Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to run out and buy Alias: The Complete First Season. DVDs like Alias, which have intricate, ongoing, evolving plots are difficult to review without spoiling the fun. If you have enjoyed the show 24, like myself and many others have, then after gobbling up both currently available 24 seasons (1 & 2) you might be looking for something to fill that spy-type TV show void. On this premise, I picked up Alias: The Complete First Season by Felicity creator J.J Abrams, and I was intrigued by the teaser blurb on the back cover that explains the story is about grad student Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) who is harboring secret employment working for SD-6, which she believes (for only the pilot episode, actually) is a secret division of the CIA.
The pilot episode, which in my opinion ironically is one of the weakest episodes on the 6-disc set, has Sydney telling her doctor/fiancee in the shower that she works for the CIA. Unfortunately the doc calls and leaves a message on her tapped answering machine that it’s OK she is a spy and the cleanup security division of SD-6 at the order of SD-6 director Arvin Sloane (Ron Rifkin) murders him. At first Sydney is distraught and then outraged by the events and tries to quit, only to realize that there is no way to quit SD-6 and stay alive. So she runs to the open arms of the real CIA and decides she’ll become a double agent like her father Jack Bristow (Victor Garber) who also works undercover at SD-6. Her primary mission becomes to take down SD-6.
The stories that fill the first season often follow the structure of Sydney being called into SD-6 to go on some interesting, but often formalic mission. She then contacts the CIA through her handler Michael Vaughn (Michael Vartan) for a counter mission. The rest of the episode goes through the mission, sometimes with clever scene cutbacks to her struggles as a grad student. Alias is reminiscent of Mission Impossible with Sydney partnered with Marcus Dixon (Carl Lumbly), who also wrongly believes he is working for the CIA. Many of the episodes have cliffhangers that leave Sydney in some really bad situation only to find a resolution at the beginning of the next week’s show a la 24.
Also like 24, there are various substories being explored, like the strained relationship between her father, Jack Bristow, who seems at first a very stoic, secret and unlikeable father character who has coldly put his job before family on too many occasions. What is this guy hiding? What really happened to the death of his wife Laura? Who’s side is Jack Bristow really on? Is he protecting Sydney or himself? Perhaps all of these answers are revealed over the course of Alias: The Complete First Season.
Also many of the missions deal with the quest to solve the Rambaldi enigma. Rambaldi was a 14th century genius who has left behind a trail of enigmatic artifacts like fantastic weapons, prophecies that have come true, and the holy grail: the secret to eternal life.
Then there is the substory of whether Sydney will ever tell her roommate Francie (Merrin Dungey) or good friend reporter Will Tippen (Bradley Cooper) that she doesn’t really work at a bank but is instead a spy. I found myself wondering on more occasion how she could get in all these martial arts battles with the bad guys (she must have taken lessons from Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee), tortured and yet not have any noticeable marks (bumps, bruises, burns, broken limbs, etc) that would have her friends more than curious, but suspicious. As it turns out, though, Will Tippen is curious and uses his investigative prowess to track down what really happened to her murdered fiancee.
My favorite non-main character is Marshall Flinkman (Kevin Weisman), the momma’s boy techie guy who sort of reminds you of the Q character in the James Bond movies. He brings all these cool gadgets and toys to help Sydney and company out in the missions, as well as helps with all the super technical issues and notifying of breaches in security. He also is unaware that he is really working for the bad guys. Marshall is nervous and often will tell off-topic stories and has to frequently be told to get to the point, which is a humorous departure from the seriousness that permeates the rest of the show.
One of the complaints about the show has been that it is too complicated for some viewers. Admittedly, it took me three or four episodes for me to get into the show and I can see where if someone just watched an episode here and there they could become disinterested or confused. Especially when it came to determining who was good and who was bad because many of the “bad” characters are in the same situation as Sydney that they don’t realize they are working for a rogue agency, but instead think they are working for the CIA. That premise is a bit of a stretch, that once you can get past, you can enjoy the fun of this swift moving series. It lends itself better to a DVD purchase though then watching the show in syndication or out of order each week.
Alias is in its third season as of this writing and airs on ABC on Sunday nights (http://abc.go.com/primetime/alias/), but I would sooner recommend buying season one and two and then waiting for the third season DVD to come out then to try and tune into it and spoil the ten or so episodes which have already aired. It’s like tuning into 24 in that one has to see the shows as a collection rather than a show here, show there viewing, because often times storylines are a continuation of what came before. If you have been watching season three then you might be interested in learning the history that leads up to Season three, however unfortunately, you are bound to have a lot of the plots spoiled by watching the current Alias on TV.
As for DVD extras, Alias The Complete First Season contains: Pilot Production Diary, “Inside Stunts”, Deleted Scenes, Gag Reel, Audio Commentaries, Special Season 2 preview (do not watch this until you’ve watched all of Season 1), Video Game sneak peek (this game graphically looks outstanding like most videogame to movies, but also looks fun, unlike most move-to-videogames), DVD-ROM ScriptScanner and some TV Spots. USA Today gives Alias 4 stars and TV Guide calls it “Astounding”
If you are new to Alias, have never seen any of the shows before and are looking for something similarly compelling as 24, then I’d recommend buying this DVD. I also bought Alias The Complete Second Season and I enjoyed that as wel. Alias: The Complete First Season isn’t like 24 in the sense that the whole season happens in one day, but it is tightly written with many plot twists and turns and does hold to an ongoing, compelling storyline. If television continues to produce quality shows like 24 and Alias, I am going to have start looking forward to and watching network television regularly again. In the meantime, until the DVDs are released, programming like this makes having a PVR (Personal Video Recorder like TiVO) very worthwhile. This review will self destruct in five seconds … Grade B+
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