Alias, Arts & Entertainment

Who are you and what have you done with my television show?

Rain pointed out that TNT has started showing season 4 of “Alias” in preparation for the premiere of season 5. I watched a couple from the TiVo, and thought this is no good. The people are still there, and they’re still saying things that sound familiar, but everything’s all different. And they’re spoiling stuff. This isn’t the show I fell in love with! I must’ve come in halfway through the season and ruined everything!

But then I checked an episode guide, and I found I’d started with episode 3. All the big changes that were confusing me so, had happened in the first two episodes. Damn! When they reboot a show, they don’t fool around.

Then I decided as long as I was confused, there’s no harm in watching both seasons simultaneously. So I went ahead and watched tonight’s premiere of season 5. Damn! When they reboot a show, they don’t fool around.

So as near as I can make out:

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Alias, Arts & Entertainment, Television

Angelias

Alias Season 3 CastI had another bout with insomnia last night, even after “helping” Alex move, and then drinking a whole lot of beer, the two things that should guarantee I fall asleep immediately. So what that means is that I finished another four episodes of “Alias,” and there’s just two discs left in Season 3.

At this point in the series, it’s reminding me a lot of the TV series “Angel.” Not in the content or the tone, but in how I’m responding to it. “Angel” is my quintessential love/hate TV series — there were so many characters and plotlines that I just despised, and which annoyed me enough to just give up on the show over and over again. But when they did well, it was some of the best television ever made.

They had the lame “lawyers are really evil” and “LA is really phony” gags that they just never put to rest, and they had some really loathesome characters that were supposed to be sympathetic, like Lorne the demon guy and Angel’s son. But then they’d have a killer storyline like the one where Faith came back and had more depth to her character in those two episodes than in an entire year of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Or the whole fourth season of “Angel,” where they had basically written themselves into a corner and had to cover up a pregnancy, but came out of it with a great season arc that all fit together and had episodes which were genuinely scary (and I didn’t think TV could scare me anymore).

And season three of “Alias” is kind of like that. Most of it just shatters all the “I know it’s implausible and over the top, but it’s supposed to be” good-will I’d built up. All the plot twists and change-ups and revealed secrets just seem like bored writers in afternoon meetings, moving characters around on a grid without even trying to come up with real motivations for them. The characters have gone from being two-dimensional but lovable, to one-and-a-half-dimensional and so boring that even they seem to be bored with what they’re doing. Here’s yet another scene where Jack breaks the rules to save his daughter. Here’s another scene where Dixon encounters somebody behind bars and vows vengeance. Here’s one more scene where Sydney shows teary-eyed determination. Here’s still yet another girlfight with the evil Allison Doren (who got an extraordinarily anti-climactic send-off). I’m still fine with being earnest, but that will only take you so far if you don’t have an engrossing story to back it up.

And the big villain of the season was so completely obvious from scene one, that I can’t tell whether or not the reveal was supposed to be a surprise. There are still two discs left, and I’m sure that they’ve got more plot twists to throw at the story, but so far it’s been a real yawner. (Although I will say that as soon as she started playing evil, she became 1000 times sexier. What that says about me, I don’t know and don’t want to think about.) And granted, the whole bit about Sydney’s missing two years was getting stale, but instead of throwing in some twists to make it interesting, they just blew their wad and explained the whole thing away.

So that’s the hate; where’s the love? Well, this is also the season where they really got the big budgets, it looks like, and they’d built up enough reputation to attract even bigger-name guest stars. And they had the freedom to do interesting stuff that didn’t quite fit in with the formula. Like the episode with Ricky Gervais as an IRA bomber: pretty neat. And the one with David Cronenberg as the doctor who sent Sydney on that whole dream-sequence episode: very, very neat. And Isabella Rosselini as the superspy that helps Jack: pretty lame episode overall, but she gave a great performance, even though she looks even more uncannily like David Foley in drag the older she gets.

I’m still unspoiled for the rest of this season, so I have no idea what the big cliff-hanger is going to be. And considering that the next season isn’t available on DVD until mid-October, I’m actually going to have to wait to see the resolution of this cliff-hanger. It’ll be interesting to see how long I can hold out before begging people to tell me what happens in season four.

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Alias, Arts & Entertainment, Television

The Importance of Being Earnest (About "Alias")

What’s wrong with me? I forgot to talk about “Alias” some more.

I watched the last episode of Season 2 last night. The big surprises from the Season 2 ending were already spoiled for me, so I didn’t get as big a shock as the first-time viewers. But I’ve got to say: even though I knew it was coming, that was one hell of a fight. I guess graduate students can only afford apartments made out of balsa wood. I’d heard about the big cliff-hanger/twist as well, so that wasn’t a shocker; I was just waiting to see how they actually did it.

Everything from here on out to the zombies is still spoiler-free for me, so I’m waiting to see what they do with Season 3. I’ve heard varying reports on teh internets. Netflix will show me the way, since I’ve already got the first disc queued up.

With these shows that I’ve gotten obsessed over in the past (“Buffy” and “X-Files”), they’ve always had episodes where it seems as if they’ve painted themselves into a corner, and then magically turned it all around to reveal a whole new room. “Alias” takes more of the brute-force approach — they paint themselves into a corner, and then demolish the house. But it keeps moving; you’ve got to give them that.

Another thing I noticed about “Alias” after watching the bonus features and commentary (since there were only 2 episodes on the last disc, I had to watch something): it’s really hard for me to maintain a healthy cynical detachment from this show. I realize that the show is formulaic and filled with ridiculous contrivances and plot-twists, but they all realize that, too. It doesn’t matter. It’s like a roller coaster — if you keep telling yourself it’s fake and there’s no way you can get hurt, it sucks all the fun out of it.

There was a bit of an interview with Jennifer Garner on there, where she said that during the filming of the finale she kept crying in between takes because she felt so bad for Sydney Bristow and what she was going through. She said, “I mean, I know that she’s a fictional character of course, but she’s real to me.” That’s the key to the whole show. You can either roll your eyes at that, or you can take it at face value and play along.

They’re all so dead earnest about the show, which is why you can hear about double- and triple-agents and ridiculous plot contrivances and DNA strands and retinal scans and not be distracted by the absurdity of it all. And you can really think things like, “Man, how bad would that feel to have your mother who you thought was dead but actually turned out to be a double-agent spying on your dad who was also a double-agent and now she’s stabbing you with a cattle prod because she’s working with the man who killed your fiance in order to steal ancient super-powerful artifacts that grant immortality? That would really suck!”

And because they’re so dead earnest about it, I actually liked watching the blooper reel, which I normally despise. It’s just fun to see them all get to smile for once. And I got a kick out of watching the rest of the promotional stuff, even though I know it’s all just marketed and manufactured to be a star vehicle for Jennifer Garner and show star-struck brainless TV-watching masses just how charming she is. But dammit, she is charming!

I’ve been tired of irony for a while now — everything trying to be all self-referential and “dark and edgy.” I’m getting a kick out of seeing something that just says, “Yes. We have zombies.” And they’re not afraid of looking stupid, and they’re not saying it’s some joke or a metaphor for something “deeper.”

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Alias, Arts & Entertainment

I call foul!

Hooooooooooooooooooooly crap!

I just finished watching the first episode on “Alias”, Season 2, Disc 4. There’s only one other time I can remember that I felt compelled to yell back at the screen during a TV show, and that was an episode of “Twin Peaks” where Bob crawls out from behind a planter in the Palmer living room. The only thing that kept me from screaming back “oh hell no you didn’t just do that” at the last 5 minutes of this episode is that I started watching it at 1 AM and I got neighbors. (Plus, I’m a suburban white guy, so I shouldn’t be saying that kind of thing anyway).

I know I said they don’t like to drag out plot lines, and instead just throw everything at you at once, but this is crazy!

Everything after this is a big SPOILER for “Alias,” so stop reading if you haven’t been watching the show and think you might want to at some point.
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