Russell Brand took charge of MSNBC show Morning Joe when the anchors weren't up to scratch.
TV review: Alcatraz
Cast of new drama Alcatraz
No-one can accuse J.J. Abrams of a lack of imagination when it comes to devising TV shows. But how do you follow a series as successful, as talked-about and as mind-meltingly ludicrous as Lost?
Here's how: make 302 Alcatraz wardens and inmates vanish without trace in the early 1960s, then bring them back, unaged, 40 years later, to wreak murderous havoc on the streets of San Francisco.
The show stars a number of familiar faces, including Sam Neill as shadowy federal agent Emerson Hauser, and our very own Parminder Nagra as his sidekick Dr Lucille 'Lucy' Banerjee.
Jorge Garcia (Hurley from Lost) makes a welcome return as Dr Diego 'Doc' Soto, a highly educated Alcatraz expert and comic book store owner. He joins Detective Sarah Madsen (Sarah Jones) in the search for The Truth, in an ominous series opener that's sure to have set the message boards of geekdom a-buzzing.
Repeated references to Alcatraz by its nickname 'The Rock' invoke pleasing memories of Sean Connery verbal-sparring with Nicolas Cage.
The dramatic soundtrack that plays on a continuous loop throughout the opening episode is about as subtle as Sam Neill's ominous one-liners.
The pilot episode of Alcatraz starts as it means to go on: ominously. It's March 21, 1963, and two SFPD officers arrive on Alcatraz in the dead of night. Searchlights sweep across the dock as the cops enter the prison, and - as cops must - quickly figure out something is amiss; namely that there's no-one there.
"Two guys always make the transfer," says Cop 1 to Cop 2. "Maybe they forgot," whimpers Cop 2. "This is Alcatraz. No one forgets," replies Cop 1, ominously.
And thus the scene is set, and Sam Neill's disembodied growl comes floating down on the scene to explain:
"On March 21st 1963, Alcatraz officially closed... all the prisoners were transferred off the island. Only that's not what happened. Not at all."
"302 men disappeared that night," he continues, utterly unabashed at how ridiculous this is all beginning to sound. "They were never seen or heard from again. UNTIL NOW." The only surprise at this point was that the EastEnders dum-dums didn't kick in to hammer home the seriousness of the situation.
"The only surprise at this point was that the EastEnders dum-dums didn't kick in"
Back to the future
Fast-forward to the present, where a guided tour of the abandoned prison reveals a man snoozing in a cell.
That man is 1963 inmate Jack Sylvane (Jeffrey Pierce). He doesn't look very 1960s, but he does look mildly surprised to be able to walk out of there a free man and hop on a pleasure boat back to the mainland.
A quick skim of the tour guidebook confirms his identity - and the fact that he hasn't aged a day in 40 years. He's soon back in Frisco, eschewing a celebratory night on the tiles for a homicidal rampage that leaves his former warden and two cops dead.
Meanwhile, Detective Madsen (Sarah Jones) and Doc are on a daytrip to Alcatraz, determined to find out more about the fantastical story that's unravelling. "Detective Madsen, welcome to Alcatraz," purrs Hauser (Neill), ominously, after gassing the pair in a bunker.
Despite getting off to a bumpy start, the Scooby gang soon become firm allies in the search for Sylvane. A mistake, I'm certain, on Madsen and Doc's part. Who, after all, would trust a man whose every utterance resonates like a klaxon of doom?
"Alan - now an old man - barely registers shock when his youthful bro turns up"
Unlikely revelations soon start flying: Madsen's present-day partner was killed by her forever-young grandfather - another of 'the 63s' from Alcatraz; Sylvane's 1960s wife married his 1960s brother Alan while he was incarcerated on The Rock.
Alan - now an old man - barely registers shock when his youthful bro turns up toting a revolver. "They told me you died," he pleads. "I threw dirt on your coffin." Which is one of the best euphemisms for sleeping with another man's wife that I've ever heard.
Suffice it to say then, Alcatraz is time-jumping sci-fi hokum, jam-packed with ludicrous conceits, half-baked government conspiracies, stock characters, and innumerable ominous warnings.
In other words, there's probably just about enough to entertain fans still mourning the, ahem, loss of Lost - at least until something better comes along.
Whether Alcatraz has the legs to run for more than a couple of seasons is another matter entirely. Its ratings in the US suggest it is already doomed. Verdict: must try harder.
- Rating: A so-so start for Watch's latest US import earns Alcatraz a very ominous three stars out of five.
TV quotes of the week
"The worst criminals this country has ever known are coming back." - In case you hadn't noticed, Hauser (Neill) has a knack for the ominous one-liner.
"Is anyone else's head exploding right now?" - Doc (Garcia) suggests a way to make the pilot episode yet more ridiculous than it already is.
"Clean my ass." Deputy warden Tiller's punishment for Sylvane is a harsh one, even by Alcatraz standards.
"we'd look like The Hardy Boys." Madsen rules out a potential new partner.
"Something terrible's gonna happen here." - Yet another ominous warning for Sylvane, this one delivered by a silhouette, circa 1963.
"Hope you had a nice time on The Rock." - No, not particularly
The views in this article are those of the author alone and not of MSN or Microsoft
related stories on msn
latest tv videos
Comedy star Steve - who returns as the voice of one-time villain Gru, now attempting to turn his life around - was accompanied by co-star Miranda Cosgrove as they were snapped with the cartoon characters.
Date 2 hrs ago, Duration 0:51, Views 22