Alias: The Complete First Season review by Mike Long

I'm no fan of the show "Felicity", but I've seen enough of it to know that it's about some curly-haired girl's struggles in college. Knowing that, I must say that it's surprising that series creator J.J. Abrams (AKA Jeffery Abrams) turned around and Alias, a kick-ass show about a female secret-agent. While both shows deal with the turmoil of being a young woman in college, that's where the similarities ends. For while "Felicity" was about a girl who broke hearts, Alias is about a girl who breaks necks.

(***SPOILER WARNING*** It's impossible to describe the plotline of Alias without giving away some of the secrets which are reveled in the pilot, so if you aren't familiar with the show, read carefully!)

Alias stars Jennifer Garner as Sydney Bristow, a graduate student who secretly works for a branch of the CIA known as SD-6. She travels the globe, fighting international criminals and completing covert missions, all the while attending classes and spending time with her boyfriend, Danny Hecht (Edward Atterton). Sydney's supervisor, Arvin Sloane (Ron Rifkin) and her partner, Marcus Dixon (Carl Lumbly), both respect her and admire her work. But, when Danny proposes to Sydney, she decides to tell him about her secret life. SD-6 learns of this and has Danny killed. As if that weren't stressful enough, Sydney is approached by her estranged father, Jack Bristow (Victor Garber), who explains to her that he is a member of SD-6 as well. He goes on to explain that SD-6 isn't part of the CIA, but is actually an enemy of the U.S. government. Upon hearing this, Sydney approaches the real CIA about becoming a double-agent, and is placed under the authority of Agent Michael Vaughn (Michael Vartan). Adding to Sydney's emotional turmoil and confusion, she then learns that her father is also a CIA double-agent. Working together, they are going to try and bring SD-6 down.

Do you remember back in the good old days when a TV pilot would simply introduce the characters and give you an idea of what the show was going to be about? Alias is part of a new generation of shows that lay out an incredible amount of plot and numerous characters in the first episode and ask the audience to play catch up. It also joins the ranks of recent TV shows that feel much more like features films. (And are actually more entertaining than many feature films.) But, to its credit, Alias has a very intriguing premise and does a great job of sucking the viewer into the story. And it's very easy to get sucked in by this DVD set, as each episode of the show ends with a cliffhanger. Thus, you'll find yourself saying, "I'll just watch the first 5 minutes of the next one to see what happens.", and that could lead to an all-night marathon.

As for the show itself, it isn't incredibly original, but it's very well-made and certainly worth-watching. Alias plays like La Femme Nikita without the angst, with a dash of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer without the supernatural angle. (Or the humor. The only real drawback to Alias is that it is played a little too straight.) The show toys with the exploitation angle, having Garner run around in skimpy outfits, but there are also intelligent storylines, so the show can be enjoyed by those other than fanboys. Alias has a good ensemble cast, but it doesn't go overboard with too many characters. The show does a good job of letting us know each of the characters, without unloading too much information at once. The cast is very good, most notably Jennifer Garner, who is very believable in her role. Alias is a show that I missed in Prime Time, but I've definitely enjoyed catching up with the DVDs.

The Complete First Season of Alias comes to DVD courtesy of Buena Vista Hoem Entertainment. The set contains all 22 episodes from this season, spread out over six discs. Proving that HDTV and widescreen is becoming more accepted, the shows have been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfers are enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The images here look very good, as they are very sharp and clear. If one looks closely at the picture, there is a fine sheen of grain on the image, but that is the only defect which is easily visible. The colors look fantastic, and the action is easily seen in the darker shots. There are no major problems from artifacting or edge-enhancement. The primary audio track on the DVDs is a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. This track provides clear dialogue and an impressive array of stereo effects. The surround and subwoofer effects are quite as impressive, as there is typically rear speaker action only during major sound effects or musical cues. Overall, the technical specs of this set are very impressive.

The set contains several good special features. There are audio commentaries on four episodes, "Truth be Told" (The Pilot) (J.J. Abrams & Jennifer Garner), "So It Begins" (Michael Bonvillain, Sarah Caplan & Ken Olin), "Q&A" (John Eisendrath, Alex Kurtzman-Counter & Roberto Orci), and "Almost Thirty Years" (Jennifer Garner, Michael Vartan, Victor Garber, Bradley Cooper, Carl Lumbly, Ron Rifkin, Merrin Dungey, & Kevin Weisman). All four tracks are good and informative, but the pilot track with Abrams and Garner is the best, as we learn a great deal about the origins of the show and how the visual style came about. The remainder of the extras all appear on Disc 6. "The Alias Pilot Production Diary" is a 19-minute featurette which has narration by J.J. Abrams. This segment contains a great deal of behind-the-scenes footage and gives a nice overview of how the pilot was done. Next, we have a 10-minute segment called "Inside Stunts" which shows fight rehearsal footage and explains how some of the more complicated stunts were done. There are six deleted scenes, which were culled from four separate episodes, as well as a 3-minute gag reel. Finally, there are 5 TV spots for the show.

8 out of 10 Jackasses

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