Fall '01: "Alias"
What do you expect from a show that originated from a nonsensical five-word pitch: "Felicity... working for the CIA." J.J. Abrams, the creator of the collegiate hair-obsessed soapy coming-of-age drama Felicity is also the man behind Alias.
I was just as wary as the next red-blooded American male when I heard one of the dark, frilly lords of Chick TV was going to try and pull off an action series, but Abrams has taken his knowledge of the sunny life of beautiful college students, swirled it with "Mission: Impossible," and nailed the dismount.
In Alias, Jennifer Garner plays lead character Sydney Bristow, a graduate student who also happens to be a spy for SD-6, an outfit she believes is a covert arm of the CIA. This is no school-supported internship program, however, and we quickly learn SD-6 Rule #1: Don't tell anyone who you work for. So of course, Sydney tells her new fiance who she works for. Cheery british Dr. Danny is quickly whacked, leaving Sydney to understandably reconsider her relationship with her employers. Her cold feet make SD-6 and its shifty-eyed boss (Ron Rifkin, or is it Bob Balaban? We can never keep them straight) nervous, and so he decides to get rid of her as well.
Sydney is rescued by her estranged father, who tells her he also happens to work for SD-6. Unfortunately, SD-6 isn't really a part of the CIA, it's a tentacle of a vast conspiracy of freelance former secret agents. She then jets off to Taiwan on her own, to steal what looks like a cast-iron toilet seat before returning it to her bosses at SD-6.
I don't know about you, but if the head honchos here at TeeVee tried to make me worm food, I'd be hesitant to even return office supplies I "borrowed," much less risk my life (and my teeth, courtesy of a sadistic Chinese torturer) to retrieve a cast-iron toilet seat that could change the balance of world power.
It doesn't matter that the premise of Alias is slightly less plausible than most WWF storylines. This is that rare show that never takes itself too seriously and is happy to be nothing more than sixty minutes of pure entertainment. Why is the CIA recruiting college freshmen? Why is killing an agent's loved ones seen somehow as an employee-retention strategy? Just keep moving. Nothing to see here -- but look! Over there! Sydney's got a red wig on and she's about to do a backflip while handcuffed to a chair! Who needs petty distractions like logic?
Garner -- who spent some time on Felicity -- is a great find. She's got an authentic edge to her and pulls off the physical part of her job as if she were a veteran athlete. Plus, we can't forget her incredible ability to fill out a skintight pink cocktail dress. Although she spends much of the pilot crying and whimpering, Garner has the charisma and strength to make for a credible spy.
The pilot wasn't quite action junkie utopia. There were far too many Paula Cole-knockoff musical interludes and sensitive-male navel gazing scenes for my tastes. (This may be an indication that Alias will have a wider appeal, if you like that sort of thing.) But for me, the weepy Peter Gabriel interlude during the funeral of Dr. Danny was redeemed by Sydney, handcuffed to a chair and still bleeding from that anaesthetic-free tooth-pulling, head butting her interrogator and then subduing him with a nasty case of furniture kung-fu.
The plot may not make much sense, but Alias is television that's easy to understand. Fast, stylish and sharp, Felicity in the CIA may be the most fun you'll have this television season.
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