Tuned In: 'Alcatraz' and 'Lost Girl' off to strong starts

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Two series with fantasy elements debut this week, and both get off to strong creative starts.

Fox debuts its new J.J. Abrams-executive-produced show with back-to-back episodes, but only the first hour was available for review. It's a strong, creative pilot filled with beautiful shots of Alcatraz and San Francisco and an intriguing story, too.

"Alcatraz" (8-10 p.m. Monday, WPGH) proceeds from the notion that the night the island prison was shut down in March 1963, its prisoners all disappeared. Now they're somehow coming back.

San Francisco police detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones), who has a personal connection to Alcatraz, lands a homicide case where fingerprints from a supposedly dead inmate, Jack Sylvane (Jeffrey Pierce), turn up. A surveillance camera catches a glimpse of Sylvane, who looks the same in 2011 as he did in 1963.

Madsen, whose last partner died in the line of duty, teams with Alcatraz expert Dr. Diego "Doc" Soto (Jorge Garcia, "Lost") to investigate this odd turn of events. The pair encounters a federal agent, Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill, "Jurassic Park"), who appears to know what's going on but won't spill many details.

This is where concern about the future of "Alcatraz" begins. The pilot looks great, offers an intriguing plot and effortlessly introduces the show's characters and premise. But what will "Alcatraz" be on a weekly basis? Will it be Madsen tracking down an escaped inmate every week, and Hauser refusing to divulge any secrets? That kind of teasing will grow old pretty fast.

"Alcatraz" comes from Mr. Abrams, who launched mythology-driven "Lost," which is both reassuring and worrisome. Reassuring because "Lost" was a great show; worrisome because even though "Lost" dragged out its revelations it had the benefit of a much larger story universe. So far "Alcatraz" boils down to just two questions: Where did the prisoners go, and why don't they age?

Also worrisome: Fox credits the show's brain trust as Mr. Abrams and former "Lost" writer Elizabeth Sarnoff; Ms. Sarnoff stepped down as "Alcatraz" showrunner in November. We'll see if subsequent episodes live up to the promise of the pilot.

'Lost Girl'

Syfy series often suffer from subpar scripts and plotting, but Syfy's Canadian import "Lost Girl" (10 p.m. Monday) succeeds where other programs fail.

With a witty script by series creator Michelle Lovretta, "Lost Girl" mixes mystery-of-the-week plots and character stories with an overarching mythology in a way that's palatable for fans of serialized and procedural dramas.

Comparisons to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" get made too easily, but "Lost Girl" may be one of the few series that actually merits them.

Bo (Anna Silk) knows she's different -- she's part of a secret race that feeds on human energy -- but she doesn't know exactly what she is until she comes to the rescue of a wig-wearing punk girl, Kenzi (Ksenia Solo) and gets caught by a cop, Dyson (Kris Holden-Reid), who's also a Fae, creatures of legend who pass as human.

Monday's premiere unpacks a lot of back story on the Fae -- there are two kinds, Dark or Light, and they've been locked in conflict for centuries -- but this background goes down easy, thanks to the show's embrace of comedy.

The Morrigan (Emmanuelle Vaugier), leader of the Dark Fae, is particularly witty in her put-downs. She snaps a flower in half while criticizing a Light Fae leader.

"Tell me, was your neutering ceremonial or birth defect?" she purrs.

In next week's episode, as Bo learns more about what she is, a Fae bartender welcomes her into his home.

"Nice decor," she says. "Early Tolkien?"

"Where do you think he got it from?" the Fae bartender (Rick Howland) shoots back.

It's the humor in the dialogue -- and the complex mythology -- that bring to mind "Buffy" and predecessor Syfy series "Farscape."

Syfy has given "Lost Girl" a TV-MA rating, presumably for sexual content, although I recall just one bedroom scene that didn't strike me as overly steamy.

Only two "Lost Girl" episodes were available for review, but so far the show gets off to a stronger, more promising start than anything Syfy has debuted since "Battlestar Galactica."

Rob Owen writes this Sunday TV column for Scripps Howard News Service. Contact him at: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook. First Published January 15, 2012 5:00 AM


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