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Entry updated 10 November 2023. Tagged: TV.

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US tv series (2001-2006). Bad Robot Productions for ABC. Created by J J Abrams. Producers include Abrams, Ken Olin, Jesse Alexander, and Jeff Pinkner. Writers included Abrams, Pinkner, Alexander, Monica Breen, Alison Schapker, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and J R Orci. Directors included Abrams, Olin, Lawrence Trilling, and Jack Bender. Cast includes Bradley Cooper (Will Tippin; seasons 1-2), Merrin Dungey (Francie Calfo; seasons 1-2), Victor Garber (Jack Bristow), Jennifer Garner (Sydney Bristow), Carl Lumbly (Marcus Dixon), Ron Rifkin (Arvin Sloane), Michael Vartan (Michael Vaughn) and Kevin Weisman (Marshall Flinkman). 105 60-minute episodes.

The successor of series like The Avengers (1961-1969), Get Smart! (1965-1970), and The Bionic Woman (1976-1978), Alias launched the 2000s mini-trend dubbed "Spy-Fi", combining James Bond-esque spy shenanigans (the exotic locations, the jet-setting lifestyle, and most of all the fanciful gadgets) with Villains whose schemes and doomsday devices were rooted firmly in the fantastic. It brought its own twist to the table by combining the spy story with the coming-of-age soap opera. Protagonist Sydney Bristow (Garner in her break-out role) was recruited to the CIA out of college and balances the ordinary life of a graduate student, complete with loving friends and a sweet fiancé, with international spying and derring-do. In the pilot episode the murder of her fiancé tips Sydney off to the fact that her employers are not the CIA but the dastardly SD-6, a villainous organization manipulating its unsuspecting employees. She vows to bring SD-6 down and becomes a double agent for the real CIA, living a triple life and also struggling with her attraction to her handler, Michael Vaughn. Though winning as the tough but emotionally battered Sydney, Garner and the other youthful cast members are quickly overshadowed by their older colleagues. Song-and-dance man Garber plays against type as Sydney's distant and unemotional father Jack, who is revealed over the course of the series to be not only a badass spy in his own right but a fiercely devoted parent, and the regrowth of his and Sydney's relationship is one of the series' chief pleasures. Rifkin plays Arvin Sloan, the leader of SD-6 and an oily, Machiavellian figure who is never without a hidden agenda or a secret trump card, and whose lifelong friendship with Jack had shaped Sydney's life long before her recruitment. During the second season Lena Olin joins the cast as Sydney's mother Irina Derevko, a KGB spy who married and conceived a child with Jack in order to steal state secrets, and who now has her own agenda.

The genre connection comes from the show's overarching fascination with Milo Rambaldi, a Renaissance inventor described as half Nostradamus, half Leonardo da Vinci, whose Inventions (including in-vitro fertilization and Death Rays), Predictions, and secret formulas the various factions try to alternately control or suppress, while other plotlines rely on the existence of body-swapping and memory modification Technology (see Identity Transfer; Memory Edit). Alias is also notable for being one of the decade's earliest forays into serialized storytelling. First-season episodes invariably end on a cliffhanger which is resolved the week after, and ongoing plotlines tease and then reveal the various familial and professional secrets in Sydney's past, though the buildup to these revelations was often more satisfying than the revelations themselves, and as the series drew on the writers' tendency to drop huge plot twists into the story without having any idea of how to develop or pay them off eventually overwhelmed their characters and worldbuilding. Long before its end Alias surrendered to the absurdity of its premise and storytelling, becoming a turgid spy soap more notable for its characters' frequent moral about-faces than for its overarching story, and the Rambaldi plot in particular fizzled out unsatisfyingly in the series finale.

Alias was quick to gain fans for its winning combination of spy stories and personal melodrama (the forbidden romance between Sydney and Vaughn, for example, was one of the series' major draws in its early seasons), though many grew disenchanted with it as its storylines became more and more tangled and nonsensical. Various tie-in novels and a computer game were created. As of early 2010 the idea to remake the series has been bandied about, probably as a way of compensating for the end of Abrams's wildly popular Lost (2004-2010), but this is at present only a rumour. [AN]


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