Monday, 23 December 2013

Alcatraz (2012)

Alcatraz held my interest for its twelve-episode run, mainly due to being on Sundays after I got back from gaming. (I prioritised its JJ Abrams stablemate Person Of Interest on the Thursday showings.) Still, it has issues.

And some are sorta relevant to gaming, so here goes.

All kinds of spoilers ahead, as I assume this is okay with a year-after-its-run showing.

Spoilers for future plans as well.

(Not all of its issues are relevant here. Sarah Jones looking too fresh-faced for a hard-bitten detective, Sam Neill having little to do but glower ominously and Parminder Nagra spending most of the run playing a coma and the odd flashback didn’t help.)

The high concept
... is pretty cool, and provides adequate fodder for an ongoing episodic show, but it’s rather limited. Compare The 4400, where people from all walks of life return after disappearing, have superpowers, and were apparently abducted by aliens. Sometimes narrow is good, making discipline necessary, but this might be a step too far. And prisoners are interesting, but they ain’t dinosaurs...

Travelling in time
... is basically brushed over in favour of the whole colloidal silver supersoldier thing. Since one of our heroes is among those who travelled in time, this is particularly annoying. She doesn’t even confirm that she doesn’t know what happened.

How much information our heroes have
So there’s a world-class expert on the period involved (who is surprised a couple times by pretty involved plot twists) as well as someone who was there at the time and heavily involved with the prisoners. Sure, she’s the one who misses most of the series, but he makes up for it. And they have state-of-the-art surveillance equipment and a roomful of scientists. A lot of the episodes are mysteries with one suspect.

The Big Bad
... only appears in the flashbacks, so our new heroes never meet him. He’s fun, in a supervillainy way, so this is a shame.

Well, not so much.

“It would have been nice to have another 13 episodes - that would have been fantastic, so people at least know what the hell was going on!”
Parminder Nagra

One advantage games have is that you can probably improvise a final session if you know it’s going to be the end. Not that you always know - I’ve had games fizzle for various reasons, including one this year.

I’d like to see...
... a completely unknown ’63, who wasn’t a prisoner or a guard...
... hints of over time warps, or at least confirmation there aren’t any.
... a confrontation with the villain. Seriously!
... if someone can go back as well as forward. There’s no reason to think you could if the explanation is pseudo-normal like freezing, but Rebecca finding herself in 1963 would be a hell of a cliffhanger...

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