On Finishing ALIAS

Posted: July 15, 2013 by mwerntz in Myles, Television

As many commentators have noticed, Netflix has changed the game when it comes to how we watch television. No longer do we have to pine for a week between episodes, discussing the intricacies of the previous week’s episode, or picking apart the little moments. With the glory of Instant Watch, we can now “binge watch”, consuming multiple episodes at a single sitting.

The watching habits of my wife and myself have by-and-large shifted over to the television selections of Netflix, given that neither of us had cable for a number of years, and have some catching up to do on some of the better shows from the last decade or so: West Wing, Alias, Fringe….the last one will probably be more me than her. Even now that we do have cable, we still treat cable like Netflix, rarely watching live television; instead, we set it to record, and watch at our leisure.

There’s any number of reasons for shifting over to television, I suppose: films require a lot of sustained attention, and by the end of the day–after having looked at a screen for at least 3-4 hours that day for emails and writing, my attention span really dives off. So, when I do want to watch something for fun, television format usually fits the bill. But truthfully, when I’m not making excuses, there’s some great serial story-telling happening. Television allows you to tell bigger stories than film, over a more sustained period of time, bringing in more storylines, and even letting some stories lie dormant and undisturbed for weeks at a time.

All of this brings us finally to ALIAS, which was our latest Netflix watch.


I knew that Jennifer Garner came from somewhere, and for me, her films have always been hit or miss. Great in Juno, but you can put Daredevil in a dark hole somewhere. But, as everyone apart from me in the Northern hemisphere knew, both she and Bradley Cooper really became household names through Alias. The quick and dirty review: the first two seasons are really fun, sharp, inventive, and tight; the last three seasons get a little self-indulgent and bloated, bringing in too many new characters and getting a little too introspective and relationship-dissecting. But, we pressed on, finishing up last night with a fairly satisfying ending that ties things together well.

J.J. Abrams is really working out some things that you see much more fully fleshed out in the series he did after this, LOST. Many of the actors who float through Alias either find another bit role in the next show, or expanded ones; his use of music and montages is more refined in LOST. At times, I can tell that he plagiarized himself, using little bits of music or sound effects in later episodes of LOST. As Kiki noted in the previous post, it’s interesting to see certain directors develop, because they have certain signature moves that regardless of genre, they’ll go to, like fingerprints or tell-tale limps. And no–time travel does not make an appearance in ALIAS, thankfully. That appears to have been a latter-day sin more recently developed.

The biggest impression for me of the show, having finished it, is how melancholythe show is from beginning to end. The viewer knows exactly what they’re going to get from the pilot episode–both with regards to the long-arc plot of the show and with regards to its major themes–and it’s not popcorn and rainbows. Yes–there is comic relief; Marshall the tech-guy was one of my favorite characters, more so than Michael Vartaan’s leading man ‘Vaughn’. Yes–there is lots and lots of flash-bang spy tricks and close calls; I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff, and why I’ll go see the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE movies. But underlying the series is a pervasive sadness, that people leave, that danger is real, that lies are not innocent, and that power is not neutral. The show went on for five seasons this way, never getting away from this primal mood, which is fairly remarkable. Most shows either hit one side of this spectrum (funny/dramatic), but the way that ALIAS consistently kept this tension made it a pretty good, though not spectacular, show to watch.

There’s much more to say on the nature of the binge-watch, which I’ll do in the future, and on the virtues of the spy flick (given that we say that lying is wrong), but go check out the first few episodes of ALIAS. It’s worth your time, but be warned: once you get beyond the first season finale, you really need to watch the whole thing.

  1. John Barber says:

    This is one that I never found time for… Perhaps when I wrap up the X-Files, I’ll give it a go.

  2. Kiki Malone says:

    If I ever give ALIAS a shot, it will be for two reasons: one, your glowing recommendation; two, Bradley Cooper. Jennifer Garner has never done anything for me. Cooper melts my butter.

    I was on a TV only kick for the same time restraint reasons you mentioned above, but this weekend I dove into a Noah Baumbach film fest left me feeling morose and sharp-tongue and introverted. Perhaps I’ll write something about Baumbach soon. He’s a bit of a downer, even when he’s funny.

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