It's an unfair, silly question, of course; each television program, like any work of art, should be judged on its own merits. But millions of Lost fans, people like me, would dearly love to once again enjoy the experience Lost gave us for six years: a compelling mystery with engaging characters, a great central concept, sharp writing, superb acting, great music and excellent production values.
Now three episodes in, Alcatraz already possesses a few of these elements. It has a wonderful science-fiction premise: Alcatraz was never really shut down, rather, all its prisoners and guards vanished without a trace back in the 60s. Now, in 2012, they're beginning to reappear, aged not a day, and they're a dangerous menace being driven by as-yet-unrevealed masters to commit acts of crime and terror. A secret government organization has been formed to track down the time-travelling convicts. A spunky cop (Sarah Jones) and a professorial comic book nerd (Jorge Garcia) stumble upon the organization and join up, using their unique connections to Alcatraz to aid in the quest.
The show already has some connections to Lost: they share a composer (Michael Giacchino), an executive producer (JJ Abrams), an actor (Jorge Garcia). A mysterious island is of central importance to both shows.
Thus far, however, Alcatraz's central mystery and plot are not nearly as complex as Lost's. There are no smoke monsters, no strange voices, and only one credulity-stretching coincidence.
The creators must be aware of the inevitable comparisons, for in the third episode, ex-corrections officer and now head of the shadowy cabal tracking down the inmates, Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill), utters the most infamous, frustrating line delivered in Lost: "It's complicated." But Reyes' riposte is a clever inversion of the Lost trope: "No, it's not complicated."
And so far, it isn't. Each episode, the protagonists track down a bad guy who gets shipped to what I'm calling Alcatraz II, an underground prison built to hold the recaptured inmates. It's an entertaining good-vs-evil formula that's satisfying on its own merits. I'm hoping - and I'm sure that the creators are planning it - that the show's storytelling will evolve in complexity. Like Person of Interest, Alcatraz isn't a great show yet - it is, perhaps, not yet complicated enough - but one day it could be.