneously believing his estranged father, living out his years in a mental institution, was responsible for the death of his lab assistant. Peter became involved with the FBI and Fringe when Olivia blackmailed him into releasing his father from St. Claires and becoming his legal guardian. However, as time went on, Peter began to see a softer side to his father and realized the things he had been told were not altogether true.
Still think Alcatraz has more in common with Lost than it does with Fringe? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below.