Credit Dauphine

Or, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Television Again.”

I finally got around to watching the last disc of season 1 of “Alias” last night. Man, they weren’t kidding about the “big cliffhanger” thing. Murders, everybody finding out all about everybody else, simultaneous torture scenes, the return of some old favorites from the pilot, and a valuable life lesson: don’t disable a giant ball of mysteriously suspended water unless you’re sure where all the water is going to go. Give the people what they want, JJ!

Best part for me: I’d expected there to be four episodes on the disc and was surprised to see it end suddenly, so I watched the extras and blooper real. From this, I learned two things:

1. I’m in love with Jennifer Garner. Watch your back, Ben.

2. The makers of the show “get it.” I mean, obviously if you’ve got a show with as many double-agents and ancient manuscripts and, you know, the zed-word, they’re not taking it too seriously. But still, I’d been treating the show as a guilty pleasure, trying to maintain a level of distant smugness that I was appreciating it on a level of pure escapism that the makers of the show didn’t intend. Entertain me, plebians!

But in the making-of-the-pilot documentary, Abrams mentions how fortunate they were to get a cast and crew who understood the tone of it. Because it’s always right on the verge of parody, and would descend into just pure nonsense unless everyone treated it as if it were 100% serious.

That actually struck me as somewhat profound. It’s not camp, it’s not “Touched by an Angel” earnest, it’s not an attempt to be gritty and realistic. And it’s not that nebulous three-layers-of-irony detachment of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” where it’s not a silly teen soap opera because it’s smarter than that but don’t get us wrong we don’t take ourselves too seriously and aren’t afraid to make fun of ourselves but then again it’s a metaphor for life and we do Meaningful Important episodes as well. The “Alias” guys are just trying to make an entertaining roller-coaster of a show without taking it too seriously and without being too self-referential. And they do a damn good job of it, too.

Plus, Jennifer Garner is at least 18 times more appealing than Sarah Michelle Gellar. I’m going to go back and recant all my Hilary Swank comments.

I just don’t understand how y’all managed to wait a year between the cliffhanger and the next season. I didn’t even last 12 hours; I couldn’t wait for Netflix, so I went by the video store to get the first disc of Season 2. Your mom was a spy!

By the way, when I was up on Haight street to get the video just now, I saw Fred Schneider of the B-52’s and a small, easily excitable entourage. I thought it might’ve just been somebody who looks like him, but then I heard him talk. Odd. I wonder what he was doing up there, and I hope that someone hooked him up with some kind bud.

007something

Five discs down on “Alias,” and they lost me somewhere. Maybe it was because I had to rush the thing back to the video store, so I fast-forwarded through the clip-show episode and any bit where acoustic guitar started playing and people started talking about their feelings. But I wasn’t intrigued by the Saga of the “Snowman.”

Before the show came out, I read a preview in Entertainment Weekly or something, where they interviewed J.J. Abrams. He said the concept of the show was “what if Felicity were a super-spy?” That’s what sold the show for ABC and most viewers, apparently, but it’s what turned me off and made me not want to watch it. (Plus, the descriptions of torture scenes.)

I’ve watched a lot of WB series since then, and I had prepared myself for lots of montages of our-heroine-in-emotional-turmoil while pop hits play in the background. But it seems to be getting less of the “Felicity” influence and more of the Ken Olin influence. I mean, good for the guy for producing and directing, and throwing a bone to his “thirtysomething” cast-mates by giving them (and himself) cameos, but I personally don’t want that in my action series. Therapy sessions and sepia-toned conversations while drinking wine and sitting on throw pillows? No thanks. Riding motorbikes towards Hummers full of gun-toting former-Soviets only to launch an ejection balloon at the last second and get picked up by a passing DC-10, leaving the motorbike to ram the bad guys in a huge fireball? Bring it.

Now that I’m going to be getting them in the mail, hopefully there’ll be less pressure to watch them like blipverts, and I won’t get “Alias” overload. If nothing else, it should keep every blog entry from being about that damn TV show.

Moron Alias

Okay, I’m 11 episodes in, and I’ve got the next two DVDs sitting there waiting for me so I can’t write too long. But I’ve had cases where friends have gotten into series on DVD long after I’d lost interest in them, and it was always neat hearing their take on the show. It was like being able to watch the show again, from the start, without having to do something as exhausting as sit and watch television.

So here’s my take on the show so far, divided up into the bad like the evil SD-6, and the good like Sydney’s ever-loyal friend Francie:

  • Bad: The wormy, nerdy “Q” guy, Marshall. Yeah, it’s a spy show, so you’ve got to explain the gadgets. But the whole schtick doesn’t work on any level, as comic relief or otherwise. It’s annoying, not endearing.
  • Good: Victor Garber as the dad. He’s got the toughest part to play, I think, and on a show this over-the-top, he could’ve come across as really lame, either two-dimensional bad guy, or over-sympathetic killer-with-a-heart-of-gold. He just sells it.
  • Bad: The surfeit of twists and subplots. I get that the show’s supposed to be fantastic, escapist, action television, but it’s veering around so much that it never gets to linger on anything of significance. Maybe that’s an aspect of watching it all at once instead of having to wait a week between episodes, though.
  • Good: Stuff really happens, in every episode. I’m used to series that introduce subplots that never get resolved until the end of the season if that soon; it’s cool to see a show that isn’t afraid it’s going to run out of ideas. If someone makes a threat, they’re going to do something about it within the next two hours. If you get hint of a deep dark secret, you’re not going to have to wait long to find out what it is. There are at least two cliffhangers per episode!
  • Bad: The annoying reporter friend. He’s just a tool, and he deserves to die.
  • Good: Jennifer Garner really is pretty hot.

All right, back to it. I’m in the middle of a meeting at CIA headquarters in which we just learned the identity of the assassin who killed Agent Vaughn’s father!

SD-6

Hot on the heels of my groundbreaking review of Jurassic Park, a scoop about this hot new television programme called “The Alias!”

All right, I avoided this show for as long as I could, partly because I had a feeling it would get me all sucked in, partly because I was working too much to watch much television, and partly because Jennifer Garner always struck me as nothing more than a slightly softer version of Hilary Swank, who gives me the heebie-jeebies something fierce.

But then I heard about the zombies, and everybody knows I’ve got a soft spot for zombies. [pause for obligatory brain joke] So I’m three episodes into it, and this is what escapist television is all about. Double, triple, and quadruple agents; ancient scrolls and prophecies; the basements and boiler rooms of exotic locales all around the world; TV-friendly techno music; duplicitous dads and soap opera drama — I am, of course, hooked. Plus the episodes I’m watching have Gina Torres, who rocks as hard as can be reasonably expected; and Carl Lumbly, who does the voice of J’onn J’onnz on “Justice League Unlimited,” which has got to count for something.

I’m still curious to see when, exactly, the show starts to go south. I’ve seen a couple of posts on Google and elsewhere lamenting that it’s already gone bad what with the “stupid zombies,” which of course baffles me, as I can’t imagine how zombies would do anything other than make a show better. These series inevitably let me down; I learned my lessons from “The X-Files” and “24” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and I won’t let myself get too close. But for now, I’m enjoying the edge-of-your-seat adventures of plucky grad student Sidney Bristow and her string of steely-eyed unshaven young love interests.

And then after that, I’ve heard mention of a television series about the criminal underworld called “Mr. Soprano” or some such that could shape up to be something big. You heard it here first!