‘Alcatraz’ a breakout hit? (Sorry, I couldn’t resist)

So this is what we knew about “Alcatraz” going into tonight’s premiere:

It’s a new Fox show from producer J.J. Abrams (“Lost,” the new “Star Trek” movie series).

It stars Jorge Garcia, who played lovable Hurley from “Lost,” and also stars Sam Neill and Sarah Jones.

It’s about a generations-spanning mystery and coverup: The 300-plus inmates and guards at Alcatraz, the island prison off San Francisco, didn’t get transferred when the prison was shut down in 1963. They all … disappeared.

And now they’re coming back.

Here’s what we know after seeing the first two hours:

Not a lot more.

“Alcatraz” might — just might — be the kind of show that I’ll watch every week for years, like “Lost.” It might be the kind of show I’ll wish I had watched every week, like “Fringe.” There’s enough sci-fi goodness, enough mystery, enough conspiracy and enough likable characters to make me give it a try for a while longer.

Jones plays a cop who gets drawn into the Alcatraz mystery when one of the long-missing prisoners shows up, not a day older, on the streets of San Francisco and begins killing people. Garcia is the author of several books about the prison and its history who, needless to say, didn’t know about the mystery and coverup.

Neill is … kind of a mystery, and maybe the best one about the show so far. He’s now a government agent, but back in 1963 he was a young cop who discovered the island prison was empty. In the years since, he’s been waiting, apparently, for the inmates to begin reappearing. So far he’s mum on just what he knows and how he knows it. A conspiracy is pretty well indicated: The prisoners, as they start showing up, have been outfitted with money and guns and in some cases given missions, including, in one case, the recovery of a mysterious key.

Neill’s character is also interesting because we can’t quite tell yet if he’s a good guy or a bad guy. When he head-butts one recovered prisoner and shoots another in the hand, the actions seem somewhat gratuitous if not a little uncalled for.

But when he lodges the recovered inmates in a new, middle-of-nowhere prison that replicates, in gleaming style, the old Alcatraz, he seems pretty keen on torturing them.

“We’ll see how you enjoy a visit from … Dr. Beauregard,” Neill says, or something like that, smiling slightly.

Okay, makers of “Alcatraz.” I’m in for a bit longer, for several reasons, including the appeal of Garcia and Jones as an unorthodox crime-solving team, the mystery of Neill’s character and the intriguing premise.



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