Monthly Archives: January 2012

Alcatraz: JJ Abrams’ Next Island-themed Endeavor

I saw this show on TV the other day.  It’s written by JJ Abrams, it’s about a bunch of people stranded on an island, the main character’s name is Jack, Jorge Garcia plays another main character, and it contains time travel.  Sound familiar?  If you’re like me and you had an unnatural obsession with “Lost” it probably does.  FOX looked to be aiming straight for the Lost crowd with its new drama “Alcatraz”, and at least for me, the advertisements worked; I was hooked before it even started.  But can Alcatraz live up to Abrams’ previous television masterpiece?  Can it be the next Lost?

The short answer is no.  Despite the borderline absurd similarities listed above, Alcatraz really isn’t like Lost at all.  It is more of a detective/cop show with a supernatural twist.  Its premise, that all of the prisoners of Alcatraz disappeared in 1963 and are reappearing now, is interesting to be sure, but the structure of the show seems to put more emphasis on the hunt for the criminals than on the mystery surrounding their sudden reappearance.  Rebecca Madsen, played by Sarah Jones, is a homicide detective who tries to track down these long-forgotten criminals after they reappear.  She is joined by Dr. Soto (Jorge Garcia), an expert on criminal justice and the history of Alcatraz.  The relationship between these two will likely make or break this show.  Though the mystery and suspense are important and exciting, it is the main characters of a detective show like this that create permanent viewership.  Rebecca and Doc show brief signs of strong chemistry in the pilot, but it remains to be seen in the rest of the season whether this unlikely duo will mesh.

Alcatraz is not Lost, nor is it trying to be, despite the strong allusions to it in the trailer.  Instead it is a twist on the classic detective drama, adding mystery and a supernatural element to a genre that needed something new.  I’m not convinced that the show can maintain its initial mystery and that the main characters have enough chemistry to keep the show going, but it certainly has potential, and I’ll keep watching it, if just to see Jorge Garcia in action once again.

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The Show That Keeps Getting Better

Amy Poehler stars in "Parks & Recreation"

If you aren’t watching NBC’s Parks & Recreation, start watching it now.  Every season has been better than the previous, and seasons 3 and 4 blew the first two out of the water.  Like its veteran NBC counterpart The Office, Parks & Rec is shot in the mockumentary style, interspersing talking heads and b-roll into the show’s otherwise typical production.  Like The Office, these talking heads are often the funniest parts of the episodes, as we see characters privately react to events the audience just witnessed.  This both gives us a unique opportunity to get to know characters in the show more personally and allows for more subtext and less spoken explanation within the rest of the show.

Nick Offerman plays mustached breakfast-enthusiast Ron Swanson

Beyond the mockumentary style, Parks & Rec has the remarkable ability to make every character both absolutely absurd and unavoidably likeable.  Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), the main character of the show, is an obsessive overachiever at everything she does, but she doesn’t come off as obnoxious or domineering, but loving and selfless.  Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) is part-womanizer, part-entrepreneur, and part-egomaniac, yet you can’t help but root for his ridiculous endeavors and love him just the same when he fails.  Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), my personal favorite, is a meat-loving, government-hating, patriotic libertarian, but his soft side will make you cry and forget about his ridiculous views (sorry Ron Paul).  Even the one “normal” character, Jerry, is still a caricature of blandness, so much so that the other characters incessantly mock him for his normalcy.  There are too many other characters to describe here, but trust me when I say that every one of them is uniquely absurd, lovable, and hilarious.

Though the characters on Parks & Rec are ridiculous, its stories and setting are entirely relatable.  Set in a small Indiana town in a typical local government workplace, the show tells stories that feel familiar, even to a college student who has never had an office job.  Efforts to exaggerate certain aspects of the town, such as the constantly angry citizens at town hall meetings and the passive aggressive alcoholic talk show host, in fact make the subsequent scenes seem more real and relatable.

I couldn’t recommend Parks & Rec more for anyone looking for a new show to watch or just something to do instead of comps (especially since the first 3 seasons are now on Netflix!).  Like early seasons of The Office, Parks & Rec feels authentic because of its mockumentary format and down-to-earth setting, while at the same time offers characters that are both hilariously absurd and decisively charming.  If you find yourself skeptical at the beginning, stick in there; the more you watch and the later into the episodes you go, the better the show will be.

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