Friday, January 06, 2006

 Alias blogging 

About a year ago shortly after starting our Netflix subscription, Cindy and I decided to rent a couple Alias DVDs and see if we liked the series. We'd heard a lot about it from friends, but were "way behind" in TV watching the past few years. Of course, we were riveted from episode #1 - we found it to be expertly made, smartly paced, and highly entertaining. A new addiction had been found.

Alas, we couldn't really talk about the show with anyone in detail as it was evolving for us. Watching a series on DVD, especially Alias, is great in that it's much easier to remember plot details, and Alias has boatloads of intricate plot details. And of course you can watch several shows in the course of a week. But it also means that pretty much by definition, you're not up-to-date on the latest events in the show. And in early 2005, ABC was well into the 4th season of Alias, and we had just gotten started. So we had over 3 1/2 seasons to catch up. And given the amount of time it takes just to do that, with 22 episodes a season and the desire to watch some other things in our limited amount of TV-time besides alias, it was going to take even longer. But Cindy and I, we're committed, and we set ourselves to the task.

And it is with great relief to announce that as of yesterday evening, we finally caught up with the rest of the Alias-watching world, after finishing the most-recent of this season's 9 episodes broadcast so far. These had been taped on our VCR (sorry, TiVo lovers - we're still back in the TV-recording Stone Age). Of course we know there are only 13 episodes left for the entire series (this is its last season), but hey, at least we can talk about it now with other fans. It took a year to make up that deficit, and to hit this moving target, but we did it.

Spoiler Alert! - read no further if you're not caught up yourselves but want to watch the show the way it was intended, one episode at a time. I mean it! I'm going to offer some opinions on plot elements and the like.

We absolutely loved the first two seasons - we think they're extraordinary TV. We loved seeing how the takedown of SD-6 had to be slow and methodical, and that sometimes the bad guys had to be placated and allowed to continue in order to make progress in the longer term. We admire a show that has the courage (and the studio that permits it) to have some not-so-happy endings if it means telling a more compelling story. The season 2 cliffhanger was especially gripping - few shows would kill off such a regular and sympathetic character as Francie.

Season 3 was also good TV, but both of us felt some dissatisfaction at how Lauren's character evolved. The theme of presumably good characters turning out to be evil started to seem a little tired, and we noticed the complete nonexistence of any character in the show who was outside the world of espionage and intrigue. And once the season ended, we felt like the whole Covenant angle ended up being just a ruse played on the audience, especially with the Season 3 ending cliffhanger, which unless we're missing something, turned out to be far less of a mystery than it originally seemed to be. A secret report that Jack had killed Irina (or at least thought he did)? OK, that's significant, sure, but worth waiting all offseason to find out about?

Season 4 was in our opinion the weakest overall season. We love the characters and the "return" of a new improved SD-6, but the show seemed slow to move the plot along, taking about 8-10 episodes to really get started. I imagine there was a desire on the part of studio heads (or even JJ?) to let the audience get to know the characters better through longer exposition, but dammit, we're Alias addicts! We're used to breakneck pace in the show! Don't slow it down, keep it moving! Anyway, it was good to see some resolution on the whole Rambaldi device plot arcs. And we loved the brilliant twist in the season 4 ending cliffhanger, especially since we knew we wouldn't have to wait months to find out what happened to Vaughan and Syd in the car.

I think also part of the reason we were generally unsatisfied with Season 4 was that the whole season was a lot less about Syd and much more about virtually everyone else in the show. Again, we like the characters a lot, but when the emphasis is less on Syd, the show feels less focused and for us had less emotional impact. Part of what made the first couple seasons so compelling was being able to see the events of the show through the personality of Syd, who's so agreeable and admirable. When she's not the center of it, we had to depend on the personalities of characters we don't know quite as well.

Season 5 right off the bat felt to me like a return to centering the show on Syd, and sure enough, I find it much more interesting and emotive. It probably helps also that a lot is happening, and that Prophet 5 seems like a very worthy story arc. Seems, because hey, we don't know what the organization is all about, other than the episode 9 "cliffhanger" which shows Irina once again pulling some strings in a way not unlike how she was doing it 3 seasons ago. I do have a small problem with Prophet 5, wondering how an organization as comprehensive as they seem to be wasn't a bigger Rambaldi player in the last season or two, but hopefully we'll seem some explanation of this once the new eps start in March.

Ah yes, Alias. I know, it's just a TV show, but it's a damn good one. You can know that if only because Cindy and I can't stand watching TV (especially broadcast TV) unless it's particularly good. And just wait 'til I start talking about Arrested Development!


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