Welcome to part two of my look at some of genre TV’s most binge-worthy series. If vampires and the supernatural (see part 1: Buffy the Vampire Slayer) don’t float you’re boat then maybe something with a little more espionage will be for you.
Today we’re looking at another of my all-time favourite TV series: J.J. Abrams Alias.
The show, led by Jennifer Garner in her breakout role, ran on ABC from September 2001 through May 2006 for a total of 5 seasons and 105 episodes. It built on the serialised nature of series like Buffy and The X-Files to become one of network TV’s more critically acclaimed spy dramas.
Long before Lost or Star Wars came calling, Abrams was already one of the hardest working names in TV but had yet to carve a niche in the sci fi/action adventure genre. But a glorious mix of mind-bending plots, colourful costumes and intense action soon made both Abrams and Garner household names.
Alias centres on spy Sydney Bristow (Garner), an agent within a black-ops division of what she thinks is the CIA called SD-6. Sydney is a highly intelligent college student, happily engaged, well adjusted and with everything to live for. But when her conscience forces her to come clean to her fiancé about her extracurricular activities her world soon begins to crumble around her.
Before the end of the series pilot her fiancé is tragically murdered, SD-6 is unveiled to be anything but a member of the CIA and a domino of explosive plot lines is set in motion.
A typical episode of Alias will have a central focus, a mission which requires Sydney to take on a new persona in order to collect an artefact, piece of information or to secure a prisoner. Acting as a double-agent for the real CIA, she will have to carry out two missions simultaneously in order to please both sets of superiors.
Untangling the web of SD-6 is the overarching plot line for season one but quickly becomes a lifetime career for Sydney as more members of her family and immediate circle are dragged in to a life of dingy goth clubs and PVC outfits.
Underneath it all also bubbles a sometimes baffling mythology regarding a fictitious Renaissance-era figure with similarities to both Leonardo da Vinci and Nostradamus.
Though members of its cast would come-and-go there is a core team at the heart of Alias which is like any other procedural. Sydney is backed up by Michael Vaughn (Michael Vartan) her handler and love interest, Marshall (Kevin Wiseman) the tech expert, Arvin Sloane (Ron Rifkin) the shady agent in charge of SD-6, Weiss (Greg Grunberg) the wise-cracking support agent, Dixon (Carl Lumbly) the supportive partner in the field.
Not forgetting her father, Jack (Victor Garber), himself a double agent working for both SD-6 and the CIA. He raised Sydney as a single parent after the death of her mother. That is until season 2 when Lena Olin takes on the role of Irina Derevko, a Soviet Spy who infiltrated America as Laura. Laura married Jack and is mother to Sydney and her sister… but you won’t find out about her until season 4!
Alias was the first of Abrams shows to feature hidden codes. As Sydney travels to new locations letters from the place name will highlight on screen and spell out clues to the storyline across the series. A storytelling device which Abrams would later also include in Fringe.
Episodes would regularly forego the usual pre-credit teaser and instead save the opening credits for the end of the first act. This meant that episodes could regularly air up to 19 minutes of story before the titles would even appear on screen. Other episodes would drop the opening titles altogether to allow for more storytelling.
Alias would regularly also leave fans on the edge of their seat for days on end as episodes would end with huge, plot altering cliffhangers. Season finales, particularly seasons 1 and 4, would also leave fans hanging for months waiting for resolution.
Though some felt that Alias alienated members of the general audience by overcomplicating its plot. I feel like if this is a series that you really want to invest in then it’s hugely rewarding right through to its final moments. The series finale is one of the most satisfying I have ever seen and to this day, 14 years later, I still rewatch the series and hope for a movie or a continuation one day.
- 1×01 “Truth Be Told”
- 1×15 “Page 47”
- 1×22 “Almost Thirty Years”
- 2×14 “Double Agent”
- 2×22 “The Telling”
- 3×11 “Full Disclosure”
- 3×22 “Resurrection”
- 4×22 “Before The Flood”
- 5×16 “Reprisal”
- 5×17 “All The Time In The World”
Alias is available on DVD to purchase now. The series can also be purchased on iTunes, or streamed via Amazon Prime.