The two new shows, Alcatraz and The Firm, both seem to be trying to address the same problem. There is some attraction to running a “big story” or “big mystery” drama, to keep the viewer hooked, a la Lost. However, it’s hard to convince people it’s worth watching if they’re unsure if the full story will ever be told… and even if you keep the show running successfully, the big story does poorly in syndication, which is more built toward people catching an episode here, an episode there.
So both of them set up their big story, but work very hard in their first hours to make it clear that A Story Will Be Told Each Episode. In the case of Alcatraz, the basic pitch is that 300 prisoners who mysteriously disappeared from the famed prison 50 years ago are reappearing, unaged, one at a time, and committing crimes. As such, each episode is about how the investigative team goes after one bad guy, basic cop drama, and then running in the background is the Big Mystery of What’s Going On. The setup is pretty goofy even just beyond the inherent science fiction of it, with the team being pulled together in some unlikely ways (hey, cop, we’re trying to get you on the team by tricking you into being interested. And who do you want for your sidekick? A graphic novelist? Of course!) I’m unsure of how much I can invest in the “find the killer” plots – I’m growing weary of serial killer fiction – but there are a couple characters that I like, most particularly Jorge Garcia. I may watch more.
The Firm is a sequel to the Grisham novel and the movie based thereon, which means that the lead is about to get himself involved with another complexly corrupt law firm. I mean, it’s Jack Bauer syndrome, life repeating itself in intense and exciting ways, showing that one has learned from his mistakes and, in the words of Peter Cook, “can repeat them exactly”. Within this framework, they have the room for the legal case of the week, generic law show stuff.
The look of the work is good, but the writing is less so. The legal case in the pilot had our hero – how we are supposed to think of in that manner, not just as a protagonist – ultimately working against the interests of his client, and doing so without consulting with the client.
Not sure either is a keeper. The Firm seems less clunky, but ultimately less attractive.