Thursday, January 06, 2005

THE BOX: Alias For Beginners

Okay, last night I watched my first and second episodes of Alias ever. I never took to the show before since it’s time slot competed with Criminal Intent back when CI was still a rather good show. I am also a huge 24 fan and in a twisted way felt like watching Alias is like cheating on my CTU buddies. For trivia sake, I - being a L & O fan for over a decade - I don’t watch CSI either. I’ve tried, but felt dirty afterward.

Alias 4-01/02: “Authorized Personnel Only I & II” (6/10)

The episode, which was supposed to be newbie friendly, follows Sydney Bristow as she leaves the CIA only to find herself as part of a newly formed APO, a black ops super secret wing of the agency. She is reunited with her father, Jack Bristow, her former lover, Vaughn, and her former employer and nemesis, Sloan. I know all this either from the show itself and general pop culture. (Excuse any discrepensies as I’m not doing any Alias back story research right at this point). Also part of the team is Dixon, who apparently was Syd’s former partner. Syd and Vaughn travel to Bellarus to intercept a isotope from a rogue soviet chemist before it falls into the “wrong hands”. Along the way they meet and evil Japanese man who will have an important part to play later in part II. Sydney reveals to Vaughn (and us) that she hates her father (Jack Bristow!) because he ordered a hit on her mother, Irena – a former KGB double agent.

The team needs to lure some evil bad-doers (that Japanese guy) out of the woodwork. They try to bring Nadia, Syd’s half sister and daughter of Irena and Sloan, into the fold. She refuses the offer to join APO. Looking for a way to make contact, the team decides to take to a samurai sword heist in London. After being contacted by the wanted buyer on the black market (that Japanese guy), the team makes their way to Rio de Janeiro. During the contact initiation, Sydney is kidnapped by the evil Japanese guy who knows her “real” identity, Sydney Bristow. The APO team uses Syd’s perilous situation to guilt Nadia into the mission with stilettos and tranquillizer lips. Meanwhile, while captive, Syd learns that the Japanese guy held a contract on her life which was luckily cancelled. After a few sessions with water torture and an escape fight sequence among meat and meat hooks, Syd learns it was her mother who placed the order. Back in VA, Sydney confronts her Papa Jack about his role in Irena’s assassination. If you were not crystal clear to the situation by this point or just "slow", Sydney reiterates “You killed her to save me” a couple times. She seeks comfort from Vaughn.

Nadia permanently joins the APO team and comes to Syd to learn what happened to their mother. Sydney takes Nadia to Moscow, Irena’s grave site, and plays dumb about any involvement Papa Jack had. Nadia then vows vengeance.

Now that that’s out of the way, what did I really think?

The structure of the show did not flow smoothly (IMO). The show starts with an adorable seduction distraction (see pics) which results in Sydney’s impending doom in Bellarus. Then we rewind 72 hours to Shanghai to witness a mission gone arry. The only purpose of this is so that we then end up in LA to witness the fake firing of Miss Bristow, which in turns leads us to the discovery of APO under the Metro, which leads us back to Bellarus. The rest of the episode continues in real time. The sequences jumping would be very effective if the first scene wasn’t actually the second act. So we start in the middle, reverse to the beginning, hit the middle again on our way to the end? Right, see what I’m saying? Complicated structure with complicated plot leads to, well, complications.

The characters are great and the cast is awesome (Mia Maestro is enough to make me re-evaluate being a lesbian). I understand the hype now. The writing had moments of brilliance (such as the constant reference to how bad last year was) only to be bogged down by a too self important expositionary story arc. Sydney’s job is full of twists and turns, and her personal life is even more complex which again, leads to complications.

Twisted Archs – I’m a huge fan of anything I have to “figure out” which is why you would think that Alias would have great appeal to me. The season opener felt very forced. There seemed to be too much information we needed to have to lay the ground work for what seems to be the season’s mission, Nadia vs. Sydney vs. Jack. But, if the rest of the season moves at the pace these episodes did, that arc will be resolved before the end of next week’s show. The beauty about television is the time that you have to develop a character. Alias feels like it’s trying to fit a film’s worth of characterization into each episode. The beauty of television is that you have more time, use it. Great spy films don’t try to fit as much in as these episodes did. I think the show needs simplification of plot.

Was it truly newbie friendly? Pretty much. Any reference to the past was reiterataed again and again so that you “got it”. The twists and turns featured were cliché and predictable. It’s hard to be both complicated and easy at the same time, and in this instance, that’s not a good thing.

I wasn’t blown away by the show but wasn’t too disappointed either. I’ll tune in to see where it goes, but I’m hardly drooling for more. As for it’s similarity to 24, it shares pretty much nothing besides the government genre. It’s more like The Borne Identity watered down.


At 11:28 AM, Blogger Darren said...

From what I gather, a lot of people believe in the "i can only watch 24 or Alias but not both" philosophy. I have never see 24 but its nothing against the show, I would probably really like it. I'm just always working when its on the tube. As far as your problems with the "72 Hours Earlier" the show does it a lot. As a fan of the show, I don't think there was too much presented last night, but as a newbie I can see your slight dismay. No arc was really presented except for Nadia trying to get to whoever killed Irena. As JJ stated, the first few episodes will be self contained and eventually the arc will be introduced.

At 11:34 AM, Blogger Mitchell - Crumrine said...

Yeah, I was suprised by how the two shows have absolutely nothing in common.

BTW, that water torture was nothing. You should see what Jack Bauer has gone through.


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