'Alcatraz': Between Rock and fun place

Jorge Garcia and Sarah Jones are pictured in

Jorge Garcia and Sarah Jones are pictured in the show "Alcatraz," the chilling new thriller centered on America's most infamous prison and the mysterious return of its most notorious criminals will debut Monday, Jan 16, 2012 on FOX. (Credit: FOX/)

THE SHOW "Alcatraz," Fox/5, 8 p.m. Monday

REASON TO WATCH J.J. Abrams, who produces, and Jorge Garcia are back.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT "The Rock" closed down on March 21, 1963, with all prisoners and guards transferred elsewhere (in real life, they went to the U.S. Penitentiary in Marion, Ill.). "Only that's not what happened," viewers are told. No, no, noooo: In fact, 256 prisoners and 46 guards vanished. Now, 49 years later, the bad guys are reappearing on the streets of San Francisco, one by one. None has aged a day. Det. Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) investigates the murder of a former assistant warden, only to discover a mysterious Fed at the crime scene, one Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill) and his colleague, Lucy Banerjee (Parminder Nagra). He takes over the case, but not before Madsen lifts some prints of a long-dead con -- who had been on Alcatraz back in '63. Meanwhile, she needs expert help, and gets it from full-bodied, funky, fabulous comic book/

Alcatraz expert extraordinaire Dr. Diego "Doc" Soto (Garcia).

MY SAY Disappearances . . . time shifts . . . odd reappearances of people who hadn't aged at all? Where have we heard all this before?

No, this isn't a riddle, although "Lost" and a stray episode or two of "The Twilight Zone" or "Heroes" or "The X Files" may come to mind.

In fact, " 'Traz" shares some of the DNA of "The 4400" (of all shows) with a strand or two stripped from the genetic code of "FlashForward." Love all these aforementioned worthies, and you should eagerly hop aboard this one, too (there are also similarities with "The Event" but the less said about that, the better.)

The real added value here is Garcia, who punctures occasional flights of full-blown sci-fi "high concept" blarney with the precisely correct verbal stiletto: "Is anyone else's head here about to explode?" He's the improbable leading man, and deserves to be.

Behind the scenes of this series, there already has been creative turmoil and shifts; most notably, top producer and "Lost" alum Elizabeth Sarnoff has left, while Abrams is back at work on movies. But " 'Traz" still looks plenty promising.

BOTTOM LINE It was a dark and stormy night -- and a weird, fun, trippy one, too.

GRADE B+

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