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Alias Revisited March 13, 2013

Posted by Alichat in Life, TV.
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A couple of weeks ago, there was a scene on episode 4 of The Americans(If you haven’t checked out this show on FX, seriously, what’s wrong with you??)  The scene was of Keri Russell climbing out of the trunk of her car, maneuvering onto the car next to hers, sliding down the roof, and slipping into the trunk of that car all while both were up on hydraulic lifts in a garage.  The TVLine.com crew posed one of their burning questions about the scene likening it to Sydney Bristow in the tv show Alias.  This question, plus the influx of Bradley Cooper sightings during awards season, got me itching to re-watch Alias.

The second show from creator JJ Abrams, Alias was born out of a brainstorming session in the writer’s room of the show Felicity, the idea being that Felicity would go off on missions and fight crime, then come back to college with no one aware of her secret life.  Greenlit because the popularity of Buffy The Vampire Slayer proved a strong female could lead a show, Abrams’ Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) was a female James Bond.  The show followed the life of Sydney, a 26 year old UCLA  grad student who is also a CIA agent working in a black ops unit called SD-6.  Or so she thought.  In the pilot episode, Sydney finds out that she’s not working for the CIA but really working for the Alliance, the big bad she was supposed to be thwarting.  She then becomes a double agent for the CIA.  Enter her handler Michael Vaughn (Michael Vartan) and father Jack (Victor Garber.)  Sydney told her best friends Francie (Merrin Dungey) and Will (Bradley Cooper…swoon!) that she worked for an international bank, when she was really jetting off to exotic and dangerous places in numerous disguises with state of the art gadgetry to accomplish her mission.  If needed, she would kick your ass in hand to hand combat.  Not only did it showcase a strong female character, but also a complex one.  Aggressive and brash at times, Sydney was also damaged and vulnerable.  She had trust issues, a recurring theme on the show, yet was fiercely loyal to those she did trust.  She bonded with her handler because he was one of the few who knew of her double identity and never lied to her.  She clashed with her father because he had lied to her so many times.  Betrayal was a long recurring theme as well.

But it wasn’t just the characters that made this show unusual.  The opening credits would typically not appear until after the first act.  This could be anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes into the episode.  Alias was the show that first introduced us to JJ Abrams’ love of complex underlying storylines tied to some mythical prophecy (see Lost, Alcatraz, and Fringe,) in this case Milo Rimbaldi, a 15th century prophet.  And the show was littered with unexpected recurring and guest stars.  Just a few episodes into my DVDs, and I found myself saying over and over “Oh my god! I forgot he/she was on the show!”   Just to rattle off a few….Sir Roger Moore, Lena Olin, Jason Segal, Isabella Rossallini, Ricky Gervais, Peggy Lipton, Gina Torres, Christian Slater, Ethan Hawke, David Carradine, Faye Dunaway, David Cronenberg, Amy Irving, Angela Bassett, and Quentin Tarantino.

Another thing I’d forgotten was how much I disliked the last two seasons.  Not to say that I hated them, although season 5 comes pretty darn close to my hate list, but they were not up to par in my opinion.  Seasons 1 and 2 were fantastic.  Season 3 was different but good.  But as the seasons became more Rimbaldi heavy, the creative team was left in season 4 having to one-up the previous plot twists.  Season 4 was somewhat entertaining but lacking.  Outside influences hurt the situation.  By 2004, Abrams’ attention was now focused on Lost, which I think affected the storytelling.  Garner and Vartan’s real life romance had ended, which didn’t help things in the chemistry department for the onscreen lovers. Bradley Cooper’s character, who grounded Sydney in normalcy, appeared once in season 3, and then completely vanished never to be seen until the series finale.  And frankly any show without at least a taste of Bradley Cooper in it is sadly lacking, right? Right?  You know I’m right!  The opening was revamped which saw the simple background replaced with a seizure inducing array of 50+ shots of Sydney in various disguises.  Created to ride the wave of Garner’s growing popularity (and pull in more male viewers I imagine,) a lot of fans saw it as tacky and insulting to the rest of the ensemble cast whose names were lost in the sea of Garner’s brightly colored wigs or lingerie.  In season 5, we were given an overhaul of the show.  Vartan was absent for over half of the season, appearing in only 7 out of the 17 episodes. Don’t even get me started on the complete 180 they did on his character!  Garner’s real life pregnancy was written into the show, and the season shortened to accommodate her maternity leave.  Greg Grunberg’s character Weiss high tails it to DC for a new job after spending the last four seasons being the comic relief, voice of reason, and lovestruck boyfriend to Nadia, Sydney’s currently comatose sister.  Five new characters were introduced to keep the action level up, but for some reason, I couldn’t find a desire to care about these characters even though one of them was portrayed by Angel’s Amy Acker! (Say it ain’t so Fred!)  When I started rewatching the seasons, I mainlined seasons 1-3 in one weekend.  It’s taken me two weeks to finish 4 and 5.  Actually, I haven’t finished 5.  I still love the show though.

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