It has been two years, but network television is still scattering the pieces of the “Lost” empire into new ventures. FOX’s “Alcatraz” is the latest of those enterprises and Bad Robot’s most successful and suspenseful new show since that fateful plane crash.


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The most notable similarity between “Lost” and “Alcatraz” (let’s just get it out of the way now) is composer Michael Giacchino’s score, which evokes even more nostalgia than hearing Jorge Garcia say “Last time I was on the island …” in total seriousness. There’s no mistaking the eerie glissandos and tremolos punctuated by jarring jabs on the cello, and the ever-so-telling horn crescendo that marks each act break.

By television standards in the post-“Lost” world, “Alcatraz” is an exemplary pilot. It introduces a small but compelling cast who are neither too enigmatic nor too open. It’s set up as a mystery, but it’s not confusing.

Now, back to the island. The story behind “Alcatraz” is that 302 prisoners vanished from the penitentiary in 1963 on the night they were supposed to be relocated before it shut down permanently. Fifty years later, the misplaced convicts are reappearing and running amok, and it’s up to detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones, “Big Love”) and intrepid scholar Diego Soto (Garcia) to track them down and bring them to justice … again.

Jones plays the most recent in a long-overdue lineup of powerful female leads. She’s impetuous and gun-savvy and doesn’t take shit from people: When FBI agent Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill, “Jurassic Park”) overrules her jurisdiction in a crime scene, she leaves with a glare and a scathing “thanks for being such a dick about it.”

It turns out Hauser knows significantly more about what’s happening than Madsen and Soto, so the duo helps him find missing prisoners in exchange (hopefully) for further information about the incident. When it’s revealed that Hauser was present on the night of the disappearance, his single-minded manhunt and the patience behind it make more sense. But when it turns out he’s tracking the prisoners in order to repopulate his own underground version of Alcatraz, things take a turn for the twisted.

The first inmate to turn up is Jack Sylvane (Jeffrey Pierce, “The Nine”) who is surprisingly unfazed that he woke up fifty years after his alarm clock rang and hasn’t aged a day. His overwhelming emotion is vengeful rage against those who landed him on the rock in the first place. Sylvane wakes up in the prison itself — much to the alarm of a little girl in a tour group — only to escape, go on a killing spree and be brought back by the equally vindictive Hauser. But where are the other prisoners reappearing, and how?

The plot is neat and straightforward, but undeniably engrossing: despite Diego’s quip of “is anyone else’s head exploding right now?” there’s no exploding to be done. The twists come in appropriate doses, the biggest being saved for the end of the two-part pilot — if the first 87 minutes haven’t already hooked you, the last minute might just do the trick.

As the episodes are named for the vanished escapees and they’re tracked one per episode, it could easily get old if the writers planned on introducing and resolving the prisoners in these episode arcs. But it looks for the moment as if the prisoners will be sticking around and playing a larger role in understanding just what happened in 1963. “Alcatraz” is off to a better start than most new dramas, and there’s no reason for it to vanish any time soon.

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