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Lock up Monday nights with 'Alcatraz'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I never really got into "Alias" and I didn't watch "Lost," but I might become a J.J. Abrams devotee yet, thanks to "Alcatraz." The two-hour premiere got things off to a strong start, and I'm looking forward to more.

The Fox show centers on Alcatraz Island Federal Penitentiary prisoners who mysteriously vanished in 1963 and are now reappearing, unchanged, in present day. It's up to an off-the-grid team to recapture them.

It's a complex mystery, but also a good, old-fashioned police procedural. It's got the feel of "Lost's" far-reaching mystery for people who want a long-term puzzler to get wrapped up in, but each episode has its own self-contained story for people unwilling to make that commitment.

Plus, it's got the prison setting for folks like me who loved "Oz" and "Prison Break," as well as the paranormal aspect for ghost lovers out there.

The acting is great, too, with stars Sam Neill and Sarah Jones playing off each other nicely as grudging co-workers who don't play together so nicely. The accomplished Neill brings gravitas and the appropriate amount of secrecy to his role of a mysterious FBI agent tracking the resurfaced prisoners.

Jones, who could pass for Claire Danes' sister, is a great catch in the role of a San Francisco detective who lands in the middle of his bizarre investigation. She's a strong character, very sure of herself and her skills, but she's not so tough that she comes off abrasive. She's grounded in enough humanity that you feel her passion for her work but aren't overwhelmed by it.

Jorge Garcia is fine as the comic book writer/Alcatraz scholar, but I get the feeling he's playing a role very similar to his Hurley on "Lost." Rounding out the team is Parminder Nagra, who hasn't been given a chance to make a strong impact yet.

The premiere repeats at 11 p.m. Saturday, or see it online at Hulu. The show starts in its regular timeslot at 9 p.m. Monday.

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As for the new comedies of the new year, well, none of them are off to a strong start. ABC's cross-dressing comedy "Work It" failed hardest, getting the axe after two episodes. "Cougar Town" fans can rejoice in that, as their show will take that timeslot starting Feb. 14.

Also at risk for the chopping block are CBS' "Rob" (8:30 p.m. Thursday) and NBC's "Are You There, Chelsea?" (8:30 p.m. Wednesday). "Rob," a fount of tired illegal immigration and cultural ignorance jokes, is the more in danger of the two because CBS has its standby comedy "Rules of Engagement" ready to jump into the timeslot should it need to.

"Chelsea," on the other hand, could survive for a while simply because NBC has no sitcoms waiting in the wings - unless they want to bring "Community" back early. (Hint, hint.) It is hampered by the fact that it is from and about abrasive comedienne Chelsea Handler. Even though she's not playing herself (Laura Prepon of "That '70s Show" fame is), Handler still managed to make the pilot all about her in her role as Chelsea's sister.

Finally, rounding out the pack of newbies is Fox's "Napoleon Dynamite" (8:30 p.m., Sunday). It's about what you'd expect from a cartoon based on a nearly 8-year-old movie. If you're a superfan of the film, you'll probably be tuning in, but there's really no reason for anyone else to watch.

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Scripted series premieres: "Unsupervised," 10:30 p.m. today, FX (animated comedy about teen friends with no parental supervision); "Level Up," 8 p.m. Tuesday, Cartoon Network (live-action adventure about teens battling video game baddies come to life); "Touch," 9 p.m. Wednesday, Fox (Kiefer Sutherland drama about a father and his mute son, who can predict future events).

Other series premieres: "Swanderosa," 10 p.m. Friday, VH1 (Texas wedding planners); "Bayou Billionaires," 9 p.m. and "My Big Redneck Vacation," 9:30 p.m. Saturday, CMT (a poor family strikes it rich and a Louisiana family in The Hamptons); "All Star Dealers," 8 p.m. Tuesday, Discovery (sports memorabilia auctioneers).

Season premieres: "Archer," 10 p.m. today, FX; "Shark Tank," 8 p.m. and "Primetime: What Would You Do?" 9 p.m. Friday, ABC; "The Bad Girls Club," 10 p.m. Monday, Oxygen; "Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?" 9 p.m. Tuesday, WE.

Special airing: "American Idol," 10 p.m. Sunday, Fox.

Returning: "Hart of Dixie," 9 p.m. Monday, CW.

Series finale: "Prime Suspect," 9 p.m. Sunday, NBC (two hours).

Season finales: "Beyond Scared Straight," 10 p.m. today, A&E; "Chef Roble & Co.," 10 p.m. Sunday, Bravo; "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills," 9 p.m. Monday, Bravo; "Cake Boss: Next Great Baker," 9 p.m. Monday, TLC; "Extreme Clutter," 10 p.m. Monday, OWN.

Special: State of the Union address, 9 p.m. Tuesday, ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC.

Of note: Catherine (Marg Helgenberger) leaves "CSI," 10 p.m. Wednesday, CBS.

Reach Amy Robinson at flipside@wvgazette.com.


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