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Feature: Alias

A Life of Surprises

Jennifer Garner as Sydney Bristow

So you've joined a Secret Service to help your nation, but then discover all is not what it seems. And that's really just the start of your problems…

Welcome to TV Zone’s spy school. Your mission instructions are simple. Find some average viewers to interrogate. Ask them to identify a thrilling spy series that achieved breakout success after its US début in the 2001-02 season. To assist them, mention that it would be a pulse-raising, cliffhanger-based drama, involving an elite CIA agent based in Los Angeles. The agent’s family should be caught up in the ongoing narrative, which would after its first season be nominated for several prestigious Emmy awards.

Many people, especially in the UK, would then nominate the groundbreaking 24, the cause of major ripples amongst Cult and mainstream audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. But US viewers would be equally likely to name a series that takes a different tack to redefining 21st Century espionage – and that would be Alias.

Consider: the year-end Nielsen ratings for Alias (based on its primetime Sunday 9pm slot on ABC, where it played opposite the last season of The X-Files) were no less healthy than 24’s. Alias has also gained 11 Emmy nominations: as many as the predictably commended Friends, and one more than 24 received. Amongst ongoing drama series – a second series of Alias is already in production – that clutch was surpassed only by The West Wing and Six Feet Under. At mid-season in January, Alias won America’s People’s Choice Award for ‘Favourite Television New Dramatic Series’. Not bad going for a rookie. Meanwhile, in less than a year, Alias has transformed its star Jennifer Garner from an almost unknown into practically a household name.

So is this some frivolously camp series, less grounded in reality than Bugs or The Avengers, with Garner employed merely as carefree eye-candy? Not a bit of it: almost every episode puts Sydney onto a new emotional roller-coaster. Whereas 24’s selling-point is its ‘real-time’ narrative, Alias is about Sydney’s real life – her fiancé, her college friends, her mother’s legacy – and the conflicts that erupt as it enmeshes with her fantastical work. Sydney is usually given a glamorous alter ego with each new globetrotting spy mission. With the wardrobe and wigs to match, these missions often give an episode its biggest visual kick – though in the harshness of the series’ very first scene, or the ultra-grim Romanian asylum visited later in Color-Blind, they can be far removed from the glamorous world of spy Fantasy. Other missions, however, are more in the style – and style is the operative word here – of Charlie’s Angels, or a distaff James Bond. Yet Sydney’s most challenging and traumatic alias is to maintain her non-spy façade amongst her friends.

by Mark Wyman

Learn much more about Alias and many other things you didn't know you were missing in:
TV Zone #154

© ABC Inc.
Feature © Visual Imagination 2002. Not for reproduction

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TV Zone #154, see below for ordering options
TV Zone #154
September 2002
ships from Aug 22 2002
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