Alias was a spy-drama series that aired on ABC from 2001-2006. Created by J.J. Abrams, Alias has a blend of other Abrams shows like Felicity and Lost, with an emotional core surrounded by heady mythology. The series had consistent Emmy, Saturn and Golden Globe nominations, with several Saturn wins and a Golden Globe win by lead actress Jennifer Garner in 2002.
The series centers around Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner), who works for SD-6, a covert division of the CIA. After her fiance is murdered, Sydney discovers that SD-6 has no affiliation with the CIA and is actually a terrorist cell, so she begins to work counter-intelligence for the real CIA as a double agent. Throughout the first couple of seasons, Sydney does a balancing act of working for the CIA, playing dumb at SD-6 and maintaining her civilian life with her friends and her schoolwork. Early on it is revealed that not only does her father Jack (Victor Garber) work for SD-6, but he is also a double agent for the CIA himself. Together they work with Sidney’s handler Michael Vaughn (Michael Vartan) on counter missions to compromise the plans of SD-6 and its director Arvin Sloane (Ron Rifkin.) Many of the storylines dealt with Sloane’s obsession with a 15th century artistic visionary named Milo Rambaldi, who predicted technological advances centuries before their creation. Fans of Lost will recognize the familiar narrative devices that Alias employed, such a switching allegiances, characters returning from the dead and the popular last minute plot twist before the episode credits.
The first three seasons of the show gelled very well, with a cohesive story that built upon itself week after week. Alias was bold and never let the audience get too comfortable though, constantly pulling the rug out from under us. Sure, Jennifer Garner was dressed up like a different fantasy stereotype every week, but she was compelling as the paragon of determination that was Sidney Bristow. Victor Garber and Ron Rifkin’s performances were also superb, showcasing just how ruthless driven men can be. Other roles worth mentioning were the humorous Marshall Flinkman (Kevin Weisman) and the good guy/bad guy Irina Derevko, played by Lena Olin, stealing every scene she was in.
The latter two seasons of the show did not fare as well however, having Sidney and her allies work for a (legitimate) black ops division of the CIA called APO. The series changed its shape due to outside effects such as network influence, schedule changes/hiatuses and Jennifer Garner’s pregnancy, which was written into the show. Alias also suffered frequent cast shakeups. Actors such as Michael Vartan, Greg Grunberg and Mia Maestro switched from series regulars to guest stars. In addition, new cast members replacement the missing ones, giving Alias a different vibe altogether. Early on in season 4 it was clear that Alias’s best days were behind it. (Consequently that was when I first started watching the show…whomp whomp.)
Alias was a great series hampered by a mediocre ending. It had action, twists, crazy mythology and a strong female lead to boot.
Final Grade: ★★★½ 3.5/5 (Damn you seasons 4 & 5!)
Rent it? Definitely give the first three seasons a shot. Fans of J.J. Abrams especially.