Ten million people were in the mood for some captivating drama last night, as Fox unleashed the premiere of Alcatraz. Want some more insight into the J.J. Abrams-produced series, which follows a detective (Sarah Jones), an Alcatraz expert (Jorge Garcia), and a cryptic government official (Sam Neill) as they investigate why the inmates of the famous prison are suddenly reappearing unaged in current-day San Francisco? Read on to see what Garcia and exec producers/showrunners Jennifer Johnson and Daniel Pyne told EW about Alcatraz.
On the mysterious prisoners
DANIEL PYNE: They’re committing the crimes that put them in Alcatraz, which was the prison where people who couldn’t be in other prisons went. They’re resuming their criminal activities, so anything from kidnapping, bank robbery, murder, serial killers, sharp shooters, car robbery. I mean, serious, federal, just badass crimes.
JENNIFER JOHNSON: These guys are the worst of the worst, and our team is up against all odds trying to catch them, because they essentially don’t exist. Unlike other criminals, they don’t have ex-girlfriends to go talk to, or credit cards to track. All of the connections they had are now gone. We’re chasing ghosts, and that’s what makes this ride so fun. … Any story that you can think of from the past 10 years that made you feel like you couldn’t leave your house or that you needed to lock your doors, those are the guys we’re going to be catching.
On the mythology-laced show’s accessibility to mainstream audiences
JJ: This show will be easier to tune in to every week than a Fringe or a Lost. Really at the heart of Alcatraz is pursuing the inmates. Every week we’ll be catching or not catching one of those inmates. The mythology will be there if you’re looking for it, but it won’t be critical to enjoying each episode.
On unspooling the story in both the present and past
DP: What we’re seeing in the past informs what happens in the present, but it may not be something that our characters in the present ever discover. So you have this wonderful opportunity to tell a short story in the past that helps the audience to have a deeper understanding of what’s going on in the present in a way that the characters can’t. It’s a delicious blend of crime story and emotion and fantasy, because the mythology obviously plays through the past. I really like that dynamic – that ability to tell parallel stories that don’t necessarily intercept except for the audience.
On the motivations of our task force
JJ: This is Doc Soto’s worst nightmare and his dream come true. This is a guy who studied Alcatraz for very personal reasons, which we’ll learn about, and also is a comic book artist and fan. So he’s got criminals in this almost comic-book environment coming to life. On the one hand he wants to know everything he can about them, but on the other hand he’s absolutely terrified of them. Doc has a lot of theories about what could have happened too. It’s everything from wormholes to dimensions we can’t perceive to cryogenics. He’s going to be asking all of the questions that the audience is asking: How did they return? How did they return unaged? Who is behind this? The story will be told largely from [Detective] Rebecca Madsen’s point of view. She has an incredibly personal connection to Alcatraz, and every inmate that she pursues could potentially bring her a step closer to unlocking some of the mysteries of her life. The man that you know to be her grandfather is somebody who she has a great investment in tracking down, not just because it’s her grandfather, but because of a crime he committed in present day [which resulted in the death of her partner]. It makes it impossible for her not to doggedly pursue each of these inmates every week, because they might offer a clue that gets her closer to catching her grandfather and solving the crime of her life… Emerson Hauser (Neill) was there the night that the inmates, guards, and personnel of Alcatraz disappeared. He will have a tremendously personal reason for understanding how that happens, because, we will learn later, somebody was taken away from him that night.
On the show’s reshoots
JJ: There were two things that we wanted to strengthen, and they were the dynamics of the group, and the crime of the week. We had already hit the sweet-spot in the flashbacks and the stories we were telling at Alcatraz. We felt that there was room for understanding the characters better, understanding Rebecca’s backstory, and why she was invested in the task force, understanding her relationship to Soto, and strengthening those relationships. And then also [we wanted] the hunting of the fugitive of the week to be as mesmerizing and exciting as it could be.
On Garcia’s Dr. Soto
JORGE GARCIA: He has that intuitive blink factor where he can see it and go, “Boom, this is what’s going on and this is why,” as opposed to [using] some kind of formula system to try to figure out what it might be. He can cut through all that. He comes from academia yet still has his heart in the world of comic books and heroes, so the idea of him becoming part of this crime-fighting team definitely has a strong appeal to his romantic side. But he has this kind of rude awakening when he realizes, “No, no, these are people who are dying for real. And these [prisoners] are dangerous people.” Coming up on a crime scene is not a pleasant experience on any level.
On Doc serving as the voice of the audience, and his similarities to Hurley (Garcia’s character from Lost)
JG: Because Doc comes from outside the police world, he becomes the voice of the outsider looking in on the show, because all this stuff is new to him. He is in many ways going to be part of the audience’s window into this. His interpretations are going to be reflective of what the audience might be thinking in a smiliar way to what Hurley was. It’s always fun when you get to say the thing that the audience is thinking.