Something less than a great escape, Fox's intriguing but formulaic Alcatraz (8/7c), from members of Lost's brain trust, proves a fairly tough "Rock" to crack. Basically a procedural with a 4400-style fantasy gimmick, this twists the America's Most Wanted concept by having its parade of bad guys emerge from the shadowy past: 250-odd inmates of the notorious California prison who vanished in 1963 and are now suddenly returning, without having aged a day, on missions of mayhem.
"No one's going to be able to find them because they don't exist," growls hard-boiled Sam Neill as the enigmatic agent in charge of a secret task force, a walking scowl who knows more than he's letting on. A good thing, because the mysteries of the mythology — Where were they for the last half-century? Who's pulling their violent strings? — are more compelling than the plodding mechanics of the weekly manhunt, led by Sarah Jones as a generically spunky detective assigned to the team, possibly because of her own family connection to the Big Mystery.
Character is initially subsumed by the show's high concept, despite the engaging presence of Lost's Jorge Garcia as a smarter-than-he-looks Alcatraz scholar who comes along for the ride, though he has misgivings once he becomes aware of the danger they're all in. "This isn't a comic-book world, is it?" he wonders in tonight's second hour of back-to-back chases. (Could have fooled me.) Earlier, as the premise begins to reveal itself, he marvels, "Is anyone else's head exploding right now?" I wish.
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It's the libido that's exploding on Syfy's provocative Lost Girl (10/9c), a saucy Canadian import that owes a big debt to Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the sexually charged misadventures of a soul-sucking succubus named Bo (Anna Silk, an action-figure version of Mary Louise Parker). Bo knows she's special — her literal kiss of death is a giveaway — but she has to learn the hard way that's she part of the "Fae" race and must choose to follow either the Light or Dark subculture. "I was not expecting Thunderdome," she wisecracks when put to a violent survival test.
With the help of a punk sidekick (scene stealer Ksenia Solo), Bo forges her own path, trying to keep her lethal desires under control, and the action and whimsy help compensate for an overall flatness in the rest of the ensemble casting and low-budget production. I'm still waiting to be seduced — but Lost Girl is already well into its second season in Canada, so there's plenty of time for it to find its way.
Lost Girl is being scheduled as a companion piece to the second season of Syfy's underwhelming adaptation of the British Being Human (9/8c), where casting is even more of an issue. (The far superior original is returning to BBC America for a fourth season on Feb. 25, but minus some key cast members, so it remains to be seen how well that will hold up.)
In Syfy's version of the three-ghouls-sharing-a-house premise, set in a very unconvincingly faked (in Montreal) Boston, dark-and-handsome Sam Witwer fares the best at conveying the timeless angst of reluctant vampire leader Aidan, and his is the strongest storyline, evoking the metaphor (familiar from Twilight, True Blood and The Vampire Diaries, to name just a few) of feeding as addiction. Abstaining from live kills though sorely tempted, Aidan finds himself playing babysitter and advisor to the Vampire Queen's daughter Suren, a pouty "errant princess" he must groom to take control of the Boston pack. As played by Dollhouse's exotic Dichen Lachman (who doesn't appear until next Monday's episode), Suren brings some much-needed attitude to this largely toothless enterprise.
Aidan's roomies, earnest werewolf Josh (Sam Huntington, mugging as if he were in a sitcom) and shrill ghost Sally (the unbearable Meaghan Rath), are less palatable company, and it doesn't help that Huntington has zero chemistry with Kristen Hager as the nurse/girlfriend he may have turned wolf during the last full moon. (Hard to imagine, but MTV's Teen Wolf is telling this sort of story with much more verve, wit and style.)
As the show's title suggests, what these characters desire above all is normalcy, the sense of being human. (Sally's best moment, in episode 2, comes when she takes possession of a partygoer's body and is blissfully able to experience the various senses again, if only briefly.) I'd settle for them just being interesting.
A few more highlights on what is turning out to be a very busy holiday weekend:
STILL WHITE HOT: Who doesn't love Betty White? (That is not a leading or rhetorical question; cynics need not respond.) The revered entertainer is officially turning 90 Tuesday, but NBC is celebrating her still-vibrant career and life tonight with the prime-time special Betty White's 90th Birthday: A Tribute to America's Golden Girl (8/7c). Among those showing up: her co-stars from the legendary The Mary Tyler Moore Show — sadly, White is the only surviving member of The Golden Girls — and her current cohorts on Hot in Cleveland, plus comedy greats Carl Reiner and Carol Burnett. (As a bonus, Hallmark Channel is airing an 11-hour "Rose's Greatest Hits" marathon of Golden Girls classics, starting at 3 pm/2c.)
And lest you think White is slowing down, NBC is following the all-star party with a sneak look at her latest venture, the hidden-camera comedy-reality show Betty White's Off Their Rockers (9:30/8:30c), a Punk'd gone AARP in which senior citizens engineer pranks on unsuspecting whippersnappers. Somehow I think telling all involved to grow up wouldn't do much good.
THEIR ROOTS ARE SHOWING: More legends heard from, as Oprah Winfrey opens her California home to cast members of one of TV's most renowned and popular miniseries in the OWN special Oprah and the Legendary Cast of Roots 35 Years Later (8/7c). When the sprawling dramatization of Alex Haley's genealogical best-seller first aired in 1977, it was a true phenom, drawing an average audience of nearly 80 million. From her living room in Montecito, a symbol for many of how far African-Americans have come since the era of slavery, Oprah interviews Cicely Tyson, LeVar Burton, John Amos, Leslie Uggams, Louis Gossett Jr. and Ben Vereen about their participation in this iconic broadcast.
ODDS AND ENDS: Did you notice the clean-shaven, shorter-haired version of Ashton Kutcher presenting at the Golden Globes Sunday night? On tonight's Two and a Half Men (9/8c, CBS), find out how that came to pass. ... A half-hour earlier, funny lady Jennifer Coolidge guests on 2 Broke Girls (8:30/7:30c) as the girls' new upstairs neighbor. ... Scandals threaten longtime relationships, when New York's mayor and Castle's patron (Derek Webster) is embroiled in a murder investigation on ABC's Castle (10:01/9:01c), and on CBS' Hawaii Five-0 (10/9c), McGarrett confronts Joe White (Terry O'Quinn) when he learns some shocking news from Chin Ho, while Danny's ex-wife goes into early labor. ... First lady Michelle Obama appears on Nickelodeon's iCarly (7:30/6:30c) in an episode honoring military families like Carly's.
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